Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

No, not my (Rossa's) mysterious son, but author Dick Russell's
My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. 
I am now confronted for the second time with the repercussions of my dawdling for years with my own shamanism memoir. In the amount of time it's taken me to learn how to "write good," Dick Russell and Rupert Isaacson (The Horse Boy) have beaten me to it. Both authors deserve the highest praise for sharing their fascinating healing journey with their own sons and introducing the world to the shaman's way.

What follows is my Amazon review of My Mysterious Son

This is a great book - schizophrenia's long awaited answer to The Horse Boy (autism). The author/father fully "gets" how to understand and work with the life passage that the Western world calls "schizophrenia." As a mother of a gifted young man of 30 who has been given the schizophrenia label, I, like the author, came to adopt a more shamanic understanding of his purpose in life and went to great lengths to find modern day shamans, or guides, if you will, who could help my son.

To understand schizophrenia and find the right kinds of help, a good place to begin is by suspending disbelief. You'll need plenty of that if you go the shaman route. Shamans can work wonders, especially in tandem with parents who have the right attitude. I admire the author for being willing to stretch his belief system, something that many parents aren't prepared to do. The received wisdom of the past several decades tells us that schizophrenia is an unsolvable problem and the problem is within the brain, not with the weight of ancestry or in finding a spiritual path. "Schizophrenia" is mysterious and mutli-faceted. By definition, treating it must be done with imagination. Humor, too. 

The path is long, so why not enjoy it? Both father and son consult the famed African shaman Malidoma, who reminds the father of the upside of schizophrenia. "I mean . . . Being with a person like Frank, there can't be a dull moment." So true, if you enter into the spirit of it, as the author has done.

The quantum physics view is intrinsically the shamanic view. It's all about shifting energy and outcomes based on the viewpoint of the observer. In this case, the parent, Dick Russell, is the observer who decides to shift his viewpoint about what is normal after having several discussions with the noted psychologist, James Hillman. Accepting a new normal that validates spiritual and extra-sensory experience is the crucial ingredient to gradually pushing your relative toward interesting normalcy, and should be the cornerstone of treatment. This means radically overturning the current medical approach that insists that the delusions are meaningless and not to engage with them.

In one incident, the author noticed that Franklin's delusional talk grew worse after the family pediatrician was impatient with his ramblings and tried to correct his faulty thinking. Haven't we parents all done that? It doesn't work and is demeaning all around. Had the author not met James Hillman, it may have taken him a number of years to stumble onto a very basic treatment modality -- namely, people in extreme states respond well when others treat them kindly and respectfully and try to engage with, not "correct" their delusions, which are not really so delusional if you pay attention to the content of what is being said and enter into the spirit of engagement. Criticism makes the delusions worse. Why is this simple concept of acceptance and engagement not taught to family members, who are on the front lines of support? My experience tells me that there is a mental illness industry composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, etc. who do not want to dilute the value of their time and expertise by having families do the work they are paid to do. More people would recover sooner if this information were shared. My son's doctors were adamant that the delusions were to be ignored. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which began as an understandable reaction to the parent blaming of earlier decades, is also responsible for hiding this recovery tool. Better to blame the brain than blame the family by insinuating that how they interact with their relative can be improved upon. My son spent eighteen months in a day program, was hospitalized for three months on three separate occasions, and yet I had to find out this information by doing my own research.

Getting a solid footing on the recovery path may not just be limited to accepting and engaging in the new normal, especially when it comes to a diagnosis of "schizophrenia." Being non-judgmental in thought, word, and deed may only take you so far. If you believe, as the author does (and I do) that there are genuine paranormal experiences at work in schizophrenia, then feed the beast! Your son or daughter is already dancing in the realm of the spirits so why not go the distance by bringing in guides who speak their language? Warning: Many shamanic practices involve engaging with the spirit of the ancestors. Are you wiling to suspend your disbelief and brave enough to go there yourself?

There is a wonderful scene in the book when the author's ex-wife (Frank's mother) invokes the spirit of her ancestors, not in a clearing in the middle of the African jungle nor in a far flung corner of Siberia but in an ordinary suburban house in Maryland. Magic can happen anywhere, even in suburbia, it seems.

My Mysterious Son will have a powerful impact on what is considered acceptable "schizophrenia" treatment in the years to come. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Rossa Forbes is a contributing author to Goddess Shift: Women Leading for a Change

Friday, January 30, 2015

Experiencing technical difficulties

Unfortunately, I am no longer able to reply to comments posted on this blog, nor can I post replies on other people's.

