This is a review of Randye Kaye’s book “Ben Behind his Voices” that I just posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
Horrifying Read – A Testament to Abuse of Power and Parental Authority
With the interest I have in getting an insight into the living circumstances of people suffering from schizophrenia and perhaps a glimpse of their unique way of seeing things, Randye Kaye’s book did catch my eye, So I went ahead and read it. It was even lauded as “inspirational” in the description, but to me it was anything but. What I really got out of the book was an insight into how parental power and medical authority trumped civil liberties – something I didn’t think possible in America. Up until that point, I had thought that the supreme court verdict in O’Connor v. Donaldson prevented anyone from being involuntary committed unless they constituted a clear and present danger to other people or at least themselves. Yet here I see how a mother wants her son committed because he talks about “psychic vampires” – and gets her way.
The book enumerates countless times this Ben is being involuntarily committed – usually because of minor psychiatric symptoms, though sometimes because of the side-effects his medication has caused him – on every single occasion instigated by his mother. There does seem to be some skepticism on the part of caregivers about having him committed since he doesn’t appear that ill, but Ben’s mother always insists. Hence he’s forced to take medications that sometimes have death as a common side-effect. Most alarming is her predilection for potent drugs. To quote a passage from the book:
Even with smart treatment, there’s no magic formula for successful treatment of schizophrenia. I’d read about a medication called Clozaril, but Dr. Taylor wanted to try that only as a last resort. “There are so many other medications that could work,” he said, “and I’d rather start with those.”
Clozaril, or clozapine as is its clinical name, is a lethal drug that killed hundreds of Americans every year during the period when Randye wanted her son to take it. It’s usually given to the truly hopeless cases, the ones that have been through other medications for years without any relief in symptoms, yet she wants her son on it right away! She must truly hate her son. You also get an insight into their dysfunctional family mechanics in passages like this one:
I glanced over at Ben; he was smirking. Smirking! He was looking at me like I was a lunatic, and he was the calm one. The superior one, tolerating my unreasonable mood, and just barely. It was all too much. All the months of patience, of waiting for him to come to his senses, of excusing his behaviors, came barreling in. My right hand reached across and slapped him. On the cheek. Hard. How did that happen? “Stop it!” I shouted. “What is wrong with you?”
Ben was stunned. He put his own hand to his reddened cheek and stared at me.
“You bitch!” he yelled. “You hit me. You hit me! You’re crazy, you are fucking crazy!”
And my right hand hit him again. I was nearing a red light and stopped the car, but I could not stop my hand. This time the slap landed closer to his eye. “You earned it!” I heard myself scream. “How dare you call me that?”
There was no objective arbiter of their dispute though. She was the one established in society, the one whose superior age gave her power over her son, and consequently it was her way of seeing things that was recognized by society. The book details innumerable abuses she commits against her son, like dropping him off far away from home like she does right after that passage, calling the police on him for no reason etc. I’m amazed no social welfare worker intervenes on her son’s behalf, but I assume her son wasn’t as vigilant about getting his way as she was. He simply didn’t bring in third parties like she did. She clearly is a danger to his health though, and I’m amazed he’s still alive today in spite of her.
I don’t see why she feels the need to have her son committed for the minor symptoms he displays, but I guess she might be suffering from a case of misandry. Ben’s father disappeared at an early age, you somewhat get the impression that Randye chased him away, and there’s a clear difference in how the male versus the female members of the family are regarded. Anything that can be presented in a bad light about the males, are, while the female ones are treated with kid gloves. The males are made to feel bad about everything. She accuses Ben of making up excuses, yet she has one of her own for every move she makes against her son. It’s always his fault she’s punching him, having him committed etc.
This isn’t to say that I idolize this Ben. Dropping out of school without a plan and smoking weed is obviously not acceptable or responsible behavior. But her reactions seem so exaggerated. Like, she has him attend AA/NA groups for this pot use. I’m straight edge myself and condemn all drug use, but it does seem awfully strange that he’s supposed to sit in these meetings with people much older than he is and relate how the drugs ruined his life, when they appear to not have had that much of an impact. I get the impression that Randye wants her son to internalize a negative self-concept by enrolling him in these things. He’s even forced to live in an institutional room for six months since she can’t arrange any other residence for him and doesn’t want him living at home. And this is a guy that has neither been violent with his family, nor stolen anything from them.
I can empathize with Ben since I went through similar events at the same age. In my late teens, my family had fallen apart and everyone but I had become a substance abuser. Yet instead of letting me become an independent adult, the social services intervened heavily in my life, demanded that I attend meetings with them where they attempted to deconstruct my identity – and even tried to have me institutionalized for supposedly lacking social skills. A completely unwarranted intervention that I will never forgive them for. Thankfully my mother (RIP) wasn’t like Randye though. She enlisted their help for her substance abuse problems, but didn’t want any coercion to be taken against me. The social workers did however read their own interpretations into living circumstances where I was the only one keeping order. That was such a stab in the back, and I had to suffer through two nightmarish years.
Randye talks a lot about her involvement with the NAMI in the book, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization funded by big pharma whose messages is mainly just “you need to take your meds.” I wonder if this book had found its way out there if it hadn’t been for her partnership with this organization, because there sure are a lot of people wanting memoirs in print who don’t find a publisher – me included. All I can see is a mother who first reacts to her son’s psychiatric symptoms in an atrocious way, then profits by selling a book about her experience, without letting its protagonist even have a voice in the whole matter. To top it all off, in the “about the author” section I read that she’s a diversity trainer for the Anti-Defamation League. Obviously she’s not much for psychological diversity, but then again – I don’t think “tolerance training” is much about opening people’s minds – it’s rather dictating to people how they’re allowed to think, something she appears very fond of. She also speaks ill of patients’ rights and seems to feel that psychiatry should have free hands in treating people in whichever way they want, something that in the past led to forced lobotomies and other such abuses.
For people interested in the liberty aspect of mental health treatment, I recommend an article entitled “Uncivil Commitment: Mental Illness May Deprive You of Civil Rights” or the writings of late Thomas Szasz. Society failed Ben in protecting him from his mother.