Practicing Intentional Self-Care Led Me to Therapy
In 2019, I realized I needed a little help. After a decade of working non-stop and unraveling the reasons behind some of my life choices, I finally felt at peace. My 20s were filled with romantic pursuits, moving across country, working low-wage office jobs, marrying and divorcing, earning a college degree, and starting a new career in a new industry. If I were to assign a theme to my second decade it would be pursuing stability emotionally, professionally and personally.
For the first time in my adult life, I was finally at a place where I could slow down. I’d met all the goals I’d set for myself, and while I was a touch uncomfortable with the idea of not having some distant ambition to relentlessly pursue, I had to lean into the feeling. The next decade was a blank canvas, and before I started mapping out my next set of goals, I wanted to ensure it wouldn’t be filled with more milestones I never properly celebrated because I was too busy gearing up for what was next.
My existence and self-esteem could not continue to revolve around my level of productivity. I had to create balance and become intentional about taking care of myself.
I decided there were two things needed to properly begin a new form of self-care. One, I had to find a fitness routine that worked for me. I used to feel strong and confident in my body and I wanted to return to that state. Two, I wanted to find the most elusive of professionals: a Black female therapist.
Therapy was appealing because while I’d made serious efforts to figure out who I was and what I wanted in my 20s, some of it could have been less challenging if I’d had a therapist to help me navigate certain situations. By the time I was wrapping up my 20s, I had a much better handle on my emotional responses to life’s challenges and was much more confident about my abilities to tackle whatever came next.
While I wasn’t personally in crisis, I knew a neutral third-party might be able to help me on this new journey. It would need to be someone I could be completely honest with and who would know what it meant when I said, “I wanted to have a hot girl summer.”
I found my therapist through a happy coincidence. Having made little progress cross-referencing the Google terms “Black women therapists” in my area to a list of in-network insurance providers, I mentioned my search to one of my mentors. Having been an executive director of a local nonprofit that provided affordable therapy, she recommended a therapist, whom I’ll call Dr. Hatfield*, that not only fit my search criteria but recently started her own practice in my area.
Part of finding the right therapist is visiting a few to see who might best fit the client’s needs, so I fully expected to continue looking for at least another two candidates. I gave her a call and left a message. I knew from her website that Dr. Hatfield wasn’t too much older than me, and she had all the necessary qualifications.
Our initial chat was standard. She asked me what made me consider starting therapy, and I gave her the CliffsNotes version of my life thus far. I let her know while I wasn’t facing a crisis, there were things I wanted to work on. Finding real friends as an adult was proving to be more difficult than as a teen or even a 20-something. I kept running into a certain type of woman who tended to look at me as “inspiration porn.” In those situations, I usually ended up performing unnecessary and unfair amounts of emotional work in one-sided friendships. I wanted to find similar people who were already about the business of creating the lives they desired.
I also wanted to date. If you, like me, have the misfortune of being attracted to men in the 21st century, you know my pain. Dating apps feel like the seventh circle of hell, and I’m not into clubs. Where do professionals meet? How does one start a hoe phase? All things I was interested in, all things my therapist would need to help me unravel.
I thought, perhaps, those were strange choices to work on in therapy, but I learned they weren’t. I scheduled an appointment and was encouraged to continue my search for a few other candidates. But I had a feeling, even from such a brief phone conversation, that Dr. Hatfield was the one. A feeling I confirmed once I got into her office.
A pretty, brown–skinned woman with natural hair, in person, she looked even more like someone I would want to be friends with. My first session focused on my family tree. I gave her all the context needed about my immediate and extended family dynamics. I also revealed the trauma of facing racism and misogyny in the workplace, which I realized I was still trying to recover from.
There, in the safe space of her office, I felt comfortable talking about trauma both dealt with and some I was still processing. In the soft lighting, to the white noise sounds of a thunderstorm, I found myself relaxed enough to reveal the naked truth: I was lonely. I didn’t want to be, but I was afraid I was headed down too solitary a path. I was afraid I would look up one day and have the things that mattered to me without the relationships I needed.
With kindness and understanding, she looked at me and said, “That will not be your story.”
It’s been more than a year since that first visit with Dr. Hatfield. I see her once a month—now virtually. Sometimes she gives me homework. One time I had to go to see Raphael Saadiq in concert! Another time I was tasked to talk to two strangers at a work event. I like coming into the next session with updates on my assigned tasks and the outcomes.
Since I started therapy as a fairly well-adjusted person, I am still struck by Dr. Hatfield’s ability to casually note something about my personality or patterns. In those moments, I feel seen; I freeze all motor functions, like I’m a host in Westworld, as all the clicks and whirls of my brain try to catch up with being exposed. In a world that often renders Black women simultaneously invisible and hypervisible, it’s nice to be seen by another Black woman who understands the stresses of the world we live in.
Before the pandemic halted life as we knew it, I’d committed to my Pilates routine and therapy. I felt good about the intentionality of my actions and life. Adjusting to post-pandemic life has been hard, but Dr. Hatfield’s remained a constant. Encouraging me, as I began to imagine the next decade of my life and cheering me on, as some of those plans unfurl.
In one of our recent sessions, I told her I’d been intentionally staying connected with several friends and acquaintances I admire. I realized I needed to be the friend I wanted and maybe that friendship would be returned to me.
I began texting folks weekly, just to keep in touch and see about them and they’ve all been wonderfully responsive. I even spent a few hours talking with one on the phone—which is big for me because no one likes to talk on the phone anymore! She smiled, and said, “See! One of your original goals was to make more friends, and here you are.”