We often use actual mental illnesses to describe behaviors that don’t actually qualify. For example, if a friend thinks they failed a test, we might jokingly say, “Stop being paranoid.” But what is real paranoia? What does it feel like? What can be done about it? In this episode, Michelle talks about her life with, and without, paranoia.


“I’ve never had a clear mind where I didn’t think someone, somewhere was talking bad about me.”– Michelle Hammer

Highlights From ‘Paranoia’ Episode

[1:00] Michelle discusses when her paranoia started.

[4:00] The most amazing thing that Michelle could finally do: nap.

[7:00] Paranoia or scared of society?

[8:40] How did Michelle realize she was paranoid?

[10:30] How did Michelle stop being paranoid?

[15:30] Taking criticism and not caring.

[17:30] Michelle still gets offended on occasion.

[20:30] Seeing success in our future.

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Paranoia -Bipolar &Schizophrenic’ Show

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Narrator: [00:00:09] For reasons that utterly escapes Everyone involved. You’re listening to A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic and A Podcast. Here are your hosts, Gabe Howard and Michelle Hammer. Thank you for tuning into A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic and A Podcast.

Michelle: [00:00:17] Hello and welcome to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. I’m Michelle. I’m schizophrenic.

Gabe: [00:00:24] My name is Gabe and I am bipolar.

Michelle: [00:00:27] Right Gabe. And today we are talking about paranoia.

Gabe: [00:00:32] Why do you say it like that? Like it’s you’re saying like paranoia. But you’re using like the paranormal voice. Do you have the two confused?

Michelle: [00:00:41] I must.

Gabe: [00:00:42] Do you think that like being paranoid is the same as having ghosts like take over your body?

Michelle: [00:00:46] Oh my God, it must be. What if you’re a paranoid ghost?

Gabe: [00:00:49] Then you’d be a paranoid paranormal.

Michelle: [00:00:51] A paranoid paranormal. Oh my God. Maybe the angels are the support groups for ghosts or paranoid.

Gabe: [00:00:58] There’s no such thing as ghosts.

Michelle: [00:01:00] What?

Gabe: [00:01:01] Yeah.

Michelle: [00:01:02] You just blew my mind. Gabe you’ve been paranoid.

Gabe: [00:01:07] I’m paranoid constantly. I consider myself to be in recovery, but I’m paranoid all the time. But I’m much more interested in hearing from the paranoid schizophrenic.

Michelle: [00:01:17] Oh, is that me?

Gabe: [00:01:18] I mean, otherwise we’ve been lying to listeners for like multiple episodes.

Michelle: [00:01:23] Yes, I am the paranoid schizophrenic. Well, let’s think. When did my paranoia even start? I feel like I’ve been paranoid my entire life. Really, I can start off by saying I remember the first time I was not paranoid, and I realized how paranoid I had been for so long.

Gabe: [00:01:44] Explain this to me. You were paranoid and then you got treatment. So then you weren’t paranoid and that felt wrong to you?

Michelle: [00:01:53] All through high school all through the beginning of college. I always had this idea, after every time I spoke, it was that I say the right thing that I sound stupid. Every time I left a room full of people, always think, What did they think about me? Are they talking about me right now? Are they thinking that I sound stupid or are they thinking that I’m dumb? Should I have left the room… did I leave the room too soon? What happens next? I mean it’s always thinking like almost narcissistically that everyone is talking about me all the time and everything they’re saying about me is something negative. So, I never knew what to say in front of who. So sometimes I would just stay very quiet or maybe I would just think somebody hated me when they really didn’t hate me at all, and I would just make the whole thing up in my head. But I remember when I got one doctor in college. He prescribed me a pill and I didn’t know what this pill was, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I decided to try it and all of the sudden, I didn’t care about what I was saying. I didn’t care about what people thought of me. My mind was just quiet. I was relaxed and I was like, oh my goodness, I think this is what it’s like to not be paranoid. I feel so good. I feel good about myself. I think I could read a book right now. I think I could take a nap right now. This is the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had. I’ve never had such not a busy mind and I’ve never had a mind where I didn’t think that somebody, somewhere was saying something bad about me.

Gabe: [00:03:31] So it’s like clarity. Like you had clarity.

