January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her – Michael Schofield

This book could have been great… if it had been entirely different.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. This book pissed me off. It really did. Not the subject matter. Not the way the system handled January’s situation – except maybe the time they said that all January needed was discipline. Not even the annoying way Susan kept forcing her daughter to go to parties. It was the father.

What a friggin martyr. Michael Schofield obviously has some struggles of his own that he needs to deal with, but you would think that after several years of dealing with his daughter’s illness and doctors, he, or someone involved, would have noticed this. He alludes to the fact that he’s aware of his anger issues, but he never cops to the possibility that this more serious. It’s very much the boys-will-be-boys kind of thinking that completely diminishes the seriousness of dealing with a mental illness. Instead, he decides that the he’s going to down a bottle of anti-depressants? Come on! This obviously wasn’t an act of desperation. After an entire book of his ego, we know wasn’t someone who had reached the end of their rope. It felt like a way to shift the attention back to him when his wife started getting her shit together and proving they could handle their challenges.

I’m not saying that mental illness is an easy thing to deal with, not even remotely, and that he should have just dealt with it. There are thousands of people who are able to manage their illnesses and an equal number that are unable to. I do believe that part of his problem was that he could not see around his own mental illness but, that’s wasn’t everything. The guy’s a complete narcissist. If Schofield had gotten his head out of his ass earlier and stopped insisting that everything was a result of January’s unbelievable genius – she’s got an IQ of 146, guys ( I may never forget that stat; it was listed about 146 times in the book) – maybe things could have gone differently for this little girl. Maybe not. But it seemed that the only thing the parents could grasp was their child’s test scores. They disregarded all the other signs. I can’t fully understand what it’s like to be the parent of a child with a mental illness, but if these two are the poster children for the ‘right’ response, I weep for those children.

There has been a lot of speculation among readers around whether or not January really has schizophrenia, but I’m not willing to say one way or the other. If I wanted to make that determination, I would have gone to medical school. But, whether she does or not, there’s clearly something going on with the child. Would she have been different with a different set of authority figures? Perhaps. Discipline can’t solve mental illness, but a strict schedule can help behavioural outburst. With this man as her father, this girl never had a chance.

January’s illness and decline were fascinating to read about. I wish this book had been written from the perspective of her doctors – giving some insight into schizophrenia is a child that young. That was the book I wanted to read. But it wasn’t the book I got. There were so many other avenues this story could have been told from: The woeful inadequacy of medical options for those suffering from mental illness – children and adult alike; The social stigma attached to living with one publically; How difficult it is to raise a child whose behaviour you cannot understand – which is what I thought this was going to be. Anything but a 200+ page diatribe by a self-absorbed man.

Don’t read it. Really. You can never get those hours back.
DON'T READ

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