A mother wrestles with the advent of her son’s schizophrenia and its long, painful unfolding.
Not quite 30 now, the eponymous Ben has weathered many storms within his mind and attempted to calm them with drugs and booze. By mother Kaye’s account, he’s normal in some ways—he “loves nature, children, fantasy video games, helping others, the Indianapolis Colts, Thanksgiving with the family, and vegetarian Thai food.” Yet it is in the nature of schizophrenia to overturn all that is normal, introducing terror into the lives of those who suffer from it—and those who live with them. Kaye details multiple episodes of madness requiring hospitalization, five times in 2003 alone, each of them calling for resourceful response; but, as she writes, no one in her family quite knew what to do or how to respond. Ben is in remission now, but, Kaye adds, there is no “cure” for schizophrenia, and even as Ben feels the weight of his illness, his “family feels isolated, stigmatized, and often very alone.” The author does not play the pity card; indeed, sometimes her prose can seem a touch too matter-of-fact. She is eminently helpful, particularly in the matter of self-medication, which so many of the mentally ill prefer to taking the medications that have been prescribed for them. And for good reason: In a table toward the end of the book, Kaye lists the many excuses for “medication noncompliance,” with entirely reasonable causes such as “they don’t like side effects (weight gain, sexual performance, sedated feeling)” and “fear of becoming medication-dependent.” The author’s wariness and weariness come through, but so does her optimism that, with adherence to his regime of medication, her son can one day hold a job, attend school and perhaps even live on his own.
From a literary point of view, Kaye’s account pales next to Patrick Cockburn’s Henry’s Demons (2011), but it’s heartfelt and surely of help to those new to living with mentally ill loved ones of their own.