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Crazy about awareness

A beautiful mind isn’t always beautiful, as a crowd of appoximately 200 found out at Gibbons Alumni Center Friday night, where a screening of the documentary People Say I’m Crazy was held.

The award-winning film was directed by John Cadigan, who suffers from schizophrenia and depression, and his sister Katie. It displays his life in intimate ways, showing the trials he faces in everyday life, such as getting up in the morning.

Cadigan, who relies on medication, therapy, friends and family to survive, initially created the film with the intent of observing himself.

“I thought filming myself would force me to examine my life, maybe help me accept what was going on with me,” Cadigan said in the film.

Rather than romanticizing mental disease, the film gives honest reactions of family members who struggle while caring for Cadigan.

In one scene, Cadigan asks his mother to single out the hardest part of being a caregiver. Unable to come up with just one, she tells him there are too many.

“Once I understood how much having this brain disease, how much you struggled and what pain you were in, it was really unbearable to me because I couldn’t help you,” she said.

However, his disease has had one positive effect on his family.

“We were very dysfunctional,” Cadigan said. “What we say is that the family kind of came together to help me.”

Katie Cadigan, a filmmaker who specializes in documentaries, said John lived with her and her husband after he experienced the first stages of the disease at age 21. He became immobile, as though frozen, and had to drop out of art school. John Cadigan said that was when he became paranoid about the stigma surrounding his mental illnesses.

“It was the beginning of the labels,” John Cagidan said, listing terms such as depression, psychotic features, schizoaffective, mania, paranoia and schizophrenia.

After moving in with his sister and her husband, John Cadigan found outlets such as woodcarving to express his emotions since he couldn’t stand to watch TV or read. He used art to explore the spiritual world.

“I think when you go into the unconscious, you go into your soul,” he said.

Cadigan used his carvings as stamps to create black-and- white depictions of his soul-searching. He said in the film that on good days, he tries to work as long as he can in his San Francisco studio until medication-induced drowsiness sets in. One of his larger carvings took 108 hours to finish.

“Even the very shape of an object can be inspiring,” Cadigan said on his Web site, “Objects speak to me on a spiritual level, and I must create them. In all, my art is a spiritual quest to find the divine.”

Cadigan also uses art and his studio as a respite from the paranoia he suffers. One scene shows him at his brother’s wedding. Cadigan recalls that when the attendees looked at him, he felt intense paranoia, thinking they all had secret agendas.

“A glance here and a glance there – it’s evil after me,” he said.

Paranoia is just one of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. According to, hallucinations, delusions, depression, low motivation, an inability to experience pleasure and poor attention are also symptoms. The site also stated that distinguishing between reality and fantasy can be difficult for someone with the disorder.

One of Cadigan’s friends featured in the film also has schizophrenia and said he is constantly tormented by imaginary elves. Another friend with the illness said it tormented her into drinking Diet Coke with every McDonald’s meal she ate.

According to, “years of research have shown that schizophrenia is a biologically-based brain disease. The most recent advances in brain imaging have confirmed imbalances of two brain chemicals – dopamine and serotonin – in those who suffer from schizophrenia.” As of yet, there is no confirmed cause.

Cadigan, however, thinks it is partly heredity, as his mother’s cousin had schizophrenia.

“It just so happened by accident that the doctors that had treated her treated me like 20 years later, and he said that our symptoms were almost identical,” Cadigan said.

Schizophrenics must rely on medications that suppress symptoms and must be hospitalized if the disease’s effects become overwhelming. Cadigan said his recent hospitalization stemmed from the failure of Medi-Cal, California’s healthcare aid to residents, to approve a new medication he needed. Cadigan was “shuffled” around the system while his condition worsened.

The documentary’s purpose is to educate viewers and remove the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Dean David Shern of USF’s Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, which sponsored the event, said these principles are necessary because mental illnesses are some of the most disabling.

As far as the crowd present on Friday is concerned, the film seems to have fulfilled its purpose.

“It made it a lot more understandable,” pre-med senior Khalil Mandry said. “You learn about it in class, but it brings it all together when you actually see it.”

The film is available for purchase for educational and institutional uses only. It has also been shown on the Cinemax channel and won six awards at film festivals nationwide.