"I Don't Agree With Therapy, But If It Works For You"

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Despite the fact that nearly 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness this year, 75% of them don’t feel that people are understanding and compassionate about their illness.

We’re better than this.

Often, we refer to the “stigma” around mental health with hushed voices and we shake our heads in disbelief. But let’s call it for what it really is: it’s shameful. In fact, it’s discriminatory. And society’s attitude towards mental health needs to change.

Because here’s what happens when mental health, and the treatment of it, doesn’t get met with compassion: Despite the fact that 89% of Americans believe that treatment (be it therapy or otherwise) can help with mental health when the stigma exists it creates a reluctance to seek help.

It can also create other problems, such as:

  • Family, friends, co-workers and other loved ones lacking understanding

  • Bullying, harassment, and even violence

  • Inadequate health insurance coverage for treatment

  • Internalized negative beliefs about yourself

… and that’s just scratching the surface.

So how do we elicit change? We talk about it openly.

Which isn’t easy. I won’t lie and say it is. In fact, I was in therapy for nearly a year before I told my partner, in the middle of an argument, that I was seeking counseling. It wasn’t for another three months after that I told my family.

“I don’t agree with therapy, but if it works for you.” That was the response I got the first time I tried to talk to my boyfriend about what I was going through. And you know what, that’s a pretty dang good one. Because at the end of the day, not everyone has to agree with it, they just have to understand.

And we kept talking about it. And we still talk about it. And it made it that much easier to approach the conversation with my parents.

Here’s what I can offer for advice for when you have the conversation.

Start by explaining the benefit.

I’ve found that when you lead with the benefit, it makes it a lot easier to have the conversation. At that point, you make it less about the anxiety you have, the depression you’re facing, or any other mental health battle you’re facing, and more about the benefits you’re seeking. The conversation is a lot easier when you’re focused on that, especially if you’ve not yet even approached the mental illness aspect of it… Or want to.

Don’t assume it has to be a long conversation.

Bringing up your treatment, your mental illness, or just the idea of it outside of you personally doesn’t have to be a long conversation. You can scratch the surface and come back later. Try, “I’ve been reading a bit about different ways to cope with anxiety that I think might help me with some of the different emotions I sometimes feel.”

Be prepared for pushback.

The reality is the reality. Not everyone understands mental health. Not everyone understands the treatment of it. Be prepared for people to disagree, be confused, or even be offended. Just know that the people that love and care about you will be willing to try to understand.

Be persistent.

It doesn’t always have to be a conversation, but be persistent about the issue. It might be an article you read that resonates with how you feel or your own treatment. It might be a video or even just a quick text. If it’s important to you that people in your life understand what’s going on, make it important enough to bring up more than once.

Compassion breeds compassion. The more we talk about it and break the silence surrounding mental health, the more we normalize the conversation, the easier it gets for everyone.
 

From Therapy Skeptic To Zencare Founder: How I Found My Ideal Therapist

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My therapy story is a bit complicated, but here it goes!

Navigating academic stress as an Asian student in an Ivy League college

I first tried therapy my freshmen year at Brown University. I was struggling; in addition to the transition to college and a new country, I was also coming to grips with my parents’ unexpected separation, navigating a long-distance relationship, and pressuring myself to perform at the same academic level I had in high school.

At the time, going to therapy had never crossed my mind. I spent most of my life in Tokyo, where people didn’t discuss their emotional struggles and the concept of therapy was never brought up. When one of my friends at Brown first suggested going to Counseling Services, I was actually offended: “How could she think I need counseling! I’m not crazy!” However, as I became more immersed in the Brown community, I realized that it was common for students to seek support and that it could result in positive change. I eventually made an appointment at Counseling Services and attended my first therapy session.

My college therapy experiences didn’t leave a strong impression on me. It must have helped to some extent because I went back a few times, but I hardly remember any of the sessions. They were always for in-the-moment, urgent needs related to academic pressure  – I had to finish a paper but couldn’t stop panicking and crying; I couldn’t get myself to study anymore for an exam; I couldn’t decide on whether to study abroad or not due to analysis paralysis.

