Sunday, January 20, 2013

Am I schizophrenic?

click on the image to enlarge

These four are bits and pieces of a much larger drawing.  I draw the paintings before I paint them.  Someone typed into the search engine "do schizophrenics plan their paintings?" and ended up being referred to my blog.  I liked the question.  Of the two living schizophrenic artists I know who have been represented by a New York city art gallery I only have definite information on one. The fellow who paints in oil plans his paintings.   The other who draws in pencil I do not know.

However, ten years ago when I helped design a large scale show of art by mentally ill artists at a clubhouse in Connecticut it was rather clear that most artists there did not generally plan their paintings.  One schizophrenic might have.  He had been an art professor at an art school before he got sick.   I read an interview in the New York Times with a schizophrenic artist who said that he thought abstract art was the best medium for a schizophrenic...................and to myself I thought yeah, it doesn't make you work too hard, just have fun and mess around with the paint.  But I'm all about the work ethic.  I've never ever painted abstract, and in my youth I had a lot of trouble appreciating abstract art.  But I have tried.  And in fact, just several weeks ago while researching a new, hot outsider artist who paints abstract, (he's new but he's dead) I saw one of his images and in a knee jerk reaction said to myself "that's beautiful".  So there's hope for me and my evolving sensibilities.

A little under a month ago I lowered my antipsychotic medication once more, with the cooperation of my medication nurse, and I'm now at a dose of 60mg Geodone while a therapeutic threshold for this drug is 120mg.  I have read schizophrenics having substantial relief of their symptoms at 60mg.  However, I exhibit as far as I can tell no symptoms of mental illness - other than having trouble concentrating for long periods of time.  My mood can be irritable, sad or angry, not nice things, but it all seems simply part and parcel of being a human being and in no way pathogenic.  If there was a problem with my mood there would be a problem in my marriage and my marriage is going along swimmingly.  There is no extreme in me. Probably the biggest oddity is my art and the subject matter of the images, but I look at a lot of modern art on the internet and from some sane artists who have been to art school and are showcased by outsider galleries there is nothing more shocking or odd about me than them.  I don't have a normal head, but neither do I seem to have a pathological head.

So I'm wondering if I haven't aged out of my schizophrenic disease.

Is it up for debate whether or not schizophrenia is chronic?

My medication nurse is against me going off Geodone completely.  She thinks because I was psychotic at 19 that I'm vulnerable to psychosis that that while off meds I might have several years of normalicy, but that psychosis will eventually return to me, as if I were a ticking time bomb.  Its genetic she says, you have a genetic predisposition to psychosis and that never goes away.  Also she believes that Geodone helps with depression.  I'm currently not at all depressed, but I am on MAO inhibitors and have a long history of depression that leads back into childhood.   Also I had episodes of mild mania around the times that I was psychotic.  Theoretically the Geodone could also prevent mania.  Mania is something I dread, as the treatment for it are mood stabilizers and those absolutely fuck creativity.

I'm also wondering if I was misdiagnosed.  I never heard voices.  I never hallucinated.  After a year and a half being in a hospital and labled major depression with psychotic features there was one short interview with an expert and bam, I got a new diagnosis that stuck as schizoaffective.  He said that simply while talking with me, while I was heavily medicated, he could tell the underlying illness was schizoprhenic in nature.

So maybe I talk like a weirdo.

My husband has said that I don't have a tact bone in my body.  He says I miss subtle social clues and blunder.  Since I don't know what he's talking about, and since I usually don't ever get embarrassed by anything I say, this blundering business is in his head, his reaction, and thankfully for my peace of mind, not in my own.  Imagine fearing before you talk that you will blunder.  That's something from my awkward teenage years, but I'm long over it.  My husband isn't embarrassed by me, rather he thinks I'm cute.  So for a long time now my ego has been telling me that he loves me for my wit and intelligence, but I have been newly informed that what he loves the most is my blunders.   I'm still rather pissed that several months ago while I was talking my mother covered my mouth with both her hands in order to shut me up.  All I had said to a third party was that in our kitchen our coat rack is very important to us because it  matches our dishes.  Which it does.  The dishes are green jadeware glass and the coat rack has green jadeware glass knobs at the end of its hooks.  Even my husband is puzzled why my mother covered my mouth.  He thinks the episode was funny.  But it was not singular in that I know that what comes out of my mouth sometimes makes my mother uncomfortable.  She would never, ever, cover the mouth of any of her other kids.  And hey, the pictures at the beginning of the post wouldn't be appreciated at all by my mother either.  So I think there is something fundamental about me that my mother rejects.

