January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her

January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her

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by Michael Schofield

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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.  See more details below


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this dramatic memoir, Schofield, who teaches writing at California State University, explains the mental illness of his young daughter January. During the two years chronicled in the book (when Jani is aged four to six), he attempts to help his daughter, but finally he and his wife accept that she is not just a precocious, forceful little girl with an unusually high number of imaginary friends. The devastating truth: Jani’s imaginary friends are near-constant hallucinations, and her violent outbursts and dangerous impulses are a product of child-onset schizophrenia. Schofield’s descriptions of his family’s struggles along the frustrating, road to a diagnosis—the numerous doctors and ineffectual medications, marital problems, Jani’s and the author’s suicide attempts—are thoughtfully detailed. But Schofield also offers valuable insight for others in similar situations, and ends on a hopeful note to his family’s unorthodox approach to dealing with Jani. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Schofield's (English, California State Univ., Northridge) daughter January—or, variously, Janni, Blue-Eyed Tree Frog, or 47—astonished her parents with her early grasp of negative numbers at age two and memorization of the periodic table of elements before she was four. But what Schofield first called eccentricities stemming from January's prodigious imagination doctors later diagnosed as child-onset schizophrenia. Covering June 2006 to July 2011, Schofield keeps the pace brisk as he recounts January's early quirks, the violent turn she took after her little brother's birth, and her journey through a gauntlet of doctors, hospitals, and treatments. With some creative thinking (trading a single apartment for two smaller ones, one specially equipped for January's needs), the help of a psychiatric emergency team (getting January into UCLA's inpatient psychiatric facilities), and a drug cocktail that seems to work (clozapine, lithium, and Thorazine), January's parents managed to wrest her back into day-to-day life. VERDICT The anxiety, frustration, and loss Schofield and his wife experience are palpable, so much so that the author's tone is, at times, grating. Still, their heart-wrenching story—featured on 20/20 and Oprah—is bound to move parents and caregivers of children with similar psychiatric disorders.—Molly McArdle, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
A father descends into the emotional depths of his daughter's schizophrenia. In his debut memoir, Schofield (English/California State Univ., Northridge) provides a brutally honest account of his young daughter, January, whose violent outbreaks crippled their family. January's behavior worsened upon the arrival of a baby brother. Fearing for the new child's safety, Schofield and his wife plunged headlong into their newly confused labyrinthine world populated by psychiatric wards, medication and only occasionally competent doctors. January's shocking behavior took a severe emotional toll on the family, particularly her father, who found himself admitting his dark thoughts. While January was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, the long period of uncertainty left Schofield shaken. After his daughter's EEG came back normal, the author admits that he was "so desperate for answers that I would actually have been relieved if I'd been told she had a tumor." This stark honesty characterizes the book, whose author openly admits his complex relationship with his daughter. January's mental illness soon consumed every aspect of Schofield's life, spurring marital strife, false charges of sexual abuse and a work-related outburst. It even pushed the author toward a suicide attempt. In a final effort to diffuse the extreme resentment January felt toward her baby brother, the Schofields attempted a wildly unorthodox living situation, which demanded breaking the family apart in an effort to keep it together. An unflinching portrait of the scourge of mental illness.

"I see and hear stuff that isn't there." January Schofield's childhood response to a doctor's question about what it meant to have schizophrenia crystallizes in one sentence her parents' problems: How can you help a young girl who often resides in an unreachable place? Diagnosed as one of the most severe known cases of early-onset schizophrenia, "Jani" exhibited bizarre behavior almost from birth; driving her father, this book's author, in rapid turns to despair, denial, and false hope. January First is a rare memoir that powerfully shows the pervasive effects of mental illness on an entire family. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

From the Publisher
"An unflinching portrait of the scourge of mental illness." —Kirkus

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Chapter One

August 8, 2006

Today is Janni’s fourth birthday, and I’m setting up her pool party at the clubhouse in our apartment complex.

I place pool toys in the water. Janni is already splashing around.

“Come in, Daddy!”

“I’m coming, Janni. I just have to finish setting up.”

“Look, Janni!” Susan calls out. “Lynn and the twins are here. Come say hi.”

