My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

No, not my (Rossa’s) mysterious son, but author Dick Russell’s
My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. 
I am now confronted for the second time with the repercussions of my dawdling for years with my own shamanism memoir. In the amount of time it’s taken me to learn how to “write good,” Dick Russell and Rupert Isaacson (The Horse Boy) have beaten me to it. Both authors deserve the highest praise for sharing their fascinating healing journey with their own sons and introducing the world to the shaman’s way.

What follows is my Amazon review of My Mysterious Son

This is a great book – schizophrenia’s long awaited answer to The Horse Boy (autism). The author/father fully “gets” how to understand and work with the life passage that the Western world calls “schizophrenia.” As a mother of a gifted young man of 30 who has been given the schizophrenia label, I, like the author, came to adopt a more shamanic understanding of his purpose in life and went to great lengths to find modern day shamans, or guides, if you will, who could help my son.

To understand schizophrenia and find the right kinds of help, a good place to begin is by suspending disbelief. You’ll need plenty of that if you go the shaman route. Shamans can work wonders, especially in tandem with parents who have the right attitude. I admire the author for being willing to stretch his belief system, something that many parents aren’t prepared to do. The received wisdom of the past several decades tells us that schizophrenia is an unsolvable problem and the problem is within the brain, not with the weight of ancestry or in finding a spiritual path. “Schizophrenia” is mysterious and mutli-faceted. By definition, treating it must be done with imagination. Humor, too. 

The path is long, so why not enjoy it? Both father and son consult the famed African shaman Malidoma, who reminds the father of the upside of schizophrenia. “I mean . . . Being with a person like Frank, there can’t be a dull moment.” So true, if you enter into the spirit of it, as the author has done.

The quantum physics view is intrinsically the shamanic view. It’s all about shifting energy and outcomes based on the viewpoint of the observer. In this case, the parent, Dick Russell, is the observer who decides to shift his viewpoint about what is normal after having several discussions with the noted psychologist, James Hillman. Accepting a new normal that validates spiritual and extra-sensory experience is the crucial ingredient to gradually pushing your relative toward interesting normalcy, and should be the cornerstone of treatment. This means radically overturning the current medical approach that insists that the delusions are meaningless and not to engage with them.

In one incident, the author noticed that Franklin’s delusional talk grew worse after the family pediatrician was impatient with his ramblings and tried to correct his faulty thinking. Haven’t we parents all done that? It doesn’t work and is demeaning all around. Had the author not met James Hillman, it may have taken him a number of years to stumble onto a very basic treatment modality — namely, people in extreme states respond well when others treat them kindly and respectfully and try to engage with, not “correct” their delusions, which are not really so delusional if you pay attention to the content of what is being said and enter into the spirit of engagement. Criticism makes the delusions worse. Why is this simple concept of acceptance and engagement not taught to family members, who are on the front lines of support? My experience tells me that there is a mental illness industry composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, etc. who do not want to dilute the value of their time and expertise by having families do the work they are paid to do. More people would recover sooner if this information were shared. My son’s doctors were adamant that the delusions were to be ignored. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which began as an understandable reaction to the parent blaming of earlier decades, is also responsible for hiding this recovery tool. Better to blame the brain than blame the family by insinuating that how they interact with their relative can be improved upon. My son spent eighteen months in a day program, was hospitalized for three months on three separate occasions, and yet I had to find out this information by doing my own research.

Getting a solid footing on the recovery path may not just be limited to accepting and engaging in the new normal, especially when it comes to a diagnosis of “schizophrenia.” Being non-judgmental in thought, word, and deed may only take you so far. If you believe, as the author does (and I do) that there are genuine paranormal experiences at work in schizophrenia, then feed the beast! Your son or daughter is already dancing in the realm of the spirits so why not go the distance by bringing in guides who speak their language? Warning: Many shamanic practices involve engaging with the spirit of the ancestors. Are you wiling to suspend your disbelief and brave enough to go there yourself?

There is a wonderful scene in the book when the author’s ex-wife (Frank’s mother) invokes the spirit of her ancestors, not in a clearing in the middle of the African jungle nor in a far flung corner of Siberia but in an ordinary suburban house in Maryland. Magic can happen anywhere, even in suburbia, it seems.

My Mysterious Son will have a powerful impact on what is considered acceptable “schizophrenia” treatment in the years to come. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Rossa Forbes is a contributing author to Goddess Shift: Women Leading for a Change