Activist, writer and public speaker Ben Boone remembers being unable to walk across the stage during his college graduation. Found in the center of the auditorium still in his cap and gown, his parents rushed him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“They said ‘we just don’t know where my son is, he’s disappeared, he’s not communicating,’” Boone said.
Boone has been skyping into Assistant Professor of Psychology Sara O’Brien’s clinical psychology courses for roughly four years now to talk about living with schizophrenia. O’Brien was excited to finally get the opportunity to bring Boone to speak to the entire campus about how he has learned to cope with his diagnosis. Boone spoke to the campus on May 6 in the Alumni Hall Trustee Room.
“It’s so much more than just what’s written about in the textbook and that’s what Ben talks about, his life and how he’s created his life,” O’Brien said. “It’s just been so impactful on the students and a lot of them would say to me afterward that it was really pivotal in their understanding of mental illnesses.”
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that causes a person to experience delusions and hallucinations. Boone explained that during his worst times he would see a Victorian ballroom with people dancing and smell perfume. He also experienced a time where he was impacted by a shadowy figure while in the shower and fell to the ground, causing him to injure his ear. Even though he was the only one who could see these images, they haunted him as he tried to perform daily activities.
“I was no longer ambitious, I couldn’t really think very well, and it changed my personality of course. I was new to the world, but the world was a horrible place to be. I couldn’t function inside it,” Boone said.
Boone’s books “Minority of Mind” and “Experiment of Imagination” explore his journey through the mental health system. After Boone’s graduation, he and his parents experienced first hand some of the injustices people with mental health disorders deal with. In order to receive any information about what was going on with their son, they had to pay the bill of $40,000.
“My parents knew nothing of mental illness, they knew nothing about how to receive care, how to do anything that could take care of me,” Boone said. “This was the first introduction to the mental health system. Kind of the view of the doctor-patient relationship, that empathy [costs] something. That love or those feelings [cost] something [for] the doctor to give.”
To cope with his illness, Boone has found healing in helping others. He has put a lot of his efforts into an organization called Chef’s Table that gives homeless people high-end meals from the top restaurants across the country. He struggled when he didn’t have anyone to advocate for him, so now he uses his voice to advocate for people in need.
“Every day is difficult but at the same time, my mother says that you really have to find the joy and beauty in every moment because every day that follows there will be a struggle,” Boone said.