Our Stories: Michelle, Founder of Schizophrenic.nyc

Trigger Warnings: Violence

On Realizing She Has Schizophrenia

I didn’t realize that something was wrong with me until I was 18 years old and just starting college. In high school, I always thought my mom was really against me, like she was trying to hurt me, and I blamed here for a lot of things. When I got to college, I thought I was free of her and all my problems. All of a sudden, I started to believe my best friend / roommate was plotting against me. Then, I realized it’s me, it’s me, there’s something wrong with me.

I went to the health center and told them what was wrong. They went through a checklist of questions - I barely knew what to say because I was so distraught. In just one day, they diagnosed me as bipolar and suggested I see the campus psychiatrist. I was so desperate, I went, and within ten seconds, the I was given a prescription with no background about side effects whatsoever.

On the medication, I felt so much worse, so awful that I started taking it, then not taking it, going on and off - not a good idea. That winter, there was a huge snowstorm, and we’re all in the dorms, bored, and the girls said let’s get really, really wasted. So we did, and then we all get in trouble for getting drunk in the dorms. I got crazy upset. I was like fuck this, and I cut my wrists with a piece of glass. One of the girls saw me and told the other girls. The next thing I knew, there’s a knock on the door. A police officer was standing there, and she said I heard there was a problem here. She bustsed open the door to the common room where we're all sitting. I was standing outside my dorm room, and we're all in a semi-circle. The police officer was like, “I heard there was a problem here. Everyone lift up your sleeves.”  Everyone’s lifted up their sleeves, and it got to me, and I said, “Why don’t we go into my dorm room?” I turned around and tried to walk into my bedroom. She grabbed me by the hood of my sweatshirt and threw me on the floor. I tried to crawl away from her, but then, she stepped on my neck with a pepper spray can in my face and said if I moved a muscle, she would spray it on my face.  She said, "Put your arms behind your back, so I can handcuff you." I responded, “But you told me not to move.”

I’m handcuffed; I closed my eyes because I’m about to cry, but I didn't want anyone to know - plus she said she was going to pepper spray me. She’s still trying to get my arm, but I have an older brother, and I’m very good at warding off six foot tall, crazy people. She tried to get me on the floor, but I really can get out of any lock ever. Finally, I get pinned up against a wall. I was on the floor with my eyes closed and I kicked her in the face. I didn’t even mean to, and I didn’t even know what I did.  She said to me, “I don’t know if it’s you, but you’re coming with me anyways.”  As we were all walking out the door, the RAs were like it’s her. She couldn’t even get it was me the whole time. She brought me to the hospital, and I got stuck in the psych ward. I met a girl named Stephanie. She gave me the best worst advice ever: “If you say what they want to say, you can get out of here.”

When the doctor came in and asked what happened last night, I said, “I was really, really drunk. I’ve never done anything like that before. I never get upset.  I’m the happiest person. It’s really out of character for me.” I got out at noon the next day.

When I went back to the dorm, everyone was having a huge meeting about the night before and talking about me when I walked in. It was the most horribly embarrassing situation. I had my disciplinary meeting, and they called the cop. She says that the way I opened the door and said I was fine was so convincing, that I am the best liar she’s ever come in contact with. She told the disciplinarian to never believe anything I say. After that year, I was kicked out of the college dorms and had to find another place to live for not complying with police. I also got a 24-month long probation with 10 hours of community service.

I found a doctor who put me on a medicine that subdued me, but I had to take it three times a day or else everything went to shit. On the lacrosse team, I had a new coach who helped me get through school. She always reminded me to take my medicine and said, “I can tell within 3 seconds of seeing you whether you’ve taken it or not.”

After I had graduated college, I was no longer near that doctor anymore. I had no insurance and didn’t take medicine anymore. I was not doing well. I finally told my mom that I needed to speak to somebody, and she got me to a psychiatrist. He was a good guy that got me on the right medication for the right diagnosis, schizophrenia, and I started to feel happier than I’ve ever been. It was a long journey to feel as good as I felt. Those doctors before had no idea what the fuck they were doing. None of them knew that there’s this thing called Akathisia - if you take a certain anti-depressant, it can make you feel like you’re jumping out of your skin, which happened to me when I was taking certain antidepressants. If they had just prescribed me this one pill, which now my doctor does, it completely takes that away. If I had been prescribed this when I was 18 years old, I would have been completely fine. Instead, they treated me like a criminal, I got assaulted during a crisis call, and I got booted out of the dorms. The school psychiatrist didn’t remember anything we talked about from before. After the incident, I told them I wasn’t told about negative side effects - I’m pretty sure I got her fired.

