by Allie Burke

I met Michelle Hammer years ago through a mutual passion to reduce stigma associated with schizophrenia. I remember feeling so awed and inspired by her because she was so artistic and brilliant. Not only did I respect her for what she was doing but I genuinely wanted to be her friend because she was so amazingly down to earth.

Michelle Hammer is the founder of Schizophrenic.NYC, a line of clothing, art, and other products with a mission of starting a conversation about mental health. She is a schizophrenic and NYC native.

When I bought my first shirt from her, which said, “Don’t Be Paranoid, You Look Great,” I thought it was the coolest thing ever because I have paranoid schizophrenia and I had never seen anything that represented what I was feeling my whole life. There are a lot of products for people with general mental health challenges, but I had never seen anything specific to schizophrenia. For a mental health disorder that is not really talked about, this was the best thing that ever could have happened for the schizophrenic people as it relates to stigma. The “Schizophrenic.NYC” label on the shirt is in your face when you see it on the street, but the business model is also very subtle, and fun, because let’s be honest, schizophrenics like to have fun too.

I also have a pillbox from Michelle, which doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen. I don’t have the one linked here but it is my experience that the pillboxes she has are, well, cute. They’re like a phone case; they are very personal and something you would want to show off when you carry it around, which is great for schizophrenia awareness because many people with the disorder would never dream of showing people their medication or talking about it openly. These products truly do start the conversation.

Michelle is an artist, and her talent shows through in many of her other products. She has leggings and prints. She is also one of the hosts of the podcast A Bipolar and a Schizophrenic, and is a mental health speaker. Schizophrenic.NYC is a wildly successful company, and Michelle created it because she cares about how society sees the schizophrenic people. I wanted to feature her today because I believe in what she’s doing and I am deeply inspired her every day. Please check out her stuff and if you are inclined to purchase her products make sure you send her a photo to her on Instagram or Twitter.

The author understands that many advocates choose to identify as a “person with schizophrenia” as a way to not be defined by their illness. She writes using “schizophrenic” because her personal goal is to own schizophrenia as a part of herself. Though the use of “schizophrenic” in this piece is intentional, she fully respects others for their decision to identify otherwise.

Allie Burke is a founding member and executive chair of the Stigma Fighters non-profit organization. She writes about living with paranoid schizophrenia and has been featured in Psychology Today, Refinery 29, and VICE.

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