Randye Kaye is a national voice talent and actress, also currently heard as part-time newscaster and classical music host on NPR affiliates WSHU-FM and AM. Prior to that, while raising her children, she was a full-time morning personality for a top-rated Connecticut radio station in addition to her voiceover, on-camera and theatre work. During that time, her son Ben was going through confusing and often terrifying changes: what she later learned had been the symptoms of gradual-onset schizophrenia. So at work, her job was to make people laugh – but her “hobby” became mental illness. She finally found education and support through NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and became a teacher and the Connecticut State Trainer for its Family-to-Family educational course.
After leaving Morning Radio (and the 3:15 AM wake-up calls) behind, Randye was asked to write about Ben’s illness and recovery, and how it had affected her family. The result is Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011 ). Randye speaks frequently to professional providers and families about the process of coping with the challenges – including stigma – when mental illness strikes a loved one. She hosted the talk show “Issues and Answers” on Connecticut TV, “The Life Talk show” on radio and podcast, and now produces and hosts the podcast “Schziophrenia: 3 Moms in the Trenches.”
She is also a gifted audiobook narrator, including titles for Tantor Media, Live Oak, Soundprints, and Audible.com. Her narration of Ben Behind His Voices earned a Publisher’s Weekly Listen Up! nomination.
Member of NSA (National Speakers’ Association), Authors’ Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, AFTRA, SAG, MENSA, NAMI, and World-Voices.
For more information please visit www.randyekaye.com
What inspired you to write about your family experience with mental illness?
During the years of the gradual onset of Ben’s schizophrenia, the crisis periods, and finally the first glimmers of hope, I was struggling to support my family as a single parent with several jobs, so I barely had time to think about what was happening. I was a morning radio personality with a top local station, supplementing that with voiceover and theatre work, and eventually became active in NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) as well. I had time to react, but not to reflect.
It wasn’t until the radio station and I divorced (so to speak) and I could finally sleep past 3 a.m. that I started to really piece together where our family had been, where we now were, and how we’d gotten there. With six months of severance pay as part of my departure package (an unbelievably rare occurrence for an actor), and so many friends telling me to write this book, I finally said yes.
Why? Because very few people, both inside and outside our circle of friends and family, seemed to have any understanding of what schizophrenia was, and what all of us had been through. Ben deserved respect, not fear – and I wanted to promote understanding and reduce stigma by telling our story, though the eyes of a mother as well as those of a NAMI educator.
Was writing the memoir cathartic for you?
I had no idea where to begin, so I signed up for a Continuing Education class in creative writing at the local high school. I knew I’d have to produce a chapter each week, and that without that deadline I’d probably never make the time to write.
The first scene I wrote was about the night Ben had been hospitalized for the fifth time, all within one year. He was clearly off his medication, and actively focused on his internal world as we sat in the hospital waiting room – until an elderly woman began to cough, and Ben broke out of his psychosis to ask her if she was okay. I thought, He’s still in there. Behind all those voices. And that eventually became the title of the book. It’s the concept that has kept us all by his side, no matter what.
Writing that scene was tough, of course. It’s not crisis that makes us cry, it’s the love underneath the chaos.
After that, I expected some tears as I wrote. That’s okay. The love is there, and so is the occasional reminder of what was lost. I wouldn’t call it cathartic, though; I had not spent much energy on denying my feelings while it was happening. I had sobbed at the grave of my parents; I had sought help for Ben, his sister Ali, and myself. We had felt, and expressed, our pain.
I had kept so many records of what had happened (hospital records, letters, e-mails, journal entries) that the greater challenge was organizing the years of chaos and emotions into some sort of timeline of events. Writing about it was more of a sad reminder than catharsis.
How does your son feel about the book?
Ben (not his real name, by the way) was initially curious, then wary, and finally supportive of my writing this. We talked about it, and still do, so that I hear and respect his point of view. He gave me permission to continue early on, once he understood that I was clearly telling the story from my perspective, and as long as I changed his name. In addition, he has generously has allowed the use of his own poetry and prose, which presents his point of view through his own literary artistry.
At this point in time, Ben attributes his recovery to the fact that he is clean and sober, not so much to the meds and treatment. Inwardly, he may be starting to accept his illness, but outwardly he won’t say so. This is his journey; a huge learning for our family was to stop trying to “convince” him that he has schizophrenia. His dignity is at stake and must be respected. Still, he loves to help others, so his altruism may result in his coming forth to share more of his experience in time.
How do you hope Ben Behind His Voices will affect the reader?
In a nutshell: increase understanding, reduce stigma, spark hope, provide support, and bring the reader through the family experience as it happens.
It hope it will resonate with all families who are dealing with mental illness, professionals who want a better understanding of what happens to the family between office visits, and those in recovery who hope to reestablish a relationship with their families and friends. When mental illness hits, it happens to the whole family – and it is the family’s strength and love that can help make recovery work.
Ben Behind His Voices also champions for a greater understanding of the illness and the people who have it – a staggering 1 out of every 100 people worldwide. It stresses the importance of early detection so that psychotic episodes and the potential brain damage they bring can be prevented.
The book also offers readers a very helpful, unique feature for a memoir: guideposts of information that can lead readers to more understanding, solutions and support, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
This memoir is a tribute to the families who have been hiding in silent shame for too long. It honors the courage of anyone who suffers with mental illness and is trying to improve his life and participate in his own recovery. The recurring theme throughout the book is the powerful effect of love upon the recovery process.
Ben Behind His Voices will also remind professionals in the psychiatric field that every patient who comes through their doors has a life, one that he has lost through no fault of his own. Each patient is someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, sister or brother, friend, parent. They deserve the belief that they will recover. They deserve respect, hope, and dignity – and so do their families. And, it shows what goes right when professionals treat the family as part of the recovery process, and help them find support, education, respect and acceptance.
What are you working on now?
A short, easy guide to staying positive and enjoying life, even though there certainly are challenges. Most books on happiness are too long and complicated. Because of my work as a radio personality and actress, I learned to focus on joy and humor in challenging circumstances, and am often asked to speak about it. Out of those workshops, a new book is being born, called Happier Made Simple.