Over the course of my first semester, I continued to feel I was losing control of my life and decided to take time off. The breakpoint was finding out I had gotten a B in an Econ 101 exam. My entire system shut down. I spoke with a very kind dean who explained the situation to my dad (which at the time felt like the end of the world) and we eventually came to the conclusion that I could use some time away from school. I know it was a difficult situation for my dad to wrap his head around, so I’m eternally grateful for his understanding.

I returned to Japan, started an internship, and began seeing a counselor recommended by a former high school teacher. I never told anyone and paid for my sessions with savings from my allowances. Therapy was still a highly private matter for me – I felt embarrassed and afraid of being judged.

While I was experiencing a variety of challenges in college, including depressive phases and bulimia for a number of years, what always drove me back to therapy was my academic and career stress. I kept coming back to the question, “what do I want to do with my life?”

Figuring out my career post-yuppie consultant life

After graduation, I worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. I had a vibrant, practically dreamlike yuppie life in New York, but was still struggling to make sense of my career. After two years at my consulting job, I started an event planning company but realized after a few months that it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long run. I was totally lost about what to do next and decided to see if a therapist or life coach might be able to help me sort it out.

Looking for a therapist was a frustrating, overwhelming, and discouraging process. As many people do, I started my therapist search online, but all the insurance websites and therapist listings left me discouraged and at a loss. Every therapist profile sounded the same and when I did try reaching out, I was led to a dozen voice mailboxes and 'contact me' forms with no guarantee of a response. Most therapists didn't list accurate fees, and when I reached out, they would tell me they weren't offering the sliding scale they mentioned online anymore. It was only after over a month of searching, creating lists of names, and phone and email tags that I finally found a provider.

Finding the right therapist

When people say that the right therapist can change your life, it’s true. My therapist has been an incredible source of support in navigating the ups and downs of starting a business and has helped me rebuild a healthier and happier relationship with my parents and sister. Every session with her feels like speaking with a wise advisor who lifts a cloud off my shoulders and gives me a big smile and clear direction to take home.

I think my recent experiences with therapy have been so much more fulfilling because of a combination of luck in finding a provider who fits me well and my own personal growth. I’m more assertive, clear about what I want to gain from each session, and I discuss whenever something doesn’t feel productive or effective. As my therapist helped me heal my past emotional struggles, I also developed the mind space to make lasting changes in addition to dealing with immediate concerns.

I’ve since worked with another therapist on processing past experiences and a life coach on achieving ambitious business goals while taking self-care. I LOVE my providers. I see myself continuously grow as a person, and have become an avid proponent of therapy and coaching for young professionals. As a result of my own experience, I eventually started Zencare, a website that empowers individuals to find their ideal therapist.

Investing in my happiness and future success through therapy

As the owner of an early-stage, bootstrapped startup, my income is limited, and I know therapy is an active financial decision for many of my young professional friends, too. I prioritize my therapy and coaching budget because my ambitious business and personal life thrive when I’m able to be my best, happiest, most grounded self. Therapy gives me the opportunity to work on issues as soon as they arise, build the skills to resolve them on my own the next time they come around, and develop healthy habits and mindset patterns now so I can benefit from them for the rest of my life. So much of my struggles from college were a culmination of not addressing them head-on for a long time. For me, my happiness, well-being, and future success as a whole person are worth the time and financial investment of therapy, just like an education or a gym membership.

Finding a therapist who makes you feel heard and helps you achieve tangible progress can be difficult. While I don’t rave about my first few therapists, I’m glad I sought support and continued to look for the right fit. Even just having someone compassionate and professional to speak with was helpful, and it was an entryway into eventually finding a provider who was a great fit for me.

It’s been a windy path for me, but totally worth it.

Yuri Tomikawa is the Founder & CEO of Zencare. She was selected MedTech Boston's 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators for her work in improving patient access to mental health care and has appeared as a keynote speaker on entrepreneurship, mental health, and female empowerment. She is a graduate of Brown University and former management consultant at McKinsey & Company.

This was originally published on zencare.co.

Learning To Understand What You Need, And Ask For It (Despite Anxiety)

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Asking for what you need - whether it’s in a relationship, from your family, or at work - can feel a bit daunting. Far too often, “asking for it” makes us feel like we are a nag, “too needy,” or in some cases, downright bossy.

