Sunday, August 19, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: “January First: a Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her” by Michael Schofield

It’s hard to imagine being the parent of a schizophrenic child and having to deal with the physical, mental and emotional toll that takes on you. But in Michael Schofield’s brand-new memoir, “January First,” he demonstrates that a parent’s love runs very deep – deep enough to carry him and his wife, Susan, through each day living with their daughter Jani’s mental illness.

I first heard about the Schofields back in 2009 when they were featured on the Oprah Winfrey show. January (nicknamed Jani), was diagnosed with child-onset schizophrenia at the age of six, her life a near-constant torment of horrific hallucinations that would force her to lash out violently against her parents and baby brother. Fearing for the safety of both children and determined to stay together as a family, Michael and Susan decided at that point to separate the children and live in two different apartments within the same complex. It was a plan of action that turned out to be one of the best decisions they would make for their kids, their marriage, and Jani’s illness.

So last week when I saw a blurb about the book “January First” by Michael Schofield in People magazine, I was once more reminded of Jani and her family and how their story had touched me back in 2009. I knew I would have to read this book – and I am so glad that I did.

“January First” by Michael Schofield is a heartbreakingly honest memoir and a true page-turner; I finished it in two days because I couldn’t bear to put it down. It was, by far, one of the most amazing pieces of non-fiction that I’ve read in awhile. Schofield takes the reader along through his family’s journey with daughter Jani’s schizophrenia, from the harrowing years prior to her official diagnosis to the aftermath and everything in between.

From her first moments of life, something isn’t quite right with Jani; her mother actually asks the nurse if it’s normal for a newborn to focus as clearly as Jani appears to be only moments after birth. Both Michael and Susan think they’ve got a genius on their hands when Jani demonstrates intelligence that no newborn or infant should possess. But everything quickly goes south when Jani begins to see things that her parents cannot, her wide eyes following things along the walls and ceilings that aren’t really there. As she grows into a toddler, she becomes obsessed with what her parents think are imaginary friends – until they realize that these imaginary friends are actually hallucinations that are taking over Jani’s mind. These hallucinations tell Jani to kick, hit, scream, and bite, endangering herself and those around her – and as time goes on, there is less and less that she can do to keep them at bay. It takes an ongoing series of tests, evaluations, and admissions to local psychiatric hospitals to find a combination of medication that works for Jani.

While this entire book left me in a perpetual state of shock and amazement, I fell in love with Jani. Because despite having to live through extended stays in psychiatric facilities, violent outbursts brought on by her hallucinations, and her own anger and frustration over her illness, January Paige Schofield is still just child – a child who is funny, smart, creative, and loving. A child who is now nine years old and thriving despite her illness.

Jani’s journey with schizophrenia is far from over. But her father’s book, “January First,” proves that even despite interminable odds, a parent’s love can bring you through anything life throws at you.

Learn more about the book “January First” and the Schofield family by visiting their website at www.janisjourney.org.

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