Michelle: [00:03:34] Yes. I remember I read a chapter of a book… like I have never been able to read books without thoughts racing through my mind that something bad was happening somewhere about me or I can’t do this or horrible thoughts or are you just going through my head and be able to actually comprehend a book.

Gabe: [00:03:52] What book was it?

Michelle: [00:03:55] I don’t remember.

Gabe: [00:03:55] You read a whole chapter of the first book that you’ve ever been able to read you forgot.

Michelle: [00:03:57] Chuck Palahniuk.

Gabe: [00:04:00] Chuck Palahniuk.

Michelle: [00:04:01] Whatever it was. I don’t know. Well, I read a chapter, but it was just different, because I was so used to trying to read and not being able to comprehend anything. But this book… I read a chapter and then some. I did something I haven’t been able to do in years. I took a nap.

Gabe: [00:04:19] You sleep all the time.

Michelle: [00:04:21] Not before then.

Gabe: [00:04:22] So before being diagnosed, before getting treatment, you couldn’t sleep because you were afraid that in your sleep you would be hurt.

Michelle: [00:04:31] I just could not sleep because my mind was so busy all the time, always panicking, always scared of something, always energized, always running around all over the place, could never calm down, could never sit still. And then I was just… I took this pill and I was like, I think I can read. I think I can take a nap. And it was just the most mind-boggling thing ever.

Gabe: [00:04:58] How do you know this was the paranoia going away and not just the other symptoms of schizophrenia being treated?

Michelle: [00:05:06] I knew that it was paranoia going away because I wasn’t worried anymore about what people thought of me. I didn’t think that my roommate was saying horrible things about me. I didn’t care if this person hated me. I didn’t care if that person hated me. I was just going to live my life and I was going to be happy and I was confident in the things that I was saying because I didn’t feel judgment anymore. I was in a constant judgment, not by other people, but more like by a voice in my head, almost saying, what you just said was so stupid, you’re so dumb. That was gone. The paranoia was just gone. It was amazing.

Gabe: [00:05:46] Well, is it still gone?

Michelle: [00:05:47] Yeah, it pretty much is gone, unless I just got off my meds, then it will come back.

Gabe: [00:05:52] Well we’re not gonna go off meds.

Michelle: [00:05:53] Right. OK.

Gabe: [00:05:54] But one of the reasons that you don’t go off of your meds… I mean one of the many, many, many reasons that you don’t go off your meds is because you don’t want to think that your mom’s trying to kill you or that your roommate’s trying to kill you or that your co-host is trying to kill you or that you’re just… on and on and on and on and on, like you don’t have this fear that people are running around trying to kill you.

Michelle: [00:06:12] Exactly.

Gabe: [00:06:12] You realize that you, a schizophrenic, are ahead of half the country right now, who think that people from other countries are trying to come here and kill them.

Michelle: [00:06:20] If that’s what you want to say, then, Gabe, yes, sure.

Gabe: [00:06:23] Hey, there’s like constant debates going on about this constantly like people are afraid of the unknown and people are worried about this, but that’s not paranoia then, that’s just like… or is it? I mean I’m being serious here. I’m not trying to make a political point, so get that out of your head.

Michelle: [00:06:38] Well, people who are afraid of like the zombie apocalypse.

Gabe: [00:06:42] No, no. The zombie apocalypse can’t happen because zombies aren’t real. But there are people who are really really worried that other countries are going to attack America or that other cultures are going to impede upon their culture, like this is a real fear politically and we as an American culture are constantly arguing this.

Michelle: [00:07:05] I think that’s more of a society thing. The paranoia I’m talking about was paranoid for myself and in my own head. I wasn’t thinking about paranoia of society. I was just thinking about paranoia of myself, thinking that I was the most horrible person ever because everything I said was stupid and everybody hated me, until I realized I was making all of that up and it was all in my head and none of that was true. People might not have liked me, but it really… if they didn’t, I didn’t care anymore because I didn’t hate myself anymore, because there was nobody in my head telling me that everything I said was so dumb.

Gabe: [00:07:43] When it comes to paranoia and talk about being paranoid, there’s a couple of quotes that always stand out in my mind. One of them is, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you. What do you think about that? As somebody who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, what do you think of that?

Michelle: [00:08:00] That quote? That somebody may be out to get me?

Gabe: [00:08:04] No. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you. As you know, you were paranoid that your mother was trying to kill you. This was completely untrue, right? Your mother was not trying to kill you. Okay. And then you were paranoid that your roommate was trying to kill you. Completely untrue.

