January First

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 .

WHOOOO boy. This book, though. Stories like this are exactly why I am “celebrating” Mental Health Month. Janni was FIVE when her father was fighting to get her help. And no one would listen or help. Everyone of authority in Michael Schofield’s path passed the buck and passed the buck and passed the buck. Teachers and medical professionals and insurance companies. No one wanted to help this seriously, terrifyingly ill little girl.

Go into this book with compassion in your heart. This story is devastating for the Schofield family all the way through. Hopefully none of us have to make these kinds of impossible decisions. It’s such an intense story, and a beautifully honest one.

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