A memoir that reads like a riveting novel, Randye Kaye's "Ben Behind His Voices" (Rowman & Littlefield, $26.95) is a harrowing but ultimately hopeful account of a mother coping with the mental illness that began to emerge in her son during his teen years.
After a nightmarish period marked by runaway episodes, psychotic breaks and seven hospitalizations, Ben was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia and began a course of treatment that brought him back from chaos.
The book is an outgrowth of Kaye's work as a Family to Family educator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which in turn emerged from a career spent as a broadcaster, actress and public speaker.
"I was teaching this Family to Family course and I realized you can't just say stuff. You have to illustrate what you are talking about," the longtime Trumbull resident said of the way she began to talk publicly about her own experiences before she took the writing course that led to "Ben Behind His Voices."
"I left full-time radio and started to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life," Kaye said of the period after she gave up the morning show on STAR 99.
"I didn't know if I could write a book ... I didn't really set out to write a book, but I thought, OK, maybe I can write one chapter," she recalled of her early work in a course at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
When Kaye read that chapter and noticed some of her fellow students starting to tear up, she thought, "Maybe my story will touch other people ... By the time I was done with the class, I had 10 chapters."
"Ben Behind His Voices" starts with Ben as a happy, well-adjusted, popular teen who slowly drifts into eccentric, difficult behavior and then into deeper anti-social episodes.
Because schizophrenia tends to emerge during teen years that are marked by a number of personal changes and challenges, parents often assume the symptoms associated with the illness are a "phase" or even a reflection of drug experimentation -- just the standard difficult adolescence of so many teens.
Kaye was a single mother with another child -- a younger daughter -- juggling a career and family life when it became apparent that Ben was experiencing something more than adolescent rebellion.
The book takes us through misdiagnoses, drug treatments that didn't work and then on to the challenges that came even after the correct diagnosis of schizophrenia -- primarily the problems that emerge when patients go off their medications.
"I wanted to write a book from a mom's point of view. I also wanted to write something that ended hopefully once a diagnosis was made," she said.
"It's an illness just like cancer or heart disease," Kaye stressed, adding that unfortunately there is no medical test that can immediately diagnose schizophrenia in its earliest stages.
Kaye decided to change her son's name when she wrote the book to protect his privacy and to make it clear that it is HER story she is telling.
"I wanted to open people's eyes to the human face (of schizophrenia) and the importance of early detection," she said.
"Ben Behind His Voices" also deals with the acceptance of the loss of many expectations as parents adjust to the reality of a mental illness and its treatment.
"I won't say that I don't miss the son I used to have, the promising future I used to dream about," Kayes writes in the introduction. "I won't say that I don't get a lump in my throat when I look at old pictures of him with (his sister) Ali, their faces alive with laughter. The used to's fill a long list ... We may never be out of the woods entirely, but my family found its way through this new reality: Ben with schizophrenia."
The author maintains a website at www.randyekaye.com.