My aha! moment came a few days after I was there, and I saw Jani playing with her 9-year-old friend Becca. Becca has paranoid schizophrenia, and the girls met as roommates in the psychiatric ward. I had goose bumps watching them play. It was amazing to see Jani and Becca running around, giggling and sharing their hallucinations and delusions with the other. I was thankful they had found each other and left wishing there were more children who understood them the way they understood each other.
By the end of the week, I also learned a lot about a mental illness that I had never known anything about prior to this except for the name. I certainly didn't come back to Chicago as an expert on schizophrenia, but I came back with a better understanding of what children with mental illness are living with. From my perspective, I left wanting to bring Jani's story to the surface to raise awareness for her and for all the other children living with mental illness. Now that I know about it, I can say I have more compassion and understanding. Jani's story is out there for a reason, and I believe she is going to make a difference.