Publication Date: 7th August 2012
Book Source: Crown Publishing & NetGalley
Synopsis: A brilliant and harrowingly honest memoir, January First is the extraordinary story of a father's fight to save his child from an extremely severe case of mental illness in the face of overwhelming adversity.
At six years old, Michael Schofield's daughter, January, was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia that doctors had ever seen. In January's case, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her. January, "Jani" to her family, has literally hundreds of imaginary friends. They go by names like 400-the-Cat, 100 Degrees, and 24 Hours and live on an island called "Calalini," which she describes as existing "on the border of my world and your world." Some of these friends are good, and some of them, such as 400, are very bad. They tell her to jump off buildings, attack her brother, and scream at strangers.
In the middle of these never-ending delusions, hallucinations, and paroxysms of rage are Jani's parents, who have gone to the ends of the earth to keep both of their children alive and unharmed. They live in separate one-bedroom apartments in order to keep her little brother, Bohdi, safe from his big sister--and wage a daily war against a social system that has all but completely failed them. January First is the story of the daily struggles and challenges they face as they do everything they can to help their daughter while trying to keep their family together. It is the inspiring tale of their resolute determination and faith.
This wasn't an easy read but I didn't expect it to be. There is nothing easy about mental illness. Nothing compares with watching your child suffer, no parent should have to experience that heartache, so while I thank God that this is not my experience, the very least I can do is immerse myself in the rainbow that is January First.
Jani's father, Michael captures his 6 year old daughter's intelligence, bravery and imagination and the battle scarred journey to Jani's diagnosis with child-onset Schizophrenia. With unflagging and often cringe-worthy honesty Michael details Jani's illness, the impact on his family, his relationship with his wife Susan, the anger, frustration, helplessness, exhaustion and rock-bottom despair. The hostility and resentment that Michael felt towards his wife was particularly difficult to read because I related to it, it's ugly and traumatic and real.
I have nothing but absolute admiration for this type of openness, through a father's words we are given an intimate look at a family doing everything in their power, against overwhelming odds, to ensure the best possible outcome for their daughter.
Michael's candid sharing of his family's experience, the baring of his heart and soul can only be a positive for mental illness awareness, only by breaking down barriers can you hope for change. If you're coping with mental illness or grief and loss you understand the loneliness and isolation; stories like this go a little way to making you feel less alone in the struggle.
I first thought the writing needed polish but the more I read the more I realised, the writing is what makes Jani's story more tangible, you cannot read this and not be affected.
January First is a testament to Jani's bravery and the love, hope, sheer determination, compromise, perseverance and strength to see our children as right and whole as they can be.
I wish Jani and her family rainbows. Check out Michael Schofield's touching blog to see how Jani and the rest of the family are doing. Jani turns 10 this year.