How to Win at Therapy Without Even Trying

Cassie hopes this article serves as a reminder that you don’t have to do this alone.

Cassie hopes this article serves as a reminder that you don’t have to do this alone.

The first published excerpt from “The Self Care Bible,” written by Cassie Cohen, Founder and CEO of Cassie Cohen Creative, LLC and Hope Wild, Inc.

The first thing to note is that there is no such thing as winning at therapy. There is only show up, speak, listen, cry, work, reflect, radiate, discover, cry, heal, cry, cry, cry, and/or never cry if you’re creepy.

But for starters, you can show up hella prepared. I tried out a new therapist this past November and totally blew her out of the water with my preparedness.

Think of therapy like school.

To use my undergraduate experience as an example: I at minimum showed up for class. So, now I, at minimum try to show up for therapy with the same muster.

This means that I show up at the scheduled time and location even if I need to call my mom for a thirty second, “Get your ass out of bed,” pep talk. I show up even if I am so hungover that I reek of booze and need to avoid making any sudden movements for fear of a sudden intestinal collapse. Luckily I am celebrating seven months of sobriety so this is less of a pressing issue.

Try not to feel too bossed around by this list of requests. I only want to help you help yourself. I have no interest in observing your response to this article to determine if you followed every step.

  1. Just get your physical body into that goddamn chair.

    Show up even if you are already crying, reek of booze, didn’t have time to take off last night’s makeup, and/or are wearing a full “Men’s Varsity Hockey” sweatsuit that clearly belongs to your evening prior’s one night stand. Feel proud that you are wearing that sweatsuit. B*tches love hockey.

  2. To reiterate the point prior, just f***ing show up.

    The great part about my undergraduate experience is that 80 to 90 percent of the time, I showed up to class with my assignments prepared and with something other than sweatpants on, ready to engage, learn, and #dowerk. Try and make it a goal to approach going to therapy this same way (see below for more on this).

  3. Eighty percent of the time, arrive at therapy prepared and poised.

    Sweatpant avoidal is optional. As a woman who often refers to pants as, “Leg prisons,” I believe that your legs deserve freedom every day… Therapy day especially!

    Hell, you’ve got to remember that someone is paying for you to be there. If that person is you, it’s time to take yourself as seriously as our former President Obama.

Because I don’t know you or any of your struggles, challenges, family combat, trauma, or previous mental and physical health history, I will now suggest this listicle of things that you might want to bring with you to your first (or five hundredth) appointment with your psychotherapist.

Just FYI: This is a list of 13 because 13 is a great number.

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  1. Thermos of your favorite warm beverage.

    If prone to anxiety, choose one of those “delicately mixed” herbal teas. If you are bad and bougie (which you are) purchase a seasonal latté. If your appointment is in the afternoon, consider making your seasonal latté decaf. If you are feeling anal about the impacts of the #altmilk industry, choose oat milk (in preparation of spending an extra sixty cents to one dollar, plus your state’s food and beverage tax).

  2. Water.

    Especially if you live in the following above-ground cities: Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Leadville, Santa Fe, Quito (Equator), Lhasa (Tibet), Kathmandu (Nepal…) ok we get it.

    Hydrate or die-drate.

  3. Tissues.

    …(or eco friendly handkerchief) of your preference.

    Moisturizing? Definitely consider the ply here.

  4. Something to do with your hands.

    Fidget toys, a knitting project, etc.

    Maintaining eye contact with your therapist can be hard and often unnecessary, especially while discussing your negative core beliefs, behavioral sabotage, and substance abuse that all stem from your daddy issues (obviously).

    Some therapists have their own fidget toys in their offices, but when I think of all the other angsty hands that have probably touched those things over the years, I’m like, “Nah, I’ll bring my own, seeing as I am a professional therapy attender these days.”

  5. A journal.

    …that is super hipster/preppy/cute/chique/treat yourself 2011 (step 1- circle one, step 2- acquire, step 3- manifest).

  6. A nice-ass pen.

    Consider Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball in black or purple. No, they didn’t pay me to suggest that. You’re welcome.

  7. Your business card.

    This is for in case you accidentally network in the waiting room and/or in the elevator on your way out of the office when you are feeling your peak sexy and empowered.