I look over to the gate where Susan is letting them in. Janni is the same age as the twins. We’ve known them since they were babies.

“Janni?” Susan calls again to her. “Come say hi to Lynn and the twins.”

“No,” Janni calls back, not even bothering to turn around and see.

“Janni, you have to welcome your guests,” Susan says, a bit more sternly.

“No!” Janni yells behind her, more forcefully this time.

“Hi, January!” Lynn calls. “Happy birthday!”

“I’m not January!” Janni screams, still not turning around. Then calmly, “I’m Blue-Eyed Tree Frog.”

Lynn is visibly taken aback a little, but recovers quickly; she’s known our struggle with Janni’s constant name changing for a while now.

A year ago, Janni stopped going by her name. And this phase has gone on way longer than we thought it would. Whenever someone calls her by her real name, she screams like somebody put her hand to a hot frying pan.

We don’t even try to force her to use her given name. At this point we’re happy if she just picks one name and sticks with it. The problem is that she changes it all the time, sometimes multiple times in the same day. She’s been “Hot Dog,” “Rainbow,” “Firefly,” and now “Blue-Eyed Tree Frog,” which was originally “Red-Eyed Tree Frog,” from Go Diego! Go!, until a lady working at Sav-On drugstore pointed out, “But you have blue eyes, dear.”

“Lynn and the girls have come to your birthday party,” Susan reminds her. “You need to come and greet them.”

Janni gets out of the pool and comes over to the twins. She is not pouting. She is smiling and rubbing her hands rapidly, as if she is actually suddenly happy to see them. It’s like the previous outburst never happened.

Susan gets the twins two juice boxes from the cooler.

“Hi, Janni. How are you?” Lynn asks pleasantly.

The hand rubbing stops and the smile vanishes. “I’m not Janni! I’m Blue-Eyed Tree Frog.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot.” Lynn quickly corrects herself like she just received a mild electric shock.

“Girls, wish Blue-Eyed Tree Frog a happy birthday,” Lynn instructs her daughters.

“Happy birthday, Janni,” they dutifully intone. The twins have known my daughter as Janni since before they could talk. It is all they know.

“I’m not Janni!” she screams at the twins. “I’m Blue-Eyed Tree Frog.”

The twins look up at their mom, confused.

“Janni!” Susan warns. “Be polite.”

I say nothing. Sure, I would like Janni to be polite, but I realize odd behavior is a by-product of her genius. She hit all of her developmental markers early and was already talking at eight months. By thirteen months she knew all her letters, both big and small, even if they were turned on their side or upside down. Then, at eighteen months, she was speaking in grammatically correct sentences, introducing herself to people saying, “I’m Janni Paige and I am eighteen months old.”

But I didn’t fully comprehend what she was capable of until I came back from grad school one evening when Janni was two and Susan was telling me about their day.

“I’ve been teaching her addition,” Susan told me, which I already knew, “so today we started on subtraction. I asked her what ‘seven minus four’ was.”

“Did she get it right?” I asked.

“Yes, she did, so we did ‘seven minus three is four.’ Then she asks me, ‘Mommy, what’s four minus seven?’ so I started trying to explain negative numbers to her.”

I stare at Susan. “She asked you what was four minus seven?”

Susan, washing dishes, turns to me. “Yeah.” She sees the look of shock on my face. “What’s wrong?”

“She asked you that right out of the blue?”

“Yes. What is it?”

Negative numbers, I remember thinking. Negative numbers are a totally abstract concept because they don’t exist in the real world. You can’t see negative four apples. At two years old, Janni’s mind made the jump from what Piaget called “concrete reasoning” to “abstract reasoning,” something that typically happens at a much older age. Janni could conceive of concepts that did not actually physically exist.

I have fantasies of Janni going to Harvard or Yale or MIT before she is even a teenager. My ultimate dream, when I close my eyes at night, is Janni winning the Nobel Prize. For what, I don’t know and don’t really care. But to be able to do what she can do at two years old, she must be a gift to humanity. I think that trumps being impolite on occasion.

“Would you like some juice?” Susan hands the twins the juice boxes and they take them.

Janni starts to laugh and flings her arm around the twins. “400 is splashing mango juice on you,” she chortles, without touching them.