Communicating what you don’t need - or why you feel certain negative emotions - that can feel a bit like playing with fire.

Emotional intelligence, the capacity in which we can both understand and communicate emotional information, is truly a skill. For someone with generalized anxiety disorder (a mental illness that impacts roughly 18% of the population), it’s a skill most can only dream of.

Those with anxiety unconsciously control their emotions in abnormal ways. For someone without anxiety, asking for help or communicating how important a date night is might feel daunting. For someone with anxiety, fear, uncertainty and non-stop worry control her thoughts all day long.

“Oh, it might be silly to mention how I’d love a date night this weekend,” for someone without anxiety quickly spirals into “If I mention I want a date night and he finds it annoying we might get into an argument. If we get into an argument, he might not want to go on the date night… Or worse what if he tells me he doesn’t want to go on any date nights with me anymore… Ever. No that’s silly. I’ll just tell him. Oh, it’s dumb. I don’t need a date night, anyway.”

Which leads to the best part: for many people with anxiety, especially me, this means emotions tend to be pushed down and held in as long as possible. Avoiding confrontation, not wanting to be a bother, and generally wanting to keep things status quo, is a lot easier than popping the cork on that champagne bottle of emotions.

Problem with that is that as it turns out, studies have linked the repression of negative emotions to increased stress and the release of emotions to better health and longer lives. So what’s someone with anxiety to do?

I've been learning a lot about congruent emotions as I am on a journey to deal with anxiety and depression. “Mood-Congruent Behavior” means that expressed actions are consistent with how one feels. When you behave in a way that is congruent it means that you are acting in a way that is the same as how you truly feel - you know what you want and how you feel, and you are asking for it and expressing it.

Here are some of my successes (and failures) so far with “mood-congruent behavior”.

#1: Think it through first.

I can do this. I’m psyched up. I’m confident. I am going to say what I think. I am going to be confident in my conviction and tell the world what I need… And I am going to sound like a huge brat doing it.

It’s really important to think it through first. You have to start from a place of self-awareness before anything else. What do you want to communicate? How do you feel and what do you want the other person to learn? In any conversation there is room for misunderstanding and miscommunication, so to start off by thinking about the message you want to communicate, you can try to avoid that.

#2: Don’t back down.

When you’re so used to pushing down your own feelings, it can be really easy to just back down the moment you get (or think you get) any opposition. In my case, the opposition was imagined and I was ready to back down and call it a loss in asking for what I needed. Luckily, my partner wasn’t letting me off the hook.

#3: Ambivalence gets in the way.

I mean, maybe I’m wrong but….

This is an anxiety problem. This is a woman problem. Being unsure if you should feel a certain way or whether or not you’re expressing it correctly can be frustrating. For me, my anxiety around that often manifests itself in anger and leads me to “lash out” on my loved ones when I struggle to express myself.

The key here is to go back to your confidence in your own emotions. You’re allowed to feel however you feel and you need to trust yourself to express that. Bottom line: the person on the other end of the conversation cares enough about you to hear you (and if they don’t, you don’t need ‘em).

For those who struggle with anxiety, communication can be hard. But learning to understand your own emotions is a huge first step to expressing them… and ultimately, to getting to a healthier mental place.

Recognizing And Caring For Your Seasonal Depression: An Owner’s Manual

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Last weekend I canceled every plan that I’d made with anyone else and by midday on Sunday, I realized that I hadn’t been outside of the house since Thursday night. I noticed that I’d felt very flat the whole time. I forced myself to go to a Sunday evening meeting that I’d been wanting to flake out on and, guess what, I had fun. As an introvert, alone time holed up in my quiet spaces is good for me and helps me to feel recharged. As someone who is prone to depression, it can be hard to tell the difference between excessive self-care and getting pulled into a crater by a monster that feeds on my feelings and wants at least a part of me to die.