    Yes, still buy business cards from Vistaprint or a similar sight (they are dirt cheap, I’m telling you) even if you are unemployed. Even unemployed people have email addresses. After I quit my first grown-up job and was unemployed by my own stubborn free will, this factoid was a huge benefit to me.

  8. Your phone.

    Charged and on airplane mode.

    Extra points if the screen is cracked or if it’s an Envy 3 (2009, sometimes I miss you).

  9. Wallet.

    So you can pay your copay and your latte, herbal tea, CBD chocolate, or whatever the hell you want and/or need.

    Bring your insurance card to your first appointment.

    If you don’t have enough money for health insurance or your employer doesn’t supply it, you might qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. It’s worth looking into, the government is here for a reason beyond daily annoyance and speeding tickets…Don’t forget about your fun elementary school playground and public libraries and neighborhood and National Parks).

  10. Headphones.

    …for listening to (insert your go-to girl or boy or they band here) before and after your appointment as needed.

  11. Your list of “Goals For Therapy.”

    These could be could for today, for this month, this year, this life, hell — no one can stop you from having goals! No one except yourself, that is.

    Caution here: Your therapist might tell you to, “Do less,” so you workaholics may need to get mentally prepared for that.

  12. Your completed assignments and/or reflections from last week.

    If you’re on your way to your first session, bring any past psychological or academic testing you may have completed at any point in your life. Testing can make what feels like one hundred questions feel more like a more even twenty.

  13. Yourself, showered, dressed, and ready to take steps to live the life you deserve.

    Of course make sure you are wearing your big girl/boy/they, “vulnerability is strength” power outfit.

Good luck! Go get ‘em!

Always feel free to document your experiences at therapy on social media. I guarantee that your vulnerability is strength and that it will inspire others to follow your fearless lead.

#therapyisdope #ididthedamnthing

Hope Happens: Planting Tulips, Smashing Stigma

Hope Happens: Planting Tulips, Smashing Stigma

Written by Nikki Symanovich, featuring Julia Hansen

Julia Hansen (left), founder of The Yellow Tulip Project with Nikki Symanovich, president of Narratives of Hope.

Julia Hansen (left), founder of The Yellow Tulip Project with Nikki Symanovich, president of Narratives of Hope.

A week ago, I found myself sitting across from the incredible Julia Hansen, deep in conversation, connecting over coffee and sharing our personal mental health journeys. We’ve both created small, youth-led mental health nonprofit organizations that stemmed from experiences with suicide loss and which emphasize the power of hope. While we quickly realized how closely our organizations’ missions aligned, what struck me most about meeting Julia was just how comfortable and accepted I immediately felt in her presence. The moment we met, she lit up and wrapped me in the warmest hug. We started sharing our stories, our experiences with loss, our own struggles, and how we found hope, and I’m confident we would’ve been able to find something to talk about all day if we’d had the time. I am endlessly grateful that there are people out there like Julia who radiate kindness and light and make you feel like you are utterly enough, always.

Julia and I are all about collaborating to smash the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, so I would like to take this opportunity to share Julia’s journey and the powerful work she’s doing with The Yellow Tulip Project. I encourage you to get involved with her amazing organization and I look forward to sharing what we team up to do together this year!

Over to Julia:

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During my sophomore year of high school I lost my two best friends to suicide while struggling with my own levels of depression. I was living silently with my struggles due to the intense stigma associated with mental illness but luckily was able to speak up and get the help I need. Amidst grief and darkness, I was able to still find beauty and hope in the world and wanted to share that with others. Because of this, I created The Yellow Tulip Project, a 501c3 nonprofit aimed at de-stigmatizing mental illness, bringing hope and light into peoples lives, building community and helping others know it is okay to not be okay. Yellow was one friend’s favorite color while the tulip was another’s favorite flower, so for me it is a perfect combination of my two friends’ lives. Our mission is to smash the stigma surrounding mental illness and to build a community of people who realize that hope happens when youth and community leaders work together. We hope that someday mental illness will be as normal to talk about as any physical illness, and we are fiercely dedicated to making this goal a reality. Here’s a snapshot as to how we do this:

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  • We’re planting Hope Gardens at schools and community organizations in the fall and welcoming the tulips in the spring. These communal events bring people together and provide a space for conversations about mental health.

