Written by Jessica Ryen Doyle
Before they were even married, Michael and Susan Schofield decided if they ever had a daughter, they would name her January.
They both liked that month the best, mostly because it is the calm after the proverbial storm; the holidays are over, and it’s a peaceful time.
January Schofield was born in 2003 – but her demeanor did not reflect her name. Nicknamed Jani, she rarely slept, and her parents had to keep her visually stimulated around the clock just to keep the screaming at bay. As she grew older, the Schofields noticed their daughter was also brilliant. By 3 years old, she could read and calculate multiplication and division in her head.
But Jani’s behavior became increasingly disturbing. She tried to harm herself and others, including her newborn baby brother, Bodhi. She wouldn’t interact with kids her own age. Instead, she lived between two worlds: reality and an imaginary island called Calalini, where her ‘friends’ included animals and people she named after numbers.
In the coming years, the Schofield family, who live in Santa Clarita, Calif., would feel heartache, despair and a vast variety of other emotions when Jani was diagnosed with early onset childhood schizophrenia at 6 years old.
“I had a mixed reaction to it,” said Michael Schofield, who chronicled his family’s experience in a memoir titled January First. “There was a brief second of happiness – finally we have a name to it – and then the reality of what it meant hit me. Her life expectancy is shorter, and I might outlive her – and I couldn’t deal with that.”
Decoding the mystery
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of Americans and is thought to be hereditary. It’s a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder that causes people to hear voices and have hallucinations, believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting to harm them.