I remember when my therapist pointed out that I seem to always lose myself a little bit more when the season changes into fall. It’s true but I never noticed it because Fall is my favorite time of the whole year and so there’s always a sweetness that floats on top. Fall is also the time of year when my dad died and I thought I might, too. Fall is a season with its own colors and smells and tactile sensations and my body–my whole soul remembers it all. I know that I compare it to a monster tugging on my pant leg but it really is just all these parts of what makes up the core of me that is just remembering what it feels like to have half of you ripped away while you weren’t looking. And these parts of me don’t want to be caught off guard when it happens again. So in their remembering, they brace themselves. No matter how many times I try to tell them that it won’t happen again. I think they can’t hear me.

If this feels familiar to you, it’s important to make a list of resources. Keep a list on your phone. Set reminders in your calendar to get out of the house or just evaluate yourself. Remind yourself of the people that you should call on and if you feel comfortable–ask them to check in on you from time to time. Ask them to force you out of your house every now and again.

Here’s a glimpse at a few parts of my list–things that I’ve actually written down on paper to myself to get myself through days when I’m not sure if I can:

  • Allow yourself to make concessions. Now is not the time for judgment. Now is the time to do what it takes to bust yourself out. 
  • Listen to Top 40 Radio and let yourself sing along. Don’t feel bad for feeling giddy when “Despacito” plays for the 4,000th time. 
  • Shamelessly Google things that make you feel happy:
    – Baby goat GIFs.
    - Recipes for donuts.
    - Photos of Glennon and Abby.
    - That one photo of a hedgehog that Ryan always sends to you when you’ve had a rough day. 
  • Take a shower even if you don’t feel like it. Shave your legs. You like doing that. 
  • Limit your exposure to William Fitzsimons music, Lars von Trier films, and the news.
    - Watch Big Mouth on Netflix. It’s FINE.
    - Instead, listen to Lady Gaga, it’s fine. 
    - Read only fashion blogs. LOOK, THIS IS A NO JUDGEMENT ZONE!
  • Daydream about extravagant trips you could take. Browse “Portugal” on Airbnb. 
  • - Even if it’s just to check the
    Commit to leaving the house and really feeling that outside air:mail.
    - Even if it’s just to buy toilet paper.
    - Better if you walk around the block.
  • Wash the dishes or whatever other mindless task gets you out of your chair.
  • Promise yourself that you’ll drink a glass of water before you drink anything else:
    - And if you don’t do it, don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.
    - LaCroix counts.
  • Do all of the cheesiest shit that you can think of to up your mood.
    Look. Listen. Look and listen (name that podcast): Cliches are cliches for a reason. Fuzzy slippers. A beautiful cup of tea. Sitting by an open window. Petting a cat. Do it all.

little things, all the stereotypes
they’re gonna help you get through this one night
and there will be a day when you can say you’re okay and mean it
I promise you it’ll all make sense again
I promise you it’ll all make sense again

So, what’s on your list? How do you know when you need to utilize it? You don’t have to answer here but I hope you come up with an answer.
I love you.

Libby Monaghan is a lover and a fighter from McPherson, Kansas where she lives with her partner. She writes about everyday life, relationships, and social justice issues from a small town perspective at xoxolib.com. Follow along on Instagram @realxoxolib if you have an affinity for abstract watercolor, shots of cold cups of coffee, or the occasional blog update.

This was originally published on xoxolib.com.

What's In My Purse? Mental Health Self-Care On The Go

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I’ve always been what you might call “Type A.” The list maker of my girlfriends. The meal prep on Sunday kind of gal. The planner of weekend getaways (complete with itinerary). The one who always knows exactly what the perfect gift is for every occasion for anyone. The sibling you call about the complete family history in well…. anything.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to learn more about my “perfectionism” and the anxiety I had been living with as a result of it my entire life. As it turns out, when you carry the desire to be perfect around with you, eventually it starts to weigh you down.

The last year has been a journey for me. “Self-care” has not come easy. You’re looking at a girl who during the first several massages she partook in to “relax,” spent 75% of the duration wondering when she would relax, and then being angry with herself for “not relaxing omg just calm down!” Which is why I started taking bubble baths at night…. Where I would read professional development books about how to be a better marketer in my career.

You can see the dangerous spiral I was spinning on.