  • We’re building a network of passionate ambassadors to represent The Yellow Tulip Project in schools around the country. Dedicated youth ambassadors are given leadership positions in our 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We have found that empowering youth in this way is the best way to leverage youth voices and to get our message out. 

  • We’re taking on stigma with the I Am More: Facing Stigma photography exhibit. This exhibit features powerful black and white portraits of people who are struggling with mental illness. Accompanying each photograph are artist statements aimed at  challenging our assumptions of what mental illness “looks like.”

We currently have over 120 youth ambassadors all over the country and spreading abroad. Mental illness and suicide is a silent epidemic in society. Even with 1/5 individuals struggling with some form of mental illness, we do not talk about it and continue to push it aside. This only perpetuates the stigma, preventing others from getting the help they may so desperately need. I want to change the way we address mental illness and inform people that suicide should never be the way out. We talk about broken bones and head aches but there mere thought of talking about mental illness makes people run far and fast. Through The Yellow Tulip Project we are bringing this topic into the light by active conversations and recognition of mental illness in high schools and communities. Life can be extremely dark at times but it is SO crucial to always hold onto hope and to know that although it may be hiding at times, but it is always there.  It is okay to not be okay. You are not alone. You are not a burden. You are more than your mental health challenge. 

All the above photos are courtesy of The Yellow Tulip Project.

April 28, 2016 — The Yellow Tulip Project was launched and from that day on, we have seen immense support and active voices reaching out to share their stories. This is a youth-led and driven organization. We are done being silent and having this topic pushed under the rug. Because of this, we are speaking up to smash the stigma and remind others there is help and hope out there.

In celebration of World Bipolar Day

In Celebration of World Bipolar Day

Written by Cassie Cohen

Inviting everyone to celebrate today, March 30, World Bipolar Day.

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For those of you who are close to me, you know that this was a label given to me at age 15. Like many “bipolar people,” however, the language around the disorder isn’t relevant to me outside of the academic, research-oriented space. I used this language to write a piece of APA-style literature exploring the brains of creatives, the brains that are often assigned to this group that we honor today.

As neurodivergent individuals living with a given diagnosis of “bipolar I” or “bipolar II,” — Wikipedia can provide the differences between these two diagnostic labels — we are serial empathizers. We are a group so in tune with our own emotions and the emotions of others that if we’re sad, we know we’re sad. If we’re happy, we know we’re happy. If we’re a little bit too uninhibited, we know that too, and usually compensate so that these external behavioral outliers do not affect our professional abilities and relationships. Thriving is possible for us in any workplace culture, in any walk of life. Ask us how we feel, not what we’re called according to the DSM-V.  

Why I’m posting this is because the suicide rate among those with my diagnosis is 15%. That’s almost 1 in 5 people that are told at age 15, at age 20, at age 30, that they have “bipolar disorder,” 1 in 5 who will take their life because of what their brain differences look like and feel like in their experience in this world.

Think about how the world would react to losing Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, pop-force Demi Lovato, U2 star Sinead O’Connor, and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones...all in the span of one year. Considering how many famous creatives, entrepreneurs, and other STEAM professionals who have been diagnosed as bipolar, this type of event is not impossible.

All of these names I mention are icons of American arts and technology who have come forward about having ups and downs, labels or no labels, that their dialogue is what they choose. What matters is that they were open about their experience in this world. Elon Musk may have been laying in a sleepless anxiety, dreaming of commercial space travel, when SpaceX was born. As a culture, we don’t care where brilliance comes from.

Whether these are places of pain, unconventional behavior, etc., we admire radicals. But we too frequently admire radicals only after we lose them to suicide or complications from substance use challenges.

It’s time to keep our brilliant people alive and give them the tools and support they need to tell their stories, make art, lead companies, invest in professional development, go to therapy, and in consequence… start a movement for an open world.

So this is a post to celebrate World Bipolar Day, as well as a personal moment to step back and honor my contributions to organizations like Open Labs, Mental Health Colorado, and Narratives of Hope, all of which are run by people I love and connect with and am inspired by everyday to wake up and come to work.