I am in the process of transitioning this blog to a Wordpress blog and the comments function is one of the casualties. If anyone out there knows how to fix this, your help would be most appreciated.

 I hope to announce the new blog in the coming weeks.

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Theological Interpretation of Mental illness-A Focus on “Schizophrenia”

originally posted on the Beyond Meds blog

by Elahe Hessamfar

A book: In the Fellowship of His Suffering: A Theological Interpretation of Mental Illness – A Focus on ”Schizophrenia”

fellowshipMy precious daughter, Helia, was diagnosed with “schizophrenia” fourteen years ago at age of 23. Her illness was sudden and shocking to all who knew her. Helia had a good life by all worldly standards.  She was stunningly beautiful, with a kind and sweet personality. She had recently graduated from one of the country’s top universities.  She had a good job and had recently been promoted.  She lived in NYC, the city she loved, was about to be engaged to the man she deeply loved, and was very involved in her local church.  She was a devout Christian who had had a major conversion experience while she was in college, and whose life was centered on her faith in God.
Read more here

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Interview with Ann Cluver Weinberg, author of The Danny Diaries

Ann Cluver Weinberg is a South African writer. In this 2013 interview she discusses how the diagnosis and the gloomy attitude of the doctors was an impediment to helping her help her son. I so identify with what she went through:

"I was frighted and I was frightened by the doctors being so frightened themselves. I thought doctors and psychologists ought to calm you down but these ones were saying "do you know, Mrs.Weinberg, you have got here a very disturbed boy!"

Read my review of The Danny Diaries here. There are two parent memoirs about schizophrenia that capture my own understanding of how to help someone transition through psychosis to recovery. The Danny Diaries is one.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Person of the Year - Corinna West

"If you want to know how young black people overcome adversity, we’ve got over 400 videos up on the Poetry for Personal Power You Tube channel." (Corinna West)

Corinna West is the one woman dynamo behind Poetry for Personal Power, a mental health social inclusion campaign that encourages young people struggling with mental health issues to get up on stage and communicate. She founded Wellness Wordworks in 2008 to show how the recovery community can provide internet skills and business opportunities to their peers. I've always been impressed with Corinna's entrepreneurial and community leadership skills. She seems to have zillions of "I can do" ideas in her head. Corinna's enthusiasm for social change is infectious, not to mention she's got a master's degree in pharmaceutical chemistry with lived experience, having survived homelessness and 12 psychiatric diagnoses.

An amazing woman.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

Rossa's recommendation: Top notch! The best! Can't put it down! Below is a Kirkus Review of Dick Russell's superb memoir. This book should be on every parent's night table and on every therapist's bookshelf. The alternative approach offers great hope even for those who have spent years in hospitals and group homes.


A memoir about the tight bond between a father and his mentally ill son.
Until his son’s late teens, Russell (The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist, 2013, etc.) had enjoyed his relationship with Franklin, a smart, handsome, mixed-race child who was a “dreamer” and a perfectionist but showed no traits considered out of the ordinary. At 17, however, Franklin experienced his first mental breakdown. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia; suddenly, Russell didn’t know how to connect with his son. With honesty and grace, the author writes of the maelstrom of feelings that surged in and around him and his son for the next 15 years as Franklin moved in and out of group homes and the hospital as his illness progressed. Some days Franklin was kind and loving, and at other times, he denied Russell was his father, lashing out with rage and frustration. When an unexpected opportunity arose to take Franklin to Africa, where the author had traveled as a young adult, father and son embarked on the trip with both anticipation and trepidation. Although Franklin’s schizophrenia manifested occasionally, the two-week trip led Russell to believe that his son’s disability might actually be evidence of something more profound, a deep connection with the spirit world. Searching for more answers, Russell and Franklin underwent numerous healings with a West African shaman and a Peruvian healer, who both confirmed Russell’s idea that Franklin was not afflicted with an illness but was undergoing vastly different life events than those around him. The author’s candid account of these difficult years shows his deep commitment and love toward his son and offers readers a new concept on how people with mental illnesses should be perceived.
Not all readers will be convinced, but Russell provides an earnest and eye-opening account of the possible thin line between a psychotic disorder and mysticism.
Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1629144870
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Review Posted Online: 
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today's Obituary

P. D. James, Novelist Known as ‘Queen of Crime,’ Dies at 94

Ms. James gave birth to the first of her two daughters in 1942, during a bombing blitz. She served as a Red Cross nurse during the war. When her husband returned from military service with a severe mental disability, marked by bouts of violence, that kept him virtually confined to hospitals and unable to work, Ms. James was forced to support her family. She went to work for the National Health Service and attended night classes in hospital administration.

Read more here