I Mourn Who I Was Before Mental Illness

May 4, 2017 Elizabeth Caudy

It's hard not to mourn who I was before mental illness took hold. Schizophrenia and its medications changed me. I miss who I was before mental illness.

I have mourned who I was before mental illness. When I was 19 years old and a student at The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a psychiatrist delivered my diagnosis of schizophrenia. Four years later, when I was back in my hometown of Chicago and had just started earning my master’s degree, I was re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Here’s how my life changed when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and later schizoaffective disorder and why I mourn who I was before mental illness.

My Life Changed with a Mental Illness Diagnosis

With my initial diagnosis of schizophrenia, I transferred to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to be closer to home. I had wanted to go to SAIC out of high school, but I couldn’t resist RISD’s status and reputation. I don’t know if it was sedation from the antipsychotic medication I needed or depression over leaving RISD or both but I felt numb for years after learning I had schizophrenia. I felt numb until I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and put on different medication.

It was really unfortunate that I felt that way for so long because I often slept through top-flight classes in photography, performance art, and the art history of Dada and surrealism. And, unfortunately, some changes in medication that I did seek early on hurt more than they helped. SAIC is a great school—I soon loved it. But I know I missed out on so many opportunities because my brain was in a fog. I still managed to graduate with a stellar portfolio of work, though.

I had missed out on RISD, too, even before my diagnosis. I was taking an antidepressant that kicked me into mania. I feel it led to psychosis. Since I was far away from home, no one noticed I was not acting like myself, not even my therapist. Everyone just thought I was flighty, zany, and happy—and that I talked a lot.

I Mourn Who I Was Before Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder

My manic spring at RISD occurred over half my life ago. My life is so different now—in good ways. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from Columbia College, Chicago. I’ve lived in New York City for a semester and traveled to France and Italy. I’ve quit smoking. And, last but most importantly, I’ve been married to a wonderful man for almost nine years. Still, I mourn the person I was before mental illness. I miss not needing to take a fistful of medication every night. I miss being effortlessly skinny.

At the same time, I wouldn’t trade in the life I have now. The diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and new medications that worked and lifted the fog gave me hope and a sense of purpose—a lot of my identity is wrapped up in being an advocate for those with mental illness. My husband is so wonderful and I am so lucky to have him. Even if it meant not having to take medication, I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for a life without him. And, of course, if I didn’t have schizoaffective disorder I wouldn’t be helping other people with this blog. Maybe I don’t mourn the person I was before I got mental illness as much as I thought I did.

APA Reference
Caudy, E. (2017, May 4). I Mourn Who I Was Before Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Elizabeth Caudy

Elizabeth Caudy was born in 1979 to a writer and a photographer. She has been writing since she was five years old. She has a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, Tom. Find Elizabeth on Google+ and on her personal blog.

July, 12 2017 at 4:55 pm

I know how you feel. I have dealt with BP I since I was diagnosed in 1974. I am now 70. I miss the hypo life I had before 1974 but the good Lord has brought me so far I am not angry. I was a paralegal and worked until 1991 when I went on SS disability. I took Lithium for 40 years and it never really kept me stable. After my kidneys failed to discreet it and I went toxic in 2004, I was placed on Seroquel and I have been stable ever since. I gained some weight and I really have to watch that. I try to live in the present, and that helps.

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