Michelle: [00:08:20] Right.

Gabe: [00:08:20] Because that was just a delusion. It was it was part of your illness.

Michelle: [00:08:25] Right.

Gabe: [00:08:26] But imagine if your roommate was trying to kill you you’d still have paranoid schizophrenia, right? You’d still be paranoid.

Michelle: [00:08:36] I suppose, yeah. But I knew that she wasn’t trying to kill me and that’s when I realized I was paranoid.

Gabe: [00:08:45] But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.

Michelle: [00:08:48] That’s exactly how I felt in 9th grade. That everybody hated me and my teacher made the joke, I’m not paranoid, just everybody hates me.

Gabe: [00:08:57] That’s so unreasonable. Like why would everybody hate your English teacher.

Michelle: [00:09:01] No, no, he was just making a joke of what a student would say. So I went and he said that I was like, wait a minute, is it my paranoia that everybody hates me or does everybody actually hate me? But in ninth grade I was… I heard it. I thought, I’m a paranoid. No, no. Everybody does hate me.

Gabe: [00:09:22] It just didn’t click.

Michelle: [00:09:23] It didn’t click. Thinking back to that, now. How did that not click in my head? In 9th grade. That I was paranoid.

Gabe: [00:09:32] Yeah, yeah.

Michelle: [00:09:33] It took four years later for me to realize, Oh my God, I am the paranoid one. It was me all the time.

Gabe: [00:09:40] We’ll be right back after we hear from our sponsor.

Narrator: [00:09:42] This episode is sponsored by betterhelp.com secure convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to betterhelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. Betterhelp.com/PsychCentral.

Gabe: [00:10:10] And we’re back talking about paranoia. But I still want to touch on… you’re not paranoid anymore, like it went away for you.

Michelle: [00:10:20] I stopped caring what other people thought of me.

Gabe: [00:10:23] But how? There is nobody listening to this show that doesn’t want to know the answer to that question. How do you stop caring about what other people think?

Michelle: [00:10:33] I just became confident.

Gabe: [00:10:35] But how? These are all things that you became. These are all final destinations. We want to hear that. We need the directions. We don’t want to hear that you went to McDonald’s. We want to know how you got there, like what streets did you turn on? Give us the G.P.S. coordinates so that we can get to McDonald’s, too.

Michelle: [00:10:52] I went to college. I made great friends. I joined the lacrosse team. I became an amazing lacrosse player. I made All Conference. I became captain, then I, you know, I worked in some jobs but what brought down my confidence was losing jobs. But through all those jobs, I gained a lot of experience. I started my own business. I designed websites very well. My graphic design became even better. I have a successful business. We have this amazing podcast. I’m very happy with my life.

Gabe: [00:11:25] But how, how?

Michelle: [00:11:27] What I see in my life is accomplishments, make me feel better about myself. I see myself… I’ve made accomplishments and I become confident because of it. I know that I could be way more successful. To some people, I’m not successful at all. But for me in my life, what I’ve been given throughout my life right now, what I’m doing, I feel confident in who I am and if somebody… I’ve learned, you know, in my life you love me or you hate me. If you hate me, I don’t care. Don’t talk to me. If you like me, then talk to me.

Gabe: [00:12:00] But some of us – and by some of us, I mean me, and I would venture to guess many of our listeners – that’s not good enough. We dwell on the people who hate us.

Michelle: [00:12:09] I dwell on the people who hate me, too. I do. I do dwell, but I know what if I’m dwelling… I tried to talk to people who I know who are my friends. I dwell on past situations. I lost many, many jobs where I dwell on what I did wrong or a co-worker that got me in trouble or at this with HR. And those things come into my head and it just makes me angry, makes me angry that those things happened. But I’m so happy that I got through those situations. Did you get me to where I am now, where I feel fully confident in my situations, and I think if I work hard enough I can do what I need to do.

Gabe: [00:12:47] So you’re content with your life.

Michelle: [00:12:50] Yes.

Gabe: [00:12:52] How? Like how? I’m not content with my life. And listen I’m not saying this to be a jerk, but my house is bigger and I drive a nicer car and I have more money and my clothes were not made by me. In fairness, you are a very talented clothing designer and that was just kind of a joke. But I just… you know, listen, none of this stuff has led to this contentment that you.