The girls flinch instinctively, then look up at their mother for guidance, not sure what happened.

“400 is splashing mango juice on you.” Janni makes the move again like she is throwing juice on the twins, but she has nothing in her hand.

The twins retreat to either side of their mother.

“Janni, that isn’t nice,” Susan corrects.

“But it’s not me. It’s 400. 400 is splashing mango juice on them. She likes to splash mango juice on people.” Her arm shoots out with the imaginary juice again. We don’t even have mango juice.

The twins look up at Lynn. “You both need sunscreen.” She looks down at them, taking each daughter in one hand and over to the lounge chairs and tables.

“Well then, tell 400 to stop,” Susan tells Janni. “400 is another one of her imaginary friends,” she explains to Lynn.

Janni turns away and says to the air, “400, stop that.” She waits, apparently for a response, before turning back to the twins.

“She won’t stop.” Janni breaks into laughter again. “It is so funny. 400 is throwing mango juice on you.”

The twins are clearly scared, as Lynn puts on their sunscreen. “It’s okay, we know Janni is ‘unique.’ ”

This is frustrating. She’s being imaginative, but the twins haven’t seen imagination like this. Geniuses are often eccentric, I think to myself.

“Janni!” Susan’s voice goes up an octave. “Stop it!”

“It’s not me! It’s 400!”

“You control 400. Tell her to stop.”

Janni puts out her hands in exasperation. “I can’t!”

“Janni . . . ,” Susan begins, but I cut her off.

“Let it go.”

Janni comes over to me and and we get ready to go into the pool. This is what I do. I am her protector from the rest of the world.

I see the look of frustration on Susan’s face, but she doesn’t completely understand Janni like I do.

“She needs to greet her friends,” she tells me imploringly. “You’re not helping her learn to be polite.”

“It’s her birthday. Let it go,” I reply.

Susan opens her mouth to protest.

“Let it go,” I say again, more firmly. Susan closes her mouth and gives me an annoyed look.

I jump in the water and come up to the edge, holding out my arms. “Come on, Janni. Jump to me.”

“400 wants to jump in, too,” Janni says earnestly.

“Cats don’t generally like water.”

“Okay, you stay here, 400.”

Janni jumps to me, and I carry her out into the middle of the pool. Janni suddenly looks back at the edge.

“Oh, no! 400 fell in the pool!” she cries out. “400, don’t drown!”

“I got 400,” I answer. I put Janni down in the shallow end and wade over to where I imagine 400 to be. This is what I do that makes me different from everybody else in Janni’s life. I play along with her imaginary friends like they are real. I’ll be damned if I’m going to get lumped in with the “thirteens” in her mind. Janni says “thirteens” are kids and adults who don’t have her imagination. She considers herself a “twenty,” like me, and Susan a “seventeen,” while most of her friends are “fifteens.” But the “thirteens” have no imagination at all.

“Got her!” I fish nothing out of the water. “Ah! Now she is on my head! 400!” I pretend to sink under the weight of the imaginary cat. I will not shut any aspect of Janni down. I will not restrict anything, because I worry once she shuts down in order to conform, her full potential might be lost.

Janni smiles and laughs.

“400! Get off Daddy’s head.”

I smile back, happy.

“You know, Janni, if you could find an ocean big enough to put Saturn in it, it would float.” This is how I teach her. I engage her imaginary friends and then she pays attention.

“Do you remember what the atmospheric pressure on Venus is?”

“Ninety,” Janni answers.

“That’s right. You would weigh ninety times what you weigh on Earth. Of course, if we were on Venus right now, we’d be swimming in sulfuric acid. And then there is the heat. Venus is hotter than Mercury, even though Mercury is closer to the sun, about eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit.”

“It gets up to two hundred degrees in Calilini,” Janni says.

Here is my chance to insert a little reality into her world.

“Janni, that’s hotter than any place on Earth. That’s nearly the boiling point of water. Nothing could survive that temperature.”

“My friends do.”

“It’s not possible. Our bodies are mostly made of water, and at that temperature we would literally start to boil. How can they possibly survive?”

Janni shrugs. “They do.”

I open my mouth, ready to continue arguing the illogic of this, but Janni is drifting away from me so I let it drop.

