Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
A Filmmaker with Schizophrenia: John Cadigan Presents His Personal Experience in People Say I’m Crazy
People Say I’m Crazy is the first documentary on schizophrenia that was crafted by someone who lives with the illness. John Cadigan produced the film to gain a better understanding of how his schizoaffective disorder—a combination of schizophrenia and depression—impacts himself and his family. Although he initially created People Say I’m Crazy as an exercise in self-examination, Cadigan has furnished viewers with an extremely intimate and uniquely honest portrayal of schizophrenia unlike anything else ever recorded in film.
Cadigan asks his family questions like, “What was the worst part of my mental illness for you?” and willfully waits for the difficult response. But he also finds the positive in his illness, noticing that it gave his family a specific “problem to focus on” and “forced them to communicate with one another.” John’s parents were divorced long before his illness, making his family “really fractured,” but upon his diagnosis, the Cadigans united together to provide John with constant love and support.
John’s relationship with his sister Katie is perhaps the most moving aspect of People Say I’m Crazy. Herself a film instructor at Stanford University and also an independent documentarian, Katie Cadigan co-directed and co-produced the film to support her brother and to attain a better understanding of how his mind works. Katie hopes People Say I’m Crazy demonstrates to audiences the importance of caring for relatives with mental illness. She insists, “Our family is not special. We were very broken before the diagnosis. And I really hope families learn not to run away from loved ones. They can always provide comfort and relief.”
People Say I’m Crazy treats both the mundane and the extraordinary aspects of John’s life with equal candor. John shows how difficult the seemingly simple aspects of life—such as dealing with his landlord or even planning out his afternoons—can appear an impossible hurdle under the burden of schizophrenia. But John relies on medication, therapy, friendship, family and his work to persevere.
John Cadigan is a gifted visual artist by profession,trained at Carnegie-Mellon University’s College of Fine Arts. Besides his documentary, which won First Prize for Artistic Achievement from Eli Lilly’s Moving Lives Forward Reintegration Awards, John crafts exquisite woodcuts. He selects mythological and biblical themes and believes, “God is the ultimate enigma. All my art is a search for God.” Just as filmmaking helps John come to terms with his mental illness, woodcut printmaking also serves as an outlet for his emotions. John’s talent has inspired him to champion the accomplishments of people with mental illness worldwide by speaking at art exhibitions and political conferences.
John Cadigan acknowledges that although woodcuts and filmmaking are wonderful outlets, art alone cannot quell his schizophrenia. Without the appropriate medical care and family support, John was severely ill and his creative instinct halted. He accredits medical advancements for his marked improvement. He explains, “Finally a new generation of medications came on the market, and they actually began to work. My life became bearable, sometimes even enjoyable. I started to create again—drawing, carving and making woodcuts. If my family and doctor hadn't given me such intense support, I'd probably be dead by now.”
People Say I’m Crazy distinguishes itself from most films dealing with schizophrenia in its refusal to romanticize mental illness and its determination to combat the social stigma commonly endorsed by the media. John Cadigan hopes People Say I’m Crazy inspires others with schizophrenia to be more open about their illness. He reminds, “Treatment is there. There’s a lot of shame now. But don’t be afraid to talk about it, because the more people talk about it, the faster the stigma is erased.”
Early in the documentary, Cadigan clarifies the most common misconception regarding schizophrenia, informing his audience, “The schizo- prefix doesn’t mean personality split—it means break with reality. I don’t know what reality is. I can’t trust my own perceptions. The hardest struggle is to know what’s real and what’s not real.”
John Cadigan, an artist who consistently strives to understand reality, succeeds in depicting an authentic and personal portrayal of schizophrenia. People Say I’m Crazy presents John Cadigan’s setbacks and successes with equal honesty. But most importantly, it demonstrates that with the availability of modern treatments and fulfilling relationships, schizophrenia does not preclude someone from enjoying a stable, rewarding life.
For additional information on People Say I'm Crazy, including upcoming screenings near you, please visit the website www.peoplesayimcrazy.org/.