But there is one thing that my list making, itinerary preparing, meal prepping personality does come in handy for when it comes to anxiety and self-care: my purse. Or, as I like to call it: my mental health self-care on the go.

Here’s what's in my purse, to help me deal with anxiety, and practice self-care whenever I want (bubble bath optional).

  • Aromatherapy Essential Oils: The kinds you can roll right onto your wrists. Right now, I have 3 different ones. This one, a blended mix known to help with migraines. This one, for stress. And this one, a cooling blend which helps relieve tension and anxiety.

  • Tums: When I am stressed or anxious, my stomach tends to bother me.

  • Pill Box: I like to always have my migraine medication with me, as  I do suffer from frequent migraines. But since I also like to have Advil and other medications, I just keep a witty little pill box in my purse.

  • Makeup: Anxiety can trigger a wide range of emotions. You really never know when you’re going to be crying in the car (seriously). I like to keep foundation, mascara, some Q-tips, and chapstick in my purse for those emergency touch-ups.

  • Pop-up hairbrush: Everyone laughs, but no one ever declines when I offer this bad boy during a windy day.

  • Pen and paper: I started out as a journalist so I guess old habits die hard, but I also like to keep this on me because you can never discount the relief you get from quickly writing something down and letting it out.

  • Gum and mints: Nervous energy, plus mints soothe stomach cramps.

Realistically, most women carry half of this junk in their purses anyway. It’s just a matter of making sure I have what I need with me all of the time. When you have anxiety, preparation is half the battle.

Letter From The Editor // Health

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Late Sunday night, I was talking on the phone with a new guy. One of those talk about anything and everything kind of calls. The kind of call that lasts hours and you wonder how you’ve been on the phone until 4 am.

Late Sunday night, a domestic terrorist attack happened in Las Vegas. People were enjoying themselves at a music festival. Dancing the night away. Then the gunshots started. Then lives were changed forever.

Early Monday morning, I sat at my desk, sleep deprived. My brain bounced from replaying my phone call in my head to processing the Vegas attack. My emotions went from delighted to enraged to everything in between. How can someone be happy when the world is turning into a dumpster fire all around them? What do you do when you feel numb but can’t sit still, can’t stay quiet? Here are three things I did on Monday to get me through the day.

1. Do what you can

I was having a hard time focusing. I had a list of not a lot of things to do but I couldn’t bring myself to do any of it. I knew whatever I attempted to do was going to suck so I did none of it and I updated my website. It was not on my list but I knew it was something my brain could manage. I noticed that I was far behind on updating it so I felt better after getting that accomplished. 

So do what you can, even if it’s tiny. Maybe it’s making the bed. Maybe it’s ordering takeout because you’re too worn out to cook. It’s still ok. You fed yourself. Maybe it’s going downstairs to check the mail. You left the apartment, even if it was for a few moments.

2. Make some noise

I saw a Washington Post article which called the gunman as a gambler, lover of country music, and a man who lived a quiet life. It made me so angry so I fixed it and put it on the internet.

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As of publishing, it was shared 3070 times. It’s easy to feel helpless and that your words aren’t making a difference. But I made a thing that my friends shared and then their friends saw it and shared it and then their friends saw it and shared it and it goes on and on. People like to call others “armchair activists”. I hate that term. If you can reach people online with your message, especially if you know that you have something valuable to say, please share it. Please say it. It’s a ripple effect. Your words to do matter and will make a difference,

3. Tap away the pain

I do a technique called EFT Tapping. "Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT (often known as Tapping or EFT Tapping), is a universal healing tool that can provide impressive results for physical, emotional, and performance issues. EFT operates on the premise that no matter what part of your life needs improvement, there are unresolved emotional issues in the way. Even for physical issues, chronic pain, or diagnosed conditions, it is common knowledge that any kind of emotional stress can impede the natural healing potential of the human body." [source]

I followed along with a video in bed and then promptly passed out. Tapping allows me to work through some emotional issues. If you search EFT Tapping on YouTube you will see tons of videos to follow along with. Once you get the hang of it, you can do it on your own. Write down all your blocks and end with "Even though... (insert blocks here)... I deeply and completely love, accept, and forgive myself." Sounds pretty woo woo but it works.

