Michelle Hammer considers herself lucky.
“I’m a very lucky schizophrenic,” she said.
One day while on the subway she encountered a homeless man talking to himself like she used to do. It forced her to see that without meds, her doctor and family and friends she could fall into this same position. This led her to want to take action on changing the conversation people had about mental illness. A graphic and web design major in college, she decided to create a clothing line featuring her prints and speaking loudly about mental health.
She began experiencing anxiety and paranoia in high school. When she got to college, she found she had the same kind of thoughts. She sought treatment with the college counselor who sent her to the psychiatrist. This doctor said she was bipolar and gave her meds. But Hammer internally knew something still wasn’t right. After college, she eventually found her current doctor who correctly diagnosed her with schizophrenia and found the right medication and therapeutic treatment.
Through her business Schizophrenic.NYC, she has met and engaged with people from around the country and world.
“What I’m doing is selling a story, a mission, advocacy, and getting a conversation started about mental health,” she said. “If you talk about it there will be less stigma, I’m trying to get people to talk about it.”
“It’s so much more than selling merchandise, it’s about starting a conversation with people,” she said.
She sells everything from pillboxes with “Don’t be paranoid, you look great,” leggings and prints and t-shirts with the rorschach test of a schizophrenic mind on them, as well as other gear. You can peruse the shop here at schizophrenic.nyc.
Most of her sales are online but she has had a pop up shop in Little Italy at an outdoor market as well as at mental health conferences. She also appears on many podcasts about mental health. She even donates a portion of her profits to mental health organizations such as Fountain House.
When she was on the subway, she caught someone talking a picture wiht their phone of her Don’t be Paranoid. You Look Great tote bag. Now, that’s a good way to start the conversation.