January First : A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her Paperback
A harrowing memoir from the father of a seven-year-old girl, January First is the desperate story of Michael's mission to find out what is wrong with his highly intelligent daughter.
Right from when she was a newborn, January has kept her parents on their toes: as a baby she slept for only 20 minutes at a time, as a one year old she spoke in complete sentences, at two she asked about negative numbers, and by three had literally hundreds of imaginary friends.
But when her brother Bodhi arrives her behaviour becomes increasingly violent, her never-ending delusions and hallucinations interspersed with paroxysms of rage that eventually force her parents to live in separate one-bedroom apartments - communicating with walkie-talkies to keep her brother safe.
As her father does the rounds of child psychologists, doctors and locked hospital wards, he provides an unflinchingly honest account of parenting, as well as an indictment of the lack of care for children with severe mental illness.
January First shows the passionate dedication of a father who refuses to give up on his little girl even as her behaviour becomes ever more alien. An eventual diagnosis is reached of one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia that doctors have ever seen: January is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake and potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 208 pages
- Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
- Publication Date: 01/09/2012
- Category: Memoirs
- ISBN: 9781742705033
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Review by shelleyraec
Sometime last year I watched a television documentary about a child called January who had been diagnosed with child onset Schizophrenia. I was fascinated, horrified and heartbroken in equal measure witnessing January's daily struggles with her disease and her parent's desperate attempts to provide the best care possible for their precious daughter. Written by Janni's father, January First shares the family's harrowing journey during the first 9 years of January's life. As a newborn January barely slept, by eighteen months she could talk in complete sentences and grasp abstract concepts, at 4 she was assessed with an IQ of 146 and scored off the charts with her verbal, spatial and numerical skills. Dreaming of his gifted daughter's bright future, Michael ignored her more unusual behaviours - the violent outbursts, her inability to relate to other children and her frequent escape into her imaginary world of Calalini - until their son's birth raised the stakes for all of them.January First is told from Michael's point of view, in the present tense, with brutal honesty about his fight for his daughter's well being. It's easy, with emotional distance and hindsight, to judge Michael and Susan's actions in parenting Janni. They made mistakes, of that I think there is little doubt, but exhausted, isolated and powerless to get the support they desperately needed they tried and kept trying, despite being overwhelmed, to do the best by their daughter. I think it is extraordinarily brave of Michael to share the less palatable details of his relationship with Janni in his attempts to "fix" his daughter. He is also honest about the strained relationship with his wife who bore the brunt of his frustration, anger and fear. That their marriage survived is an incredible achievement. Michael also confesses the truth of his own mental health issues, something that wasn't mentioned in the documentary but provides insight into his own reaction to Janni's challenges.January First also reveals the inadequacy of mental health support services in the Unites States. The system fails January and her family repeatedly, exacerbated by the business of managed health care insurance whose eye is on the bottom line rather than the well being of those that need medical assistance. To be fair, the Schofields' were not an easy family to deal with in their search for a diagnosis for January - resisting medical advice and reluctant to comply with treatment options at times - yet easy and early access to quality care could have made a huge difference in all of their lives.Much of what is revealed in January First has already been shared in the family's contact with various media including the hour long Discovery documentary, a guest story on Oprah and other television appearances and interviews. It's Michael's perspective that has dominated all media contact so I was somewhat disappointed that Susan has no voice in this book.January is about to celebrate her 10th birthday at the time of this book's publication. Caring for and protecting their daughter, and son Bodhi, continues to be a struggle for the Schofields', and it is one with no end in sight. Confronting, heartbreaking and achingly raw, January First is not an easy read but highlights the spirit of one extraordinary child and her loving parents doing the best they can.