Meghan Caughey is almost matter-of-fact about the place of art in her world. "I draw and paint to stay alive," she writes in her artist statement on her Web site.
While an undergraduate, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Later, in graduate school, she had a psychotic break and entered a residential treatment program. But thanks to her hard work and support from her family and professors, Ms. Caughey was able to earn not only a master of arts degree in drawing and painting, but also a master of fine arts degree.
"I went back and got my M.F.A. so I would be able to teach," she said. "I do love to teach. It's very gratifying."
And teach she has, at schools and colleges in Oregon--where she lives--and in California. Additionally, Ms. Caughey's work has been shown in several exhibitions at local galleries in northern California, including the Triton Museum of Art, the Mendocino Art Center, and the Santa Cruz Art League.
Her work also has been shown at the Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin, Tex. She has had several one- and two-person exhibitions at San Jose State University, where she did her graduate work.
Over the years, Ms. Caughey says, her art has taken on a lighter feel. "In the Dark Ages of my life, I was really preoccupied with death and pain," she said. "Now, I'm much more occupied with showing the energy of the life force. That's what I see myself doing."
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In the last 10 years, my diagnosis has been amended to schizoaffective disorder. There's definitely an affective component to my problems. Specifically, my diagnosis is schizoaffective bipolar II, with periods of hypomania and depression. Sometimes, there's rapid cycling between those two, and controlling the affective part of my diagnosis has been challenging. That's a real important part of how I stay functioning.
The basic problem is schizophrenia. It's a cognitive problem, but the affective part is certainly there, and I take medication for both. I'm on a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. I'm taking Geodon, and I take Topamax for the affective part.
Geodon has totally transformed my life. I've been on it about 6 years now, and before taking it, I had been hospitalized more than 100 times. I've stopped going into the hospital--it's not a part of my life. So it's had a profound impact. And of course, that's had a huge impact on the kind of art I'm doing.
Over the last 6 years, my imagery has gotten a lot more light into it. I'm working now on a series on lotuses. For me, the lotus is the embodiment of the life force. In fact--this is a scientific fact--if you hooked 40 lotuses to a certain kind of electrical apparatus, they would put out enough energy to illuminate a light bulb. They have that much energy. That's just the way they are, and they fascinate me.
I was married and living in Santa Cruz with my husband, when we were transferred to Oregon in 1992. I live in a rural area now among Christmas tree farms. It's beautiful, but I'm divorced now. The illness took its toll on the marriage. I was married about 7 years. He knew about my illness beforehand, but he really didn't understand. He did not know really what it would entail. But we're still good friends. I don't have family here, but I have some very, very good friends. My family is in Georgia and Texas, which is where I'm from.
After my psychotic break in graduate school, my family and I started looking at programs all over the country. I didn't like the looks of most of them because most required taking medication, and I didn't want to take medication. I'd had really bad experiences with the side effects. There was an experimental, alternative program in California called the Cathexis Institute. I went there in 1978 and stayed as an outpatient but in a highly structured program. They didn't use medication, and it was controversial. …