If you're still feeling helpless, lost, or confused, please reach out to a trusted friend or a professional. You're never alone. This month on The Lady Project Blog we will be talking about Health. From physical to mental health, it's all important for us to be our best self. October 10th is World Mental Health Day so we will be hearing stories all month from women about their personal journey with bettering their mental health. 

Warmly,
Brittanny Taylor
Editor-in-chief

Expressing Yourself When You Don’t Know How

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Here’s a truth bomb: I’m a writer, but I can’t find words.

I’ll be honest, every teacher, mentor, boss, friend, and colleague would all agree on one thing: I’d talk to a doorknob if it would talk back. Words are kinda my thing. Self-expression, whether in the form of my clothes and shoes, artwork and poems, and most importantly in my writing, has always come easily to me.

Yet here I’ve stood for the better half of the last year with a lump in my throat, unable to truly express myself. What’s wrong with me? Does everyone else know? Do they also think something is wrong with me? Why can’t I just say what I mean, mean what I say? Why can’t I just ask for what I need? What do I really need anyway.

Welcome to the mind of someone with anxiety.

Lying would be to say that I’ve figured it out and I finally know how to express myself. Lying would be to say that I don’t wrongfully lash out on someone important to me at least once a week because I don’t know how to explain how I feel, or that I don’t unintentionally go weeks without responding to text messages, phone calls, and emails.

But here’s what I have figured out (so far) about expressing yourself when you don’t know how.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Cliche, I know. I cringed writing it. I hate cliches. But some days really are better than others.

The truth? Some days, I wake up and I get a great run in and work isn’t too stressful, dinner tastes great, I FaceTime with my nephews, I answer all of my texts as they come in and I go to bed feeling good. Then, I wake up the next day and for some unexplainable reason I feel overwhelmed (hi, anxiety, it’s me). I struggle to explain it at dinnertime, so I lash out on my boyfriend. Then, I cry in the bathroom at work the next day and it’s 2-weeks later and I have 67 unread texts... and I have no idea how to even begin to explain to anyone in my life why it happened.

So you start over. Couch to 5K. 5K to 10K. All over again.

Take the highs with the lows.

The worst part about being unable to express yourself is that you can quite literally beat yourself up over it. The courtroom inside your head is so loud. “But she’s entitled to take care of herself, even if that means she’s not as responsive for a while.” “It’s rude to ignore people.”

At the end of the day, you have to be willing to cut yourself some slack and take the highs with the lows. Otherwise, you’ll end up on the defensive all the time, which helps no one when you’re trying to express yourself later.

Confidence is your greatest line of defense.

Hey, girl… you’re doing the best you can.

Honesty gets you further than anything else.

Nothing I’ve learned has been more important than this: be honest. With yourself. With your loved ones. With the world.

You might not know what you need. That’s OK. You might know exactly what you need. That’s OK. But say it. And don’t be afraid to say “I have no idea why I feel this way, what will make it better, or how long I’ll feel this way. But I need you to bring me a unicorn and 6 tubs of Pinkberry.”

You’d be surprised how much further that will get you than beating yourself up (also, Pinkberry).

And finally, when searching for where to start, choose the people or places that make you smile. In life, we have a tendency to start our “to do list” with the task that is the most difficult so that we can feel a sense of serious accomplishment. When it comes to self love, self care, and self expression, throw that mindset out the window. Start with the person that makes your heart happy. Your heart always deserves to be happy.

I haven’t figured it out. But I’m trying.

Right now, I have 18 unread texts, and I am working on answering: “What is it you need me to do to help, because I am not so good at this stuff, I need you to tell me.”

Expressing yourself, it’s tricky, I guess.

The Introduction of Project OverFlo.

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There is silence. There is suffocating silence that seems to take over when many are in need. Perhaps they choose not to tell you or maybe it is hidden as taboo or maybe we are blind to it. According to Data USA, in Rhode Island, 13% of the population lives beneath the poverty line. The largest demographic in this group are females between 25-35, next are females ages 18-24, and then males ages 25-34. There are some other pivotal issues hidden in plain sight including human-trafficking and domestic violence. There is no simple solution to these issues, however, this does not mean we cannot strive to help.