Michelle: [00:13:19] What do I need to do to be successful? It means success.

Gabe: [00:13:22] I don’t know. What define success is not a next shirt.

Michelle: [00:13:26] I don’t understand. When can I be fully confident, because who… like a movie star, what are the movies? There’s been movies. Marilyn Monroe killed herself, yet everybody loved her and said how beautiful she was. Was she not confident enough?

Gabe: [00:13:42] Marilyn Monroe suffered from depression. She abused drugs and alcohol. And there’s even more to the story that we don’t know because you know she’s a celebrity and not like a person that we were able to talk to. But I think that maybe you don’t understand what I’m asking. I just… I understand that you’re saying that you’re looking objectively at your facts. And Michelle, your facts are amazing. You are an amazing person and a lot of people should aspire to be as amazing as you are. I’m not trying to take that away from you. I’m just saying that there are a lot of people that have achieved amazing things, they’ve graduated college, they’ve met wonderful people, they have wonderful friends, they’re in stable relationships, they have good jobs, and they’re still depressed, they’re still paranoid, they’re still unhappy. What did you do that, even though you have all of these negatives, you’re not concentrating on them? You are instead concentrating on your positives, because I’m sorry, in the middle of the night, it doesn’t really matter what I’ve achieved. All I can focus on is everything that I have ever fucked up, always. And I can’t get that thought out of my head.

Michelle: [00:14:53] I know a pill you can take at nighttime that will knock you out. You won’t think the idea that. I have to say, it probably is also due to the fact that I take seven medications daily.

Gabe: [00:15:03] It’s the combination of medication therapy, introspection, and radical acceptance.

Michelle: [00:15:09] Oh, definitely.

Gabe: [00:15:11] As you said, you know that other people are more successful than you and you’ve even acknowledged that you can be more successful, but you’re content now because you choose to be content. And there probably isn’t a way that you can teach the rest of us to be content, except to maybe just be confident in our own abilities and give ourselves permission to be happy.

Michelle: [00:15:33] Yeah, I wanted a conversation with somebody where it just kind of came off that I’ve taken a lot of criticism in my life, like a lot of criticism. So as people try to say things to me, you might disagree, but I can just take the criticism from a lot of people and it doesn’t bother me that much. I played sports my whole life. Where your coach just tells you all the time what you’re doing wrong all the time. Always, like but you learn and you get better at sports and sometimes it pays off. You’ve become All Conference and you become captain. There you go.

Gabe: [00:16:10] And then you win and you’ll win the title, win.

Michelle: [00:16:13] But sometimes you lose. You can work the hardest you’ve ever worked ever, and you can think you’re the greatest lacrosse player you’ve ever been. But you can still lose the game, but you know you tried your best. Even though you lost, you might be crying later, but you can say that you tried your best.

Gabe: [00:16:33] You can try again.

Michelle: [00:16:35] Well, not really. I mean if this SUNYAC tournament is over, your out of it. You lose the tournament.

Gabe: [00:16:40] That was just an analogy for life. You can try again tomorrow at life. Dust yourself off and try again. Listen, I think that one of the coolest things that I ever heard somebody say is that you can work really, really hard and you can do all of the right things. And maybe, maybe you will win the Super Bowl, and that’s amazing. But the season’s going to start over. And last year’s Super Bowl champion is this year’s nobody because the whole thing starts over. Life isn’t that clean, life doesn’t have seasons as far as the same way that like sports do. But every day that you wake up is a day to start over. Listen, I know that you’re not as tough as you project. I know that you’re Schizophrenic.NYC or that you’re the bad-ass New Yorker. You have called me up, upset at the e-mails that people have sent you. You get discouraged by failures that you’ve had. You get really defensive when I tell you that you could be a better public speaker and that you need to practice. I know that you have self-esteem issues the same way that everybody else does. But what’s amazing about you is that you can put all of that aside and you can pat yourself on the back for the things that you’ve accomplished. And I can’t always do that. And I do admire that in you. I wish that I could spend more time complimenting myself. I wish that I could spend equal amounts of time complimenting myself as I do criticizing myself, because I basically just criticize myself 98% of the time and about 2% of the time I’m like, hey I did a good job.

Michelle: [00:18:10] That’s great. Then you know it makes you feel good when I get an order.

