September 17, 2018

Paula’s Story

Paula C.jpg

My name is Paula Chomis. I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I have four other brothers and sisters, and I am an identical twin.

I enjoy photography, hiking, cooking, historical novels, biographies and riding my bike. I have shown my artwork around Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. I’ve won some awards for my photographs – the best one from the Michigan Press Association. I had a job where I put together an art gallery for my peers. I am a certified peer support specialist as well as ex-military, reaching the rank of sergeant.

When I confront stigma, I use the conversation as an opportunity to educate people on the spot. “Looney tunes” and “crazy” are not acceptable. I’m a brain disorder educator. I prefer to use the term “brain disorder” instead of mental illness. I have had the privilege to speak to students at Western Michigan University, Story Corps and other places to share my experience, strength and hope.

The worst stigma is self-stigma: the inability to love yourself, or blaming yourself, for a brain disorder that can strike anyone, no matter what race, background, job or income.

The best way to stay well is to have a healthy diet, exercise and do things you love. Have goals and a good support system. Forgive yourself if need be, and others who don't understand the disorder.

I am not perfect. If I mess up, I have a whole new day to try again.

"I am not a mental illness, but the gift behind it." –Paula Chomis