“Janni,” I call.

She turns around.

“I still have a cat on my head.”

She smiles.

I am looking at the pizza boxes on the table.

Last year, I ordered six medium cheese pizzas and we ran out before all the guests had even arrived, so Susan wanted me to order nine this time. I did, except that now six of them sit still unopened.

Susan comes over and tells me it is time to do the cake.

“Have you told everybody to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Blue-Eyed Tree Frog?” I ask her.

“Yes, I have,” Susan replies, knowing my fear and hers. The last thing we both want is Janni flipping out on her birthday. “Hopefully, people will remember.” She turns and calls out that it is time to light the candles.

Everybody gathers around the cake, which even says, happy birthday, blue-eyed tree frog.

“Okay, you ready?” Susan asks me.

I light the candles. Janni stands between us, rubbing her hands at a speed so fast it looks like it must be painful on her wrists, but she shows no discomfort.

“Okay . . . ,” Susan begins. “Happy birthday to you . . .”

Everybody sings along. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear . . .”

Susan looks at me, nervously.

I sing “. . . Blue Eyed Tree Frog” at the top of my lungs, trying to lead the guests in the correct name and cut off any “mistakes” before Janni can hear them.

“Happy birthday to you!”

Everybody claps, including Janni. I look up at Susan and see her exhaling with relief, as I am.

As Susan serves the cake, I realize it is a smaller group this year. I’ve been paying attention to Janni, playing with her because she won’t play with anyone else, and didn’t notice. That explains the pizza situation. Last year people stayed for hours, long after the cake and the presents. This year, some have already left. Looking around, I realize that Lynn and the twins are gone, too.

— Michael S. Miller Book Developer Scribe, Inc. www.scribenet.com 7540 Windsor Drive, Suite 200B Allentown PA 18195 telephone: 215.336.5094 extension 121

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"An unflinching portrait of the scourge of mental illness." —-Kirkus

