Ben Behind His Voices is an inspirational story about a family’s experience with schizophrenia. The focus of Randye Kaye’s book is on her son Ben, who struggled for many years with mental health and substance abuse issues until he was finally correctly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Kaye leads her readers through the family’s difficult experiences with this illness and their journey toward recovery and acceptance. This book is a good resource for individuals with schizophrenia and their families. It also serves as a strong reminder to mental health professionals to treat individuals affected with the illness with dignity and compassion.
Throughout the book, Kaye fluctuates between the past and present to tell her story. She begins her narrative with some insight into the possible early warning signs of Ben’s illness:
It all started, or so I thought, with marijuana. Or did the trouble really begin when Ben dropped out of high school, with plans to travel cross-country, search for his father, and knock on doors to ask for work if he needed money?
Maybe I should have recognized schizophrenia when Ben was fifteen, the night he broke down in sobs after a huge fight with me and said, “What’s wrong with me, Mom? Please, please, find me someone to talk to. I don’t know what’s happening. I used to be so happy.”
The consistent theme throughout Kaye’s book is that “there must be a reasonable explanation” for her son’s maladaptive behavior. She carries the reader along and we, in turn, can feel her pain to find the answers to her son’s issues and problems. She begins some of her chapters with excerpts from Ben’s writings, which provide the reader some insight into his perspective on his struggles:
I am most of my voices
Many different selves
I don’t need to give in to what I fear
Just give in to the fact that I’m afraid.
~ Ben, c. 2001
As a helpful resource, Kaye includes ‘chapter guideposts’ which clarify some of the various issues and terms related to loving someone with schizophrenia. She also offers tips and resources to assist in the management of the disorder. One guidepost she provides in chapter 19 is entitled “some reasons for medication noncompliance” For example, the individual may have a “lack of insight into the illness (biological — the brain is impaired),” “they don’t like the side effects (weight gain, sexual performances, sedated feeling)” and “fear of becoming medication dependent.” Kaye also offers suggestions for what loved ones can do about this problem, including watching for the return of symptomatic behavior and increasing supervision of medication.
Ben was diagnosed with ADHD in high school. Kaye notes that during the following years, “he was to pass through the hands of four psychiatrists, several therapists, and several diagnoses and prescriptions.” He was also subject to five psychiatric hospitalizations in 2003 alone, then two more at a later date. Those eventually led to his current recovery. Kaye described the weight of Ben’s illness on her life: the “family feels isolated, stigmatized, and often very alone.”
It is remarkable that Kaye remained optimistic about her son’s recovery even as she trudged through all the years of hardship and anguish. Her dedication to her son is reflected in a statement made in her introduction: “Ben has never lost us; the love of his family has been part of his recovery.“ Currently, Ben is in recovery as he adheres to a medication regimen and lives in a group home. Kaye is hopeful that her son “can one day attend college, hold a job and eventually live on his own.”
It is unfortunate that Kaye and her family had to go through so much before Ben received the correct diagnosis of schizophrenia. From this psychotherapist’s perspective, it seemed obvious from early in the book that Ben was struggling with more than just typical ADHD-related issues. Therefore, I found myself feeling frustrated by the various mental health professionals that Kaye consulted and why they could not see what was the core diagnosis underlying his maladaptive and tormented behavior. On the other hand, the book also reminds me that schizophrenia does not make up a person’s complete identity. These individuals are more than just their voices and symptoms; they are human beings that require love, compassion, dignity and respect.
Overall, Ben Behind His Voices is a book I would recommend for those individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as those who love them. Kaye shares her own personal pain and frustration in understanding the illness as well as provides suggestions to readers on how to best cope with it. It also offers hope to those families who may be on the verge of giving up on their loved one and further reminds mental health professionals to remain compassionate in their treatment of persons afflicted with this tragic disorder.
Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope
By Randye Kaye
Rowan & Littlefield Publishers: August 16, 2011
Hardcover, 320 pages