A Life on Hold: Living with Schizophrenia
by Josie Mendez-Negrete

University of New Mexico Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-826-34056-6.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 11/12/2015

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder or mental illness in which people interpret reality abnormally. Josie Mendez-Negrete recounts her experiences as the mother of an adult son, Tito, who is schizophrenic in A Life on Hold: Living with Schizophrenia. In the preface she states, "After more than twenty years of living inside mental illness as the mother of a son with schizophrenia, I continue to be in awe of Tito's ability to makes sense of and deal with his life." That shows her love. Even more, though, it shows that she sees her son's strengths as well as his disabilities, and she knows that the mentally ill have a great deal to contribute, despite their conditions.

Mendez-Negrete weaves powerful accounts of her visits to her son with factual information from professional literature. She shows how schizophrenia has taken a bite out of her son, leaving him incapable of sustaining normal relationships, holding a job, or living independently. She goes on to show how his condition affects the whole family. Then she adds her insights as a caring, concerned, loving, educated, intelligent mother who tries to take responsibility for her son's protection and lifestyle while living her own life as a sociologist and teacher.

In short, accessible chapters, Mendez-Negrete writes about the fractured realities that schizophrenics experience. These include voices telling them what to do, delusions, cigarettes (as both a calming tool and a type of currency), self-medication in an attempt to feel better, and the horrors of board-and-care warehousing.

There is a fair amount of repetition in the stories, but there is also repetition in the life of the schizophrenic. We hear directly from Tito, who picks up the conversation in each new visit where it left off the last time he saw his mother. Mendez-Negrete is a skilled listener as well as an articulate writer. One of the best gifts she can give her son is the patience to wait while he expresses his thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and desires.

Tito's repetitions remind me of two teenage boys in our church who happen to be autistic. One of them shakes your hand and turns you back to back so he can measure how much taller he is than you are, much like a child standing up against a wall. His brother is more verbal and more athletic, but neither one relates to the world like a normal teenager. Both of them recognize their limitations. They know they will not grow out of this. They've helped me understand Tito's limitations and their mother reminds me a bit of the author because of her patience and love.

This is a book for everyone who has ever loved, taught, or lived in the same neighborhood with someone struggling with mental limitations. It will make you appreciate what is right in your life and what is right in the human race.

Josie Mendez-Negrete is a sociologist who teaches Mexican American studies in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is also the author of Las hijas de Juan: Daughters Betrayed. Her son, Tito, is schizophrenic.

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