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January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 61 reviews.
mommybuddy More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading, it was so difficult to put it down. Michael Schofield wrote a beautiful and heart wrenching story about his inspiring daughter and the struggles they endured as a family in dealing with her illness. Great job Mr. Schofield and I hope only the best and positive things in all your futures!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an RN in a very busy ER, we commonly see these patients. And it is VERY sad that medicare/medicaid and insurance have cut back on reimbursements for the psych population admissions. Basically leaving them to fend on their own in an outpatient treatment setting, these patients could all use this gentlemen in their lives or someone like him....a fighter, a patient advocate!
Elsie_Love More than 1 year ago
People fear what they don't understand. The time has come for people to understand the truth about schizophrenia. Not what is portrayed in the movies. Not what the lamestream media wants to publicize, but The Truth, all of it, even the parts that aren't pretty (not many are). Go on, say the word. Let it roll around on your tongue a bit before forcing it past your lips into the open air. Feels weird, doesn't it? Not so bad, right? Now, try to attach it to someone you love: your best friend, your sister or (God forbid) your own child. Ask yourself this: if my child were suffering, what would I want the world to know about them? How would I want them treated? How would I cope? Who could I trust? Where would we go? How would we function in this place where people shield their eyes and run? Bet you can't even begin to guess. I'm going to go so far as to say, I bet many a reader will pick this book up, read a few chapters, form a few misguided opinions about bad parenting, set it down and thank their lucky stars that it isn't THEM who is affected--it isn't THEIR child lashing out, talking to trees (or dogs or unicorns or demons or...pick your poison here) lost in the world, relying on psychiatry to catch up to the rest of modern medicine and praying people will be kind. But it could be you. If it could happen to Jani, the offspring of two intelligent, loving parents who doted on her and held every aspiration of sending her straight to the top to take over the world, it could happen to you. It happened to me. It happens every day, to families everywhere who feel they have to walk around stigmatized for a biochemical grenade which buried itself in their loved one's brain and blew up when they least expected it. And that, my reading friends, is exactly why you need to read this book. Not only is it well written, it is gritty, raw and truthful. It doesn't paint mental illness in any light other than the one that illuminated the Schofield family. And their light, no matter how much it dimmed, never went out. Instead it became a beacon of hope.
kellysch More than 1 year ago
January First was a wonderfully told story of a family struggling in the eyes of the father.This book captivates the reader so that you can't put it down,you must see what happens next! Written with raw emotion only a father could possess. You are lead through the horrors a little girl's mind plays on her. Schizophrenia takes it's toll on the whole family,but this book shows the courage one family had to overcome and survive. Very intense! This is a must read!!!
perfect_sorrow More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! I was familiar with the story, having seen it on Oprah and 20/20, but to read about the family's struggle with dealing with their daughter's mental illness....wow....I could not put this down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A raw emotion filled book that you won't want to put down. The author grabs your attention from the first paragraph and doesn't let it go till the last word.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story touched a personal note with me b/c it reminded me of so many of the children that I work with on a day to day basis. They are each special in their own way and the author did a wonderful job of allowing the reader to understand the complexity of this disorder, while appreciating the wonderful human beings that hide behind it. It was real and raw...I could not get enough. It left me wanting to know more about January!
voyager8 More than 1 year ago
I haven't been able to put this book down. This father's love for his daughter is beyond words. Nothing is as fascinating as schizophrenia or as evil and destructive. My heart breaks for this poor child this family and their situation. Mind boggling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have watched this family on tv many times and this story always gets me. This story is told by Jani's father..and the emotion is so raw you cant help but feel what this family is feeling and going through. I will and have been recommending this book to everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Powerful and honest. At times, Janni's struggles jump from the page and you can feel Michael and Susan's suffocation from the constant tension. Well worth the read if you have an interest in human nature; dont read if you believe you are perfect and that parenting is easy. The picture painted in book is certainly not through a rose-colored lense but the honestly of the author is what has endeared the nation to his familly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very sad, yet it confirmed my belief that American medicine does not provide quality care to our mental health issues. I appreicate the father sharing his story, yet I can't understand why they didn't reach out to other facilities besides the ones available in California for treatment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully raw and heart wrenching! This book was truly eye opening.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a heart wrenching story. This little girl is so lucky to have parents that love her so much. I commend them on all their efforts and wish them the best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From beginning to end you feel every struggle, triumph, disappointment and achievement in this fascinating story. Its an incredible documentation of a parent's devotion to their child in the most extreme sense of the word. I was moved yet horrified, but rooting and cheering with every page turn. Bravo. As a parent of a child struggling with social and physical challenges, I know that hope is something you have to cling to not just day-to-day but sometimes hour-to-hour.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So sad...I know how it feels to be completely helpless with the mental health system. Very good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A pretty inspiring read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! First time I've ever cried while reading a book. Finished it in two days, and I read slow. AWESOME!
Anays More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating read. In two sittings, I devoured this book and all that it had to offer.  It is wonderfully written and definitely something that's not full of medical jargon or  out of reach concepts.  It's very candid and informational.  I will say that it was a bit much to read about this father's incessant "helplessness", him being the only one who could help his daughter, etc.  But I do understand and have witnessed myself how the mind works when in such emotional strain.  I didn't see it as a narcissistic, especially after getting to the end and really reading through what he was feeling and going through. 
jesslecollett More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great book. Starting from childhood mental illness is  real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and educational read from the point of view of a father that loves his daughter through thick and thin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I follow The Jani Foundation of Face Book and I saw that he had this book for sale.  I immediately purchased it and read it in 4 days.  I cant imagine what the family goes thru on a daily basis the book opened my eyes to Child Schizophrenia and how it effects the family as a whole!  Well written and a must read to everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book, makes u wonder if u could of hung in there to save this girl from her self? Very hard to put down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a parent who has dealt with the inadequacies of the mental health system and the fear of watching a child struggle with a mental illness (not as severe as Jani's) this book struck a chord with me. The helplessness her parents feel while being continuously let down by the system is a very real problem and the cold facts are that there are way too many young people who need inpatient psychiatric care that don't get it because the system is irreparably broken. I challenge any parent to read this book and NOT be heartsick at the struggles of this family and all families struggling with mental illness! Part of bringing about change is ending the stigma surrounding mental illness-we all need to get talking!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put it down; as a human & a psychology major I was enthralled.