I end with my 4-part ask. If you do one of these things, I love you! You’re changing the world! If you do all 4, holy smokes, you’re a light.

  1. I would love if people set up a 5-minute call with me at anytime, if you want to talk, if you need resources, they’re out there, and therapy, although expensive, is invaluable if it’s effective.

  2. Trust me on this: becoming a trained storyteller will change your life. I began my training informally through resources that exist on the internet. Yes, there are companies (Story2) and nonprofits (The Center for Digital Storytelling) whose soul mission is to create and support storytellers.

    Q: What is it about NPR that calms me down? A: The quality and authenticity of the storytelling.

  3. If you are literate, add “writer” to your identity. Here is why. As writers we are doing a special thing (using we because you have made it this far, so you are literate, so you are now a writer too). With our education, we are granted immense power. The power to use words that come from us. The power to use our learned language, to spin a phrase, to tell a story, to reflect in an essay or a free-formed voice interview... a concrete and tangible ribbon that can dig in on history as your authentic lived contribution to the world. 

  4. Participate in my Friday ritual, and go buy yourself a special beverage. Or, do what I am doing today, and forgoing that $2-5 investment and instead, explore one of these three websites and decide that your Friday coffee will go as a gesture of your recognition of World Bipolar Day, and the lives we have sadly lost too soon.

'I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life' — Michael Phelps opens up about his struggles with mental health

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American swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the latest public figures to open up about his struggles with mental health. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian, recently discussed how he began to fall into a state of depression after every Olympics, beginning in 2004. At his lowest point, he no longer wanted to be alive, and it took him nearly a decade to take the first steps to seek help. In fact, it takes the average person 10 years to seek treatment for depression, but since receiving treatment, Phelps reveals that life became easier. Today, he hopes to reach people by sharing his experience and encouraging conversation around mental health.

Read the full story here.

Thank You 2017, for Bringing Narratives of Hope Into Existence

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2017 has been a turning point for me because it is the year that brought Narratives of Hope into existence as an established nonprofit organization. It is also marks the first time that I have been able to speak and write openly about my experiences with suicide loss, depression, anxiety, and recovery. I will always be grateful for the compassionate, supportive responses I received from friends, acquaintances, and strangers near and far. Sharing my experiences has been cathartic and healing, and brings me hope that this platform will change the lives of those struggling with their mental health, as well as a tool to educate others who may not know these losses or illness quite so personally.

My co-founder Sarah and I first came up with the idea for Narratives of Hope three years ago, and since then, we kept sporadically coming back to our initial vision for this project, finally taking a leap of faith this past July. On August 8th, Narratives of Hope became an established nonprofit organization, and since then, the stories and feedback I have received have reminded me every day of the importance of this work.

Although the stories we have featured have been heavy and real, they have also been hopeful. Our aim is to accurately and authentically convey the depth of these various experiences, to provide a look into the silent struggles, but also to expose the seeds of resilience and recovery that exist amidst this darkness.

We are a small organization, but we are mighty. Our voice and our growth is made possible by those who spread our message, starting with family and friends, and rippling outward. If you have been seeking a way to become involved in mental health or suicide prevention in some way, this is the opportunity for you. If you have always wanted to share your story, but haven't quite been able to find the words or summon the courage, this is the year to change that.

We have powerful plans in store in 2018. We hope to inspire through stories, create meet-ups and workshops, grow involvement through an Ambassador Program, and launch a pilot program to bring mental health education and suicide prevention into schools. We will continue to work alongside Hiking Miles for Smiles, and you can expect some exciting news on their front coming soon. 

As we venture into 2018, we'd like to take a moment to acknowledge your own intentions for the year. We asked how you plan to take care of your mental health in the coming year, and your answers were hopeful and empowering.

Thank you to the individuals who have shared their experiences so far. If you would like to share your story, the world is ready to hear your voice. 

Thank you to my nonprofit attorney and the Narratives of Hope Board. We have come so far in 6 short months, and this work would not be possible without you. Thank you to all who have supported this mission, and for all the kind words we have received.

Here's to love, light, and hope in 2018.

Nikki Symanovich
Co-Founder and President

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