Ann Laitman’s son, Daniel, was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 15. Daniel is now 19, and with treatment and family support, he is making progress.
Daniel had been treated for Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression as a young teenager. One summer, while at summer camp and off his ADD medications, he started acting strangely, kept his arm held in an awkward position and lost a noticeable amount of weight, his mother said. When he went back on his ADD medications, stimulant drugs that tend to exacerbate psychosis, Daniel revealed to his parents that he was hearing voices. His parents took him to see a psychiatrist. Daniel said he lived with the voices for a year before disclosing his symptoms.
“I thought I could deal with this on my own, but I couldn’t,” Daniel said.
Daniel was hearing command voices that set up rules for him and told him what to do. “They were draining a lot out of me.”
Upon being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Daniel began treatment that included anti-psychotic medicines and cognitive behavioral therapy. Daniel had to leave high school for a time before returning to the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) program at his suburban New York school for students with specific education needs. BOCES created a learning environment appropriate for Daniel. He also participated in a social skills group and cognitive remediation at Columbia University. Daniel’s family has provided continued support throughout.
“My husband and I are doctors and we extensively research Daniel’s care,” Ann Laitman said. “A lot of his doctors were focused on alleviating symptoms.”
Dr. Laitman wants more than to alleviate the symptoms of her son’s illness. She wants to understand the causes and be a part of finding improved treatments and potentially even a cure for schizophrenia. That’s why her family invests in NARSAD: “NARSAD funds the best ideas and researchers to explore different causes and treatments for schizophrenia. I’m hopeful there’s something coming down the pipeline to treat Daniel more effectively.”
Daniel is in his second year of Community College where he is studying film. He lives at home with his family because he isn’t organized enough to move out on his own, his mother said.
Daniel makes clay animation and live action films, and special movies for his friends and family for their birthdays. A film he made on schizophrenia won him an award in high school. Daniel’s goal is to go create 3-D animation films, and eventually work with the Pixar animation company.
Daniel is also not afraid to put himself in the spotlight. He regularly performs stand-up comedy in New York City and practices his sets in the college cafeteria. “I meet new people and I get to perform,” he said. “It’s great.”
In addition to medication and therapy, running has become part of Daniel’s treatment regimen. His father runs marathons and Daniel started running a few years ago when he gained a lot of weight from his medications. Since then, Daniel has run two Disney World Half Marathons with his dad and older sister. He’s signed up to run again in January 2011.
[Update: Support Team Daniel as they run in the 2012 Disney World Half Marathon on January 8-9: http://bbrfoundation.org/events/teamdaniel]
Daniel’s regimen is paying off: “I’m doing pretty well. The voices are minimal.” And he credits his parents and their support with his progress. “I owe it all to my parents. They’ve been fantastic. It’s useful having two caring doctors as parents.”
Daniel is aware of people’s misunderstandings and the stigma related to mental illness. “One thing I hate is when people say that schizophrenia is multiple personality disorder,” he said. Daniel hopes people will learn more about schizophrenia in order to understand it, and he’s doing his part. “I tell people what it is and if they have questions, they can ask me. Schizophrenia is a part of me. I hope I don’t make anyone uncomfortable, but it happens.”
Daniel’s schizophrenia sent Ann Laitman and her husband on a search for organizations to support that would make a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness. That’s when they found NARSAD. “I’d like for Daniel to do better someday and hopefully there will be a treatment to help him achieve his dreams and goals.”
Support for NARSAD research moves us closer to a world where the mentally ill can live full and productive lives.