On Self-Care

How do I deal with more difficult times? I surround myself with people I can talk to, people I am friends with. If I can just talk to anybody about anything other than the things I am thinking in my head, I’m good. As long as I’m not sitting there dwelling and ruminating on all the things going on in my head, if I can just get out of it and speak to some friends, do something else, then I can live my life. 

On Having a Support Network

My support network comes from my college friends, people I used to live with that have dealt with the whole thing. I have people I can call in any situation, tell them any story, ask for anything that I need. My best friends support me, like if I’m sleeping all day, they ask, “Why are you sleeping right now? Are you depressed? What’s bothering you?” They can see it on my face that something’s going on. Even my friend that lives on my couch right now can be like, “What’s going on? I see you’re struggling right now.” I think I have a support group because I’m friendly with people. I’m open with people and support them and because of that, people are open and support me.

On Something She’s Still Struggling With Today

I mean, just figuring out what to do next. I want to do more public speaking. I made a speech at NYU, but I want to speak to high school students. I’m struggling with a lack of confidence.  I don’t want to say the wrong thing. In high school, I struggled so much with paranoia, but I never knew I was paranoid. I was like I’m not paranoid, everyone really does hate me, but I didn’t know that that was paranoia. I didn’t realize all the thoughts in my head, thinking that my mother was trying to hurt me was paranoia. I didn’t realize that until I got to college, and I want to help people figure that out sooner.

On the Best Thing in Her Life Now

My company is the best thing in my life right now. I am so happy with what I’m doing and so happy with all the positive reactions that I’m getting. I feel like I am making a difference. I feel like there is more awareness. It’s just amazing to me that just because I’m so open, I have so many friends who have opened up to me about their mental health issues. I like that people can be open with me, and it makes them feel better, knowing that they’re not alone. People shouldn’t feel like they’re the only one with a mental illness. 1 in 5 new yorkers has some kind of mental health issue. Nobody should feel like they’re alone. They’re not alone at all.

On Starting Her T-Shirt Line, Schizophrenic.NYC

I had a roommate a few years ago. I was open with him when I told him I was schizophrenic. I decided to stop trying to hide it from him, and he would just kinda call me out all the time like, “Who are you talking to? I hear you talking to someone. What are you talking to?” We would just laugh about it all the time. But I was riding the F train one day, and I looked over, and there was a homeless guy completely having a conversation with somebody who wasn’t there. I was like I do the exact same thing, but you know, I have my family; I have my friend; I have a doctor, and I have all this support. I’m not homeless but that guy right there, he doesn’t have any of the support, so that’s why he’s in this situation. I wanted to do something to raise awareness by bringing acceptance and try just to get rid of all the negative stigma. I want to help make people aware that just because you have any mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy. People aren’t alone. I didn’t want to hide my schizophrenia; I wanted to be open about it because nobody’s open about it. Now that all of my friends know that I have it, they don’t treat me any differently. I thought people would treat me differently, but instead, people talk about their issues with me. I also wanted to help the mentally ill homeless in my city who don't have a support system. My t-shirt line benefits New York's mentally ill homeless by donating a portion of our profits to organizations like Fountain House, NYS Health Foundation, MHA-NYC, and NAMI.

On What In Her Life Has Exceeded All Expectations

Every time I get an email about having an order, I’m like, “Oh my god, I have an order. I can’t believe someone just bought something from me.” When I get an order from Scotland or the Netherlands, it’s just amazing. It just makes my day because people actually believe in what I’m doing and they like the clothes that I'm making. I just started this business just hoping it would work, and it’s growing slowly. Every time I get an order, I get the biggest smile on my face. It makes me so happy that someone wants to buy something that I've created.

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Pronouns: she/her