Living with Schizophrenia

Front Page / Dec. 19, 2013 10:14am EST

Bethel Man Hopes His Book Will Help
By Donna Olsen

Van Bennett is 43 years old and lives in Bethel with his wife Margaret. He works fulltime, goes to church, takes classes at Community College of Vermont, and pursues his dream of becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine. He also has schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia. The mere word conjures up a vision of a person who is violent and commits criminal acts. But that’s a stereotype, and an unjust and inaccurate one. Bennett has recently published a book about his own journey being a schizophrenic for over 20 years, entitled “Lost in Schizophrenia: The Memoirs of a Schizophrenic.”

“I started to write about myself and the things that had happened to me. I thought it would be a good way to process what had happened to me. But as I continued to write, I realized I could help a lot of people,” said Bennett.

After nine nervous breakdowns and countless hospitalizations, Bennett is stable and actively in recovery. He came to Vermont in 2003 to enroll in Community College of Vermont to begin the process of getting his undergraduate degree in science. He has an associate’s degree in architectural engineering.

He met Margaret during a brief stay on the psychiatric floor at Fetcher Allen Medical Center. Margaret, who also has a type of schizophrenia, was impressed with Bennett’s goals and his commitment to his faith.

“He kept pursuing me. I was in a month longer, but he kept in touch. When I left the hospital, I was in transitional housing and then in a women’s shared housing. I invited Van over and he proposed to me,” she remembers. Margaret turned him down that time, but two months later he proposed again. She accepted.

Margaret says she knew some of his history but not a lot of it.

“I have personal experience with that. I have a mental illness. I did not date a lot. People were scared the more I was honest about my diagnosis,” she said.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, news and en- tertainment media tend to link mental illness, including schizophrenia, to criminal violence.

Dr. Kevin Buchanan, a psychiatrist at the Clara Martin Center in Randolph and Bennett’s doctor, explained:

“Though some individuals with schizophrenia are prone to violence because of their symptoms, in general, folks with schizophrenia are not violent. In fact, they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators,” he told The Herald.

Buchanan is a fan of Bennett’s book, saying it offers a view of “schizophrenia from the inside.”

Bennett attributes many things to his recovery and his stability, including “my treatment team at Clara Martin, my friends and family, my medication and my strong spiritual faith,” he said

His marriage to Margaret is also a big part of his stability.

“She saved my life,” he declared. “Part of my life was lonely and I needed to love someone and care for someone, I needed someone to love and care for me. And that someone was Margaret.”

It helps that both of them are in recovery.

“I don’t get judgmental when he gets upset, and I understand what he is going through. I know it is the mental illness. He does the same for me,” said Margaret. “It is just part of the path.”

There are over 2.2 million diagnosed schizophrenics in the United States, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In Vermont, the Agency of Human Services, Department of Mental Health states that as of 2011, the number of diagnoses of schizophrenia was 1554.

Bennett hopes that his book will help those people and that by writing about his experiences it will be clear that recovery is possible.

“It took me ten years to accept my diagnosis. My advice is to listen to your doctor,” he said.

(For information, including how to purchase “Lost in Schizophrenia”, contact Bennett at vanb1970@yahoo.com.)

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