Gabe: [00:18:13] When you get an order of what?

Michelle: [00:18:18] I’m just… no, I’m saying like if I mean, even if I’m depressed or whatever, you never know. My phone bings that I got an order on my website. I’m ecstatic. Somebody went to my website and bought one of my items.

Gabe: [00:18:31] So you’re saying that right now, if somebody goes to GabeHoward.com and buys my new book, Mental Illness is an Asshole, that that will make me happy?

Michelle: [00:18:38] Well it makes… I’m just saying that something that makes me happy. I think it should make you happy. Would it not?

Gabe: [00:18:45] No, it would and it’s a great book and I hope that people do check it out, but I don’t want people to think that this is a shameless plug. I’m just saying that there is more to life than people buying our swag.

Michelle: [00:18:55] Oh, yeah.

Gabe: [00:18:56] I want people to appreciate the work that we do.

Michelle: [00:18:58] But you have to appreciate the little things in life. If you’re just waiting for something big to happen, you’re going to wait forever. Appreciate every little thing and then you become confident.

Gabe: [00:19:09] Do you think that that really is maybe some of the problems like people like us have. We’ve sort of bought into the pop culture idea of success where it’s like, you know, in a movie, a movie always starts off like with a problem. That’s how the movie starts. And then the problem turns into like a goal and then the goal turns into like things that you have to accomplish along the way and that’s what makes the plot move forward, you gain a little success. You have a setback and then you gain a little more success and you get a little more success. And then the climax of the movie is like this amazing thing that you did. And it’s just it’s really big and grandiose and spectacular and awesome and there’s music and fireworks and everybody’s hugging and it’s wonderful. And then the movie ends right there. And that’s not real life. In real life, success is like really small. It’s like a pat on the back. It’s like, hey, congratulations. That is really cool. And then people move on and then you wake up the next day and you have to kind of start over. I just… Is that the problem? Have we all been taken in by cinema?

Michelle: [00:20:12] Could be.

Gabe: [00:20:13] Do you think…?

Michelle: [00:20:15] I mean, do you think Sacagawea was ever going to ever expecting to be on a dollar coin?

Gabe: [00:20:20] Well, that’s fair. I think a lot of the.. you know, that’s a good point. Actually, I think a lot of people that we look up to with success, most of their success and admiration came years after they died, after their life was over, and people looked back and really thought, Wow, that was… those were amazing accomplishments.

Michelle: [00:20:39] Like the people on Mount Rushmore. Did they ever think their faces were going to be carved into a giant stone rock wall?

Gabe: [00:20:46] A giant stone rock wall. You mean a mountain. Are you trying to say mountain?

Michelle: [00:20:51] Who thought that their face was going to be carved into a mountain?

Gabe: [00:20:59] So what you’re saying is those presidents were stoned. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to this episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Head over to our store on PsychCentral.com, buy our Define Normal shirt. When they’re gone, they’re gone, unless of course we print more. Please leave us a review on… where do they leave reviews, Michelle?

Michelle: [00:21:20] iTunes.

Gabe: [00:21:21] Yeah iTunes and GooglePlay and Spotify and Stitcher and you can leave them on Facebook. Leave a comment. Just show us lots of love. We would really really appreciate it.

Michelle: [00:21:31] Gabe needs the confidence.

Gabe: [00:21:32] Gabe needs confidence, confidence in the form of comments. You can e-mail us at show@psychcentral.com. Tell us nice things. Especially how Gabe is better than Michelle. Thank you everybody. We’ll see you next week.

Michelle: [00:21:44] Paranoia!!

Narrator: [00:21:46] You’ve been listening to a bipolar a schizophrenic kind of podcast. If you love this episode don’t keep it to yourself head over to iTunes or your preferred podcast app to subscribe rate and review to work with Gabe go to GabeHoward.com. To work with Michelle go to Schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups. Head over to PsychCentral.com Show’s official Web site PsychCentrald.com/bsp you can e-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com. Thank you for listening and share widely.

Gabe: [00:22:22] I always do this. Don’t do the accent just just your regular voice paranoia. Pretty annoying stuff.

Michelle: [00:22:28] That’s how I would yell at Gabe. I don’t understand.

Gabe: [00:22:31] It was you yell shit at me!!!!!! AHHHHHHHH

Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.

MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.