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Book Reviews   |    
The Danny Diaries: Overcoming Schizophrenia

by Ann Cluver Weinberg; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Trafford Publishing, 2010, 420 pages, $27.26

Reviewed by Harriet P. Lefley, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.631005
View Author and Article Information

Prof. Lefley is with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida.

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A daily record of the developmental history of a child who later develops schizophrenia should be a rare find. The author began keeping a diary of her son Danny’s progress when he started speaking at 15 months. Her earliest notations were of nondistractibility, half-hour tantrums, unusual fears, and “crazy Intensity.” At age three he was writing poems about death. Yet his nursery school sent written evaluations of “a thoughtful, even-tempered little boy . . . [with] good understanding and judgment” and even in their final report described him as “happy and even-tempered.”

Danny’s parents were an educated South African couple who moved to London to escape apartheid. Returning later to their native land, they raised their children with democratic values and optimal freedom to grow. It was a happy family that played music and read books together. Danny had a high IQ and strong musical ability, got prizes in school, and did well in sports. But at the relatively early age of 14 he became sexually active, began smoking marijuana daily, and then began to be truant from school and have minor problems with the police. The parents learned that Danny had long been hearing voices and now was having paranoid delusions. Diagnosed as having schizophrenia, Danny was informed of neurological evidence of brain damage due to his heavy cannabis smoking and was given a stern prediction of further deficits if he continued. Danny’s first stay in a psychiatric hospital was brief, overly restrictive, and unproductive. Depressed, he resumed smoking marijuana and tried other unspecified street drugs, but local substance abuse programs would not take someone with schizophrenia. The parents were frantic in dealing with therapists who gave conflicting advice. They finally had to turn to Canada and Hawaii for affordable and ultimately effective rehabilitative facilities.

This book recapitulates the painful ordeal of parents trying to find help, as recently as the early 1980s, for an adolescent with schizophrenia, which recounts with harrowing detail the barriers, rebuffs, and professional mismanagement. But it also gives the natural history of a child who later became psychotic and the uneven trajectory of a serious mental illness, and it provides a real-life example of recovery. It shows the cyclical pattern of breakdown, remission, hope, relapse, and regained hope. Danny ultimately did recover, returned to university studies, and migrated to Florida, where he currently works on boats. He reportedly has been functional and nonsymptomatic for the past 20 years without medication.

Like many memoirs of schizophrenia, this is a book that answers few etiological questions but rather highlights the heterogeneity of functional capacity and potential for recovery. It certainly might answer more questions if Danny had not been a heavy cannabis user. Danny episodically manifested psychotic symptoms for many years. His recovery was seemingly facilitated by loving, supportive family members who went to great ends to find appropriate therapeutic programs. Danny also gave up cannabis (and antipsychotics) as he matured. But whether Danny recovered from schizophrenia or from the schizophrenic behaviors of someone genetically predisposed to respond adversely to substance abuse remains a continuing puzzle for further research.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

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