BY TRACI WATSON
A journey out of darkness
John Cadigan is an artist. He works primarily in woodcuts, usually in black and white. Looking at his strong, intricate prints, it is hard to imagine he has a serious illness. But Cadigan is also a schizophrenic, a description popularly perceived as wiping out all other possible identities.
Cadigan proves that thinking wrong. Talented and articulate, he leads a productive life with the help of a potent new drug. He is an example of what schizophrenics can accomplish. He is also an example of the power of medical science--and its limitations.
In his senior year of college, Cadigan, now 26, began developing symptoms. He had paranoid ideas about his professors and his family; eventually, he became afraid to go outside. For the next few years, he bounced in and out of hospitals, growing steadily sicker, and doctors diagnosed him as suffering from schizoaffective disorder, a form of schizophrenia.
In a documentary, Out of My Mind, made by his filmmaker sister, Katie, during the acute stage of his illness, Cadigan bears little resemblance to the pleasant-mannered man he is now. His voice is flat. He seldom looks people in the eye. Loud thoughts in his head prevent conversation with others. "You get angry and full of rage," he tells the film's audience. "You want to take revenge." Near the end of the film, Katie is warned to stay away from her brother: He is having paranoid, violent thoughts about her.
Shortly after the film's last scenes in 1994, Cadigan started taking the drug clozapine, and slowly it turned his life around. Now, he works steadily at his art and lives in a Palo Alto, Calif., boardinghouse for people with mental illness. His thoughts have quieted. At the opening this month of a show of artworks by the mentally ill, he gave a speech to nearly 100 people--a feat unthinkable a year ago, says his sister.
Cadigan has not entirely emerged from the darkness of disease. He still has some paranoid thoughts, and he sleeps a lot, perhaps as a side effect of clozapine. Talking about one of his wood blocks, called Danger Hunter, Cadigan points to two fantastic monsters. "These images [stand] for confusing thoughts, because my mind was really confusing me," he explains. Then he points to a hunterlikefigure leaping over the monsters' heads. "This figure is supposed to be battling the thoughts," he says. "Hopefully, it's on top of them."--T.W.
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