How I Opened Up About My Schizophrenia Diagnosis – and Started Helping Others

Hi, I’m Michelle Hammer, a schizophrenic girl living in NYC. I created and founded the mental health clothing line Schizophrenic.NYC. At this point in my life, I consider my symptoms to be under control, but it was quite a challenge getting to this point.

In college, I was on the lacrosse team and that helped get me through. I felt like people depended on me. My coach knew about my struggles living with a mental disorder and tried to help me the best she could. She even helped me keep track of my treatment plan at the time. She kept me balanced.

After college when I found out I had schizophrenia at age 22, I was pretty bummed out. I felt like I had a secret I could never tell anyone. One evening I had dinner with my best friends from college and I decided to tell them. I said, “Hey guys, just wanna let you know I found out I’m schizophrenic.” And their response was, “Wasn’t that what you had the whole time?” “That could have not been more obvious.” “Yeah, we told you that.” I thought: They just knew because I lived with them, right?

Well, then I told a lacrosse teammate I was schizophrenic and she said, “Yeah I could have told you that three years ago.” No shock to her either. These interactions really helped me accept I had schizophrenia because if my best friends already guessed it, and they were still friends with me, then I shouldn’t care about any negative reactions I get from other people.

It’s now been over eight years since my schizophrenia diagnosis. I’ve learned to accept it and embrace it. I follow a treatment plan and I’m OK with that. I started my company Schizophrenic.NYC because it’s been reported that one in five New Yorkers live with some type of mental illness. Walking down New York City streets, it’s not hard to see someone homeless who may also have a mental illness. This upsets me. Why? Because I have schizophrenia and I’m not homeless. Fortunately I am lucky enough to have support from my friends, my family and my doctor that makes it possible for me to live a “normal” life. Without their help I could easily be less fortunate. So I decided I wanted to give back. I wanted to start a company that could start a conversation about mental illness as well as help out people with mental illness and eradicate the stigma of mental illness.

At my pop-up shop I’ve met people from all over the world who have connections to mental illness: Either they have a mental illness, a friend does, a family member does, or they work in the mental health field. Often, I have long conversations with people about mental health and the stigma encompassing it. Only through an open dialogue about mental illness can we reduce its stigma. So let’s do it. Let’s work to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. I’m proud to speak up and make a difference – share your own story on social media with #ICanWithSchizophrenia.

Michelle Hammer is partnering with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to share her story. She has been paid an honorarium for her time.

Getty image via oneinchpunch

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