Since I've come down a great deal on my medication I realize that in conversation with people I only have two options.  One, I can say what I'm thinking.  Two, I can think something and stay silent.  But really I'm not built for any other mode of being.

The overall composition for this painting was initially planned late last August in a small, quarter size drawing.  I showed it to my husband and he said oh, that's so schizophrenic.  I told him that while I look at a lot of art by schizophrenics due to my relentless research about outsider art, he's seen relatively little of the real thing, by people who were institutionalized as insane for life back in the last century and before medication, so he really didn't know what he was talking about.

Still my husband sticks to his guns, and says that there is mental illness in my art.

I don't care. The bottom line is that I make art that is exciting to me.

And usually my life doesn't suck.  Its pretty fun.  Planning the biggest painting I've ever done is rather stressful to me, but as I've broken it down into bits and pieces, I always know what the next step is.

For at least the next week, maybe two weeks, I will be drawing the flowers of the bridal bouquet.  It is a very large and flowing bridal bouquet.  That ends with a baby in a basket. 


  1. Dear Karen,

    From my perspective, I think even the healthiest of individuals has touches of mental illness; I think we are a mentally ill species. The measure of health for many people seems to be how well one can adapt to society. You have struggled with being maladaptive, seemingly hating yourself for not being "normal". Now, on a much lowered dose of the anti-psychotic, you are virtually symptom free. You have become free of an illness (call it whatever you will) that has dogged you for most of your adult life. You fit into society now as a wife and artist. Your return to art has given you both structure (self created and self imposed which is no mean feat) and meaning/purpose.

    Your art has a lot of value and if you are no longer schizophrenic, it still retains its value. Perhaps before you felt like the outsider and were drawn to studying outsider art to see if your work fit there. Now, it seems to me, that you have become an insider because you have graduated from both being ill and incapacitated to being healthy and productive. This is a wonderful change!

    I don't find you tactless as much as very honest, usually pretty decided in your perspective and always intelligent. When I first encountered your blog, I was drawn to all of that about you. I think I disagreed with you about several things and wanted to challenge you a bit, but you did make me think more deeply and I value that a great deal. This past year you have grown in confidence and skill. I think that you are going in a good direction.

    Thanks for sharing photos of your latest drawings. I do enjoy your work. I think the drawings themselves stand up as works of art even if you never translated them into an oil painting. I do wonder about the theme of mating animals. I think you mean it to be disturbing, and it is, but perhaps that's a good thing. Our culture is rather repressed about sexuality. Whenever it is shown graphically it is I think initially seen as pornographic and therefore crude, taboo and to some upsetting. Many people don't want to see themselves as animals, but animals we are and you seem to be pointing out that fact. You seem to portray the animals seriously while drawing the human animals mockingly -- mocking their body language and clothes in a cartoonish way. And yet all the details are so carefully and lovingly done that there seems to be a deeper symbolism to it all. It leaves questions in my mind, which is a good place to be at.

    Love, Kate : )

  2. I think the label of schizoaffective disorder is too broad. For me personally I am a paranoid schizophrenic and bipolar. It is very obvious I am both of these things so I gain the label of schizoaffective. For most people that are diagnosed as schizoaffective (at least from what I have seen) they are a mood disorder (bipolar or depression based) and have psychotic symptoms. Most are not considered schizophrenic by any means. I know my first signs (before the hearing things) were paranoia and unorganized speech. My speech got to the point where I couldn't talk. My head made no sense to me and when I had a true thought I couldn't put it into words. The two were completely unconnected. It of course got worse for me. A lot of people have symptoms more along the lines of strange or unusual thoughts or perceptions and delusions. Maybe mixed in with some more serious symptoms. To me you definitely seem schizoaffective, however I would have to actual know you, possibly off of medication, to understand a schizophrenic diagnosis.

    But that is just my perception of what you have written. Nothing more. I enjoy your blog. Please continue to write away.

    Love <3 ,



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