Project OverFlo. is an empowerment project focused on the wellbeing of the community by collecting feminine hygiene products for both impoverished and previously human-trafficked women. Project OverFlo.’s goal is to educate the community about homelessness, human-trafficking, violence, and puberty through workshops that will be held in October and November. The inspiration for this project came from Bustle’s documentary “How do Homeless Women Cope With Their Periods?”. In the midst of my own bad periods, I realized that “Wow, someone else is going through similar surprises and the cramps.” The next questions were, “How can I help?” and “Where do I start?” With that being said, I partnered up with two amazing ladies and got to work.

The motivation to continue this work comes from the Bible’s message found in John 7: 37-38: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (New King James Version).’” We believe in putting our faith into action by helping those in need, knowing that within us is the capacity and the Spirit to help and inspire our community.

Below are the workshop dates, times and names:

Saturday, October 7th - 9am to 12 pm - Grand Kick-off
Saturday, October 14th - 9am to 12 pm - Domestic Violence and Prevention
Saturday, October 21st - 9am to 12 pm - Women’s Health
Saturday, November 4th - 9am to 12 pm - Empowerment Day

All events will be held at Ebenezer Baptist Church at 475 Cranston St, Providence, RI 02907. Donations will be accepted at the events. We will be accepting menstrual pads, tampons, panty liners, period underwear, menstrual cups, etc. Donations will be made to the Providence Rescue Mission and Sojourner House’s Trafficking Housing Empowerment Immigration Advocacy Project (THEIA). If you have any questions or you are interested in volunteering or donating please write to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/projectoverflo/ or call Kou T. Nyan at 401-626-8256. We are excited to have you all there!

Kou T. Nyan is the founder of Project OverFlo. She is also a writing content creator who loves words so much she has her own blog called Forever A Student; forever a teacher. Check it out at https://beginningwiththeword.wordpress.com.

Lucky For You, You’re What We Like

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In search of the perfect dress for my first big fundraising event, I was desperate to find something that would magically transform me into what I thought an effortlessly badass PR woman would look like. What would she wear? And how did I find the right dress to become her?

“What about this one? It’s kinda edgy, right?” I was trying on dresses with one of my best friends, and was eager to know what she thought of my latest selection.

Her face twisted and she reluctantly offered, “Well, yeah, but… it’s not… you.”

I was used to faking it to make it. When I observed women on various leadership panels or at networking events, I found myself studying their clothes, their demeanor, and their speech…

But that can be dangerous.

From the time you’re in kindergarten, you’re told to BE YOURSELF. But in a world where personal branding is so important and everyone is eager to differentiate themselves, how exactly are you supposed to do that?

HERE ARE THREE KEYS TO BUILDING A CONSISTENT AND AUTHENTIC BRAND:

#1 Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.

In an effort to win more customers, clients, or followers, we sometimes try to cater to everyone. But a safe, all-encompassing message or brand that everyone likes is not only boring, it holds no value.

When you take a firm position, one of three things could happen:

a.     Increased loyalty among those who share your viewpoint and appreciate your perspective.

b.     Some in your audience disagree with you, but remain engaged because they respect your (thoughtfully crafted, confidently presented) opinion.

c.     People disengage, which is fine because not every client, partnership, or follower is meant to be maintained). You’ll avoid wasting time and other investments on connections that are not a good fit.

#2 Watch your mouth.

Whether you are negotiating, tweeting, selling, or networking, use language that reflects your real personality.

Avoid using words or phrases that you would not use in real life. If your target audience is a younger crowd, don’t use “lit” to try to connect with them if it’s not a word you would normally incorporate in conversation. Even worse, it’s obvious that you’re trying – and there is no bigger turn-off then the stench of desperation. Working to communicate your professionalism and expertise? Avoid using words simply to impress clients, because that can be equally unappealing. Ironically, it could also expose you as a novice and paint you as unexperienced.

Before working in public relations, I was the chair of the English department at a local high school. I was promoted to the position at the ripe age of 24, eager and determined. But I spent my first department meeting PROVING that I belonged there (using so much education jargon that my head was spinning), and I failed to let my true self shine through. I spent months getting comfortable with my own style, and eventually garnered enough confidence to be myself. Whether I was speaking with students or principals, I used language that was appropriate, yet natural. It earned me even more credibility and respect, and I wish I’d done it sooner.

