I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in school during 1998. I’ve spent the time since then rebuilding my life while getting re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder along the way. I remember that period as a terrible time for me and it doesn’t get any happier as American culture launches a nostalgia kick for the 1990s. I’ll always love Tori Amos’ records, but it’s not a time I want to revisit. Falling into a psychotic episode changed me forever and, although I love my life now, I don’t want to reminisce about the terrified person I became when I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia at school.
Anxiety, Depression and Undiagnosed Schizophrenia in School
I don’t want you to get the impression that I hate the 1990s. Sometimes I like to put on Ten by Pearl Jam and just pretend I’m in eighth grade again. But I graduated from eighth grade in 1993. Looking back, I can recall signs of anxiety and depression as early as fourth grade. The depression started to escalate, though, when I was a sophomore in high school. Throughout high school, I experienced euphoric highs and crushing lows. Finally, the summer before I left for The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1997, I started seeing a psychiatrist.
Away at School with Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder
I’ve agonized for years over the decision to go off to RISD after high school instead of going to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). That’s where I transferred after I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, partially to be closer to my home in the suburbs of Chicago. I resent that people are more impressed that I went to RISD than they are by my degree from SAIC. I resented that when I told new friends at SAIC about going to RISD, they asked in shock, “Why did you leave?” But for me, there’s only one question. I wonder if I would have gotten sick, or as sick, if I had stayed in Chicago from the get-go.
I started as a full-time student at SAIC in 1999. I graduated from there with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2002, so I must have done something right. But that first semester was hard. My new antipsychotic medication made me sleep all the time—it was not uncommon for me to fall asleep in class. The spring semester of 2000 was much better because I was more adjusted to my medication.
I fought tooth and nail to get my master of fine arts degree in photography from Columbia College Chicago. I had actually applied to Columbia College’s graduate photography program on a lark because they only accepted about 10 of their applicants and I didn’t think I’d get in. But I did.
I say I fought tooth and nail to get my MFA because my mental health disability made it really hard to be a good student. Fortunately, I registered with the school’s office for students with disabilities, which made having a disability in graduate school a lot easier.
I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2006. In 2007, I met my husband, Tom. I still struggle, but Tom and the rest of my support system, including my parents and doctors, have my back. So I am not interested in nostalgia for the 1990s when I’ve found happiness now.