New York, USA → Designer & Founder → Schizophrenia → Medication & Communication.
R: Tell us a little bit about yourself
M: Hi, I’m Michelle, I live in NYC, and in May 2015 I founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC to help change the way NYC sees mental health, especially the mentally ill homeless.
Michelle at her stand @stanthonysmarket on west Houston b/w Thompson and Sullivan.
R: How does having Schizophrenia feel?
M: There a few different types of Schizophrenia and everyone has different symptoms but mostly it entails delusions and hallucinations that can interfere with everyday living.
R: Were you born with it?
M: I believe that I was born with Schizophrenia because my great grandmother on my mothers side had Schizophrenia and my dads first cousin also has Schizophrenia. For me, I think it appeared around age 13 and then got progressively worse as I got older. I hid my symptoms for a very long time. But, part of being Schizophrenic, is being extremely paranoid. Anyone who noticed that I needed help I pushed away, because I believed they were actually trying to hurt me. For many years, I kept everything that was in my head completely to myself. It wasn’t until college that I knew I needed to fix something inside me.
R: Do you also work a day job? How does Schizophrenia affect that?
M: In addition to Schizophrenic.NYC I also am an interactive designer at an agency in Manhattan. I keep Schizophrenic status quiet at work because I don’t want to have to deal with any negative attention or stigma. I only want people to judge me for the work I produce. Working a day job is difficult with Schizophrenia. I take nighttime medication which makes it hard for me to get up in the morning, therefore I sometimes show up late. Also, it’s hard to make connections with people knowing that I have a whole other life and job that I am so much more passionate about and never talk about.
R: Alongside your day job, you also manage Schizophrenic. NYC
M: Schizophrenic.NYC is a clothing line created and founded by me, a Schizophrenic NYC resident looking to make mental health social change in NYC. My goal is to get people talking about mental illness. If 1 in 4 Americans suffer from mental illness then why is there so much stigma? This is something that I want to change. If people would be more open about their own struggles with mental illness, then stigma can be reduced exponentially.
“Mental illness was the third largest cause of homelessness for single adults (mentioned by 48% of cities). For homeless families, mental illness was mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top 3 causes of homelessness.”
R: What do the graphics on your t-shirts represent?
M: I used the classic psychiatric image of the rorschach test and switched up the colors and patterns to give people an idea of what it’s like to look at something with a different perspective. If people can view the images differently perhaps they can try to understand how people with Schizophrenia see the world differently. Additionally I want to reduce the amount of mentally ill homeless in NYC. What I am doing to help is donating a portion of the profits I make to organisations that help out with the mentally ill homeless. So far I’ve had a lot of positive responses. I have been featured in The Daily Mail as well as BuzzFeed.com. To promote Schizophrenic.NYC I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow me!
Michelle on BuzzFeed.com
R: Did you see a doctor or mental health professional?
M: I was officially diagnosed with Schizophrenia at age 22. I wasn’t happy about it and it took time until I fully accepted it. Once I did, I told some close friends, and they seemed surprised that I didn’t already know this about myself. It doesn’t bother me anymore, and I never get upset about it.
R: How do you best manage the symptoms?
M: I use prescribed medication to help with the symptoms, and I feel better than I have ever felt before.
R: Can you recommend any therapists / doctors / specialists / coaches / mentors / clinics / foundations that have made a positive impact on your mental health?
M: Who knows whats next. As Schizophrenic.NYC grows we are aiming to do bigger and better things. Stay tuned! As for me, I’m the happiest I have ever been!
R: Thanks Michelle
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Michelle Hammer
Cover Photo & other images from Michelle Hammer & Schizophrenic.NYC Instagram