Schizophrenia Through My Eyes

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that changes the way you think, feel and act — and with the right treatment, it can be managed. I got to tell my story, and about my company, Schizophrenic.NYC, in the video below.

You can also read the transcript here:

 Michelle: Hi. I’m Michele Hammer and I have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that changes the way you think, feel and act. It’s broken down into three separate categories: positive, negative and cognitive. Positive symptoms don’t mean they’re a good thing. It’s an add-on to your normal behavior, things like hallucinations, delusions and voices.

Speaker One: You know, I had so many ghosts and shadows inside of my mind.

Speaker Two: A demon was perching on the end of my bed.

Michelle: Negative symptoms take away from your behavior. 

Speaker Three: I showed no emotion and I was just totally out of it.

Michelle: Your brain is just racing. It can’t stop.

Speaker Five: The pathology of these illnesses has only become recently understood.

Michelle: Schizophrenia’s different for everyone. My symptoms aren’t like everybody else’s. My first symptom of schizophrenia was pretty much just zoning out, thinking I was in a different place. Then, it turned into kind of voices in my head. They just plagued me over and over again. I thought my mother was trying to hurt me. I didn’t know what to do about anything, because I thought everyone had it out for me. So I didn’t know who to go to for help.

Sometimes I kind of hear a voice more coming from the right side of my head saying, like — Everyone hates you. Stop what you’re doing. Don’t do anything. Nothing.

While there’s kind of like the other side of me that’s kind of arguing back with the voice — Don’t worry about anything. Chill. Just chill. Breathe. Chill. Just chill. You can get through it.

And it’s kind of just like the thing is who’s gonna win, who’s gonna win, who’s gonna win. When I take my medicine, the good side wins.

I mean, living in the city and having schizophrenia is interesting, just because I do hear voices as I’m walking down the street. So in my head I’m thinking of the person talking to me. But then, I start talking back to the person. And then, maybe I’ll snap out of it, look around, and like five people are staring at me. But mostly I kind of just get plagued by thoughts that are just so repetitive in my head and they just go around over and over and over again, when really you just want them to be nice and quiet and silent.

All through high school, I had this really “crazy “paranoid delusion that my mother was trying to kill me. Every time she went to try to get me to a therapist or anything, because she knew something wasn’t right, I always thought she was trying to ruin my life.

So when I went to college, I thought I was free of her. And everything was great. And then, all of a sudden, my best friend, my roommate, I started thinking the exact same things about her. So realizing that I had the problem was, like, the start of the entire thing. And that was the hardest thing to do, I think, realizing there was a problem.

At 18, I was told I was bipolar. But I kind of knew that diagnosis was incorrect. So at 22, I spoke to a different doctor. And I was more honest with him and he diagnosed me with schizophrenia. And that was like the best thing that ever happened to me, because he got me on the right medication and I feel as good as I can possibly feel right now.

Speaker Two: I finally told a therapist about what was going on with me. I had all these problems and I finally had a name for them.

Speaker Six: Over time, we’ve realized that mental illness is nothing more than physical illness. Talk to as many people as you can. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be judgmental.

Michelle: I see a psychiatrist every other week. And we just kind of talk about things that are going on. Mostly I just share really silly stories with him and we just laugh a lot, when really he’s measuring just my mood. That’s what I know that he’s doing.

For my medication, I take seven daily medications, six in the morning and one at night. The ones in the morning just get me ready for the day, get me focused, make it so I can get out of bed without having a horrible day. And the one at night just keeps me kind of level, knocks me out, and let me have a good sleep without completely panicking in the middle of the night.

Speaker Two: It can be very lonely having schizophrenia, the paranoia, the fear, the voices, everything that goes along with it.

Speaker Five: The compliance with medications is gonna ultimately lead to a recovery and your son or daughter can not only be OK, but they can be great again.

Michelle: It took a process of almost 10 years to get me on the right medication. But I’m glad that I finally am. People think that just because you’re on medicine that the voices will completely stop. But you just can’t stop the voices. With medication, it’s more positive listening. It’s more just zoning out. As long as I’m not thinking of negative, horrible things.

Speaker Seven: My soul was leaking out of my body.

Speaker One: I just saw a human being, empty.

Michelle: I’m good. So you can’t turn the voices off. You can just make them to what you prefer to hear.

Speaker One: Be conscious of something that will take your attention from that negative situation into a positive one. And you know, it takes a lot of discipline, but little by little, it becomes a habit.

Michelle: One in five New Yorkers has a mental health issue, but people don’t talk about it, because of all the stigma.

Speaker Three: There is still a lot of stigma, but people are starting to understand it a little bit better.

Michelle: Kind of like a big reason why I started my clothing line was that I was on the subway and I looked down the subway train and there was a homeless schizophrenic guy just talking to himself. And I noticed it was the same exact mannerisms as I do it. So I kind thought to myself, what’s the difference between me and this guy. And I realized if I didn’t have my friends, my family, my doctor I could so easily be in his position.

Part of the reason I started my whole business was to just tell everybody that I have schizophrenia. Showing people you can live a completely normal life, medicated, and be a completely “normal” person. And my whole thing is, if everyone would just kind of tell people that they have a mental illness, there wouldn’t be so much a stigma. There really shouldn’t be any stigma. That needs to go away.

Mental illness is so common. How can there be so much stigma? So I kind of wanted to do something that could raise awareness, give back to the mentally ill, homeless community, and just kind of make a difference.

I just pack up my bag. I wheel it over to my shop every Saturday. And I just sell my merch. And I talk to amazing people. Yesterday, I met two people that work in a psych ward. We had the greatest conversation about psych wards. They totally bought something from me and they took my card and they’re like, we love what you’re doing. This is so great. Mental health professionals love what I’m doing. They always think it’s great.

I’ve gotten negative reactions. Like one lady came up to my booth last year and says, I can’t believe you would name a business this. This is offensive and I’m a mental health advocate and this is offensive. And she took my flyer and ran away. And I was like, can I tell you about it. I’m a mental health advocate too. And she just ran away. And I was like, isn’t that stigma? Aren’t you judging me before I even tell you about it? Stigma right there.

This shirt’s pretty awesome. It’s not a delusion. You are incredible.

Some common questions that I get is what medications are you on. Mostly by people in the mental health field. They want to know. Other common questions are like how to handle somebody in a crisis. I mean, definitely never tell them that they’re wrong. Don’t try to take away their feelings. You always have to be sympathetic. I would try to convince them that they should seek professional help.

Find a good doctor. Find the meds that work. If you try hard enough and you really want to fix it, you can. Don’t take your medication, feel better, and then think you don’t need your medication anymore. It took a lot of pride that I had to say, I need medication and I’m just gonna take it.

Speaker Two: My advice to someone who’s going through it is be honest. If you keep telling people you’re fine, they’ll believe it.

Speaker One: I believe there is a component beyond medical treatment that it has to be with education and creating positive voices that can influence and override the negative ones.

Speaker Eight: Just because they have schizophrenia, doesn’t mean that they can’t be someone who will contribute to society, who can make the world a better place.

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Lead photo via WebMD 

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