A Family’s Struggle with Schizophrenia

Room for J, a new book on one family’s struggle with schizophrenia, started out as a way for Dan S. Hanson of Maple Grove to work through his thoughts and feelings on his son’s mental illness. Journaling, he says, was “my way to cope.”

But Dan’s journals grew into a way for his whole family to become involved, to share with each other, to have a voice and “help put a face on mental illness.”

J, or Joel, is 30 years old and has been ill since he was 20. During these 10 years, Dan said, “Joel has always believed he is God. There has been no break in that. The form of God he believes he is has evolved or changed, but there has been no break in it.”

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Joel has been on many anti-psychotic medications and combinations of medications over the years, including clozaril, haldol, zyprexa, risperdal, lithium, and others. None have really worked, although they seem to calm the psychosis down.

Dan explained, “He still believes he’s God, talks telepathically to other people. He is still under commitment and does not have insight into his illness. His delusions have not gone away.”

Despite his illness, Dan said, “Joel is doing quite well right now. He’s working part-time, taking medications and will soon be moving to his own place.”

Because Joel’s illness impacts the whole family, Dan persuaded his wife, daughter, oldest son, and Joel, all to include journal entries in the book. The book, remarked Dan, is “one family’s journey through mental illness and how they are able to love and care for the person even though it is very difficult at times. The title has the double meaning of making room for Joel in our family, family acceptance, and for making room in our society for all the Js.”

Dan and his wife, Sue, have attended NAMI Family-to-Family education classes on mental illness where they learned a few things about coping and also that they are not alone. “It was helpful to us to know that others were facing similar things,” said Dan. He said they also learned, “how to set boundaries and deal with feelings of hopelessness.”

He advised other families with a loved one with mental illness to “find others who are going through similar things. Get in touch with NAMI to understand the illness and learn how to care for yourself and the person you love.”

Room for J has a lot of photos of the family and Joel, and Dan says they were put in the book for an important reason. “We wanted to be a voice for all families and put a face on mental illness,” he said. “And we wanted to show it affects all families.”

The book also offers guidance and hope to families facing a very difficult struggle. To order, call 1-800-901-3480 or go to www.BookHouseFulfillment.com.

This article is re-printed with permission from the NAMI-Minnesota ADVOCATE newsletter. For more information about NAMI’s programs, call 651-645-2948.