Know your audience. Know yourself. And speak accordingly.

#3 Offer only what you value.

Writing a blog or newsletter? Crafting a speech for a conference? Imagine yourself as an audience member and assess what it is your care about. If you were reading that newsletter or listening to that speech, what would you be looking to take from the experience?

I recently began thrifting and reselling vintage jewelry for fun. I only invest in the pieces that make me swoon, instead of offering items that I think others will like. At one point, I questioned whether or not I was limiting myself by only selling what I like. But at my first weekend market, several people made remarks about me having a “good eye” or liking my “style”.  

Pursue the things you care about. When you do, the connections you’re building and the business you’re getting become more meaningful.

It also makes your brand more memorable.

When working to express an authentic brand, resist the temptation to copy what other women are doing. Admire them, take notes, and follow their advice—yes.

But remember that the strongest, most unique brands emerge from authenticity.

Be yourself. Chances are, we’ll like it.

Style is Self Expression

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Once upon a time, my favorite item of clothing was an old sweatshirt my dad wore when he was in his 20’s. I loved that it had the name of the town I was from on it, that it was from my dad, and mostly because it was comfortable and hid my body. I never thought much about fashion or personal style for most of my life because I was either trying to find ways to hide my body or I was too busy to care about what my body had on it.

Looking back at almost every picture of myself, from high school all the way through to grad school, I was in almost the exact same look – a pair of way too big jeans, a cami tank, and a hoodie. I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising that this lack of style followed me into adulthood and my career, and it doesn’t help that I work in a field that can enable this type of dressing – technology. So, for a long time, I was able to continue to wear what my friends and family lovingly dubbed “the Katie uniform.”

Before recently I wasn’t really sure where my lack of style came from. Did I think that clothes were superficial? Maybe. Did I lack the self-confidence to think that I could look good? Probably. Did I just have no clue where to start with dressing myself? Definitely. Was I (and maybe still am a little) viewing myself as not worthy of nothing more than a disposable wardrobe? Absolutely. But after really thinking about it, what I failed to see before is that style and fashion is a form of self-expression, an outward reflection of what’s beneath.

While doing some research on this topic, I read an article on the website Ignant by Charmaine Li that struck me: “When it comes to other forms of self-expression, such as painting, writing or dancing it’s readily accepted that the more you care, the more likely you are to fall into a path of personal exploration. So what is it about dressing the body—another form of self-expression—that makes it different?” This statement sums up how I now feel about fashion and dressing myself. That style is not some frivolous endeavor but instead an outward celebration of art, a way to celebrate the beautiful uniqueness of my own form.

So maybe now you’re wondering how I went from someone who at one time owned more than 20 (yes 20!) hoodie sweatshirts to someone who believes that fashion is a visual manifestation of where one stands and an important conduit to inventing or reinventing oneself? I met someone. A couple of years ago I met my friend Kristina and she has made a huge impact on how I now view style. It should be no surprise that she’s an artist. Her striking and colorful paintings hang on the walls of her home. She listens to jazz music and loves the soulfulness of New Orleans. She is ethereal with the kind of effortless style that looks together but not too together all at once. Kristina was the first person who told me to invest in good quality shoes and that I could pull off wearing bright red lipstick. She’s helped me think about my shopping habits, my addiction to cheap and easy buys, the emotions behind what I wear. But the most valuable thing I’ve learned from Kristina is that fashion and style is and should be about reflection and expression.

My journey the last couple of years has been more emotional than I expected. I realize now that I wasn’t expressing myself very well and I certainly wasn’t feeling like myself. In fact, I think I was afraid. It took a while to sort through different looks, materials, colors, etc. to figure out what made me feel like I was bringing the best version of myself out. I’m still a work in progress, and I’m still figuring out who I am and what my personal style is, but that’s ok. I know that the clothes I wear are reflective of the point I am at in my journey and will always make me feel like a beautiful piece of art. And art is undeniably conducive to happiness.