Of Course I'm Not OK: Mental Health Master Class (with Naiylah Warren, LMFT) [EPISODE 11]

of course I'm not OK

Get ready to take notes!

On this week’s episode, Karen & Katie do a mental health deep dive with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Naiylah Warren, LMFT. The trio chat about the cultural messaging in the Black community where women are taught to “shake off” mental health issues (& how things are now shifting generationally), how to squeeze in self-care even when you don’t have a minute to spare (pay attention when you have to pee!), how to trust your body’s wisdom (Katie shares how she didn’t do this & ended up at the neurologist), how being emotionally vulnerable in friendships can help us feel more connected (+ how to identify which friendships are safe in which to be emotionally intimate), & tips on how to find a therapist (treat it like any other doctor – get additional opinions!).

This 50-minute episode will leave you feeling less alone & inspired to take action to better your mental health. Enjoy!

Resources from Episode 11: – Connect with Naiylah Warren, LMFT on Instagram; Check out the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network; Get access to mental health house calls with Heal; Real, a mental health startup innovating in the therapy space (also, where the amazing Naiylah works!); Check out resources such as Black and POC therapists on Therapy for Black Girls; Search therapist listings (you can filter the search to meet your needs) on Psychology Today; Watch ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ (such a good movie); Read ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz; Find out more about Heal Haus, a therapy practice in New York.

Follow us on Twitter & Instagram, and email us with questions/comments/concerns at notokpod@gmail.com. This episode is sponsored by Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. 

Keep in touch with co-hosts Karen Hawkins and Katie Morell on Twitter and Instagram.


Katie: Hi, I’m Katie Morrell. I’m a creative and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Karen: And I’m Karen Hawkins. I am the founder of Rebellious Magazine for Women and co-editor in chief of the Chicago Reader.

Katie: You are listening to Of Course I’m Not Okay: An Audio Project. Join us as we talk about mental health, coping with quarantine and what conversations we wish the world was having, and isn’t.

Karen: For some of our episodes, we’ll chat with writers and creatives to get their take. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

[musical interlude]

Katie: Yay!

Karen: I made it through another week.

Katie: We made it! That is such a colossal achievement, Karen.

Karen: I know. Katie, we did.

Katie: We should just eat cake. That’s what I would, like I want to. Like every Friday should be like, ‘You made it. Have a cupcake. Is that weird? I just, maybe, I just am always thinking of sugar.

Karen: It’s so funny. Cause I mean, I don’t have, I feel like I’m more of a savory person than a sweet person. Like I’m going to have another helping a mac and cheese before I have more cake. But you make me crave sweets because you just, I feel like you have a passion for them that is contagious.

Katie: Oh, it is contagious. And I apologize because that has, it has actually infiltrated my husband also. He was a total savory person. Like, loves Lay’s potato chips, loves kettle chips, all of those chips. And now they don’t exist in our house. Like, only chocolate. Only like, you know, every ice cream flavor and all of it. I think I’ve changed his taste buds. Weird. I don’t know. It’s not a good thing. You’re right. It is kind of contagious. I would love to become a savory person. I should try the mac and cheese. I love mac and cheese.

Karen: I mean, it’s not, I’m also potato chips. I mean, if it was just mac and cheese, it was just like, ‘Oh, I just have another helping.’ No, no, no, no. It’s any salty savory anything. So.

Katie: Yes. Like, you-can’t-even-keep-it-in-the-house type of thing.

Karen: Yeah, no.

Katie: I’m with you. I’m with you. Yeah. I can’t keep pretty much anything in terms of, you know, sweets in the house. Like, I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned this on the podcast, but I really feel very strongly about this business idea that I have about the-,

Karen: Oh no, here we go again.

Katie: Here we go! I seriously want it. I want to create this. If, if any venture capitalists are listening right now, I am open for a small seed round of $5 million.

Karen: Why not right?

Katie: Why not, right? Ask for what you want, I guess, but yes. So basically the idea is that I would like a man in a tuxedo to deliver one square of chocolate at 8 p.m. every night. And that’s it. One square. No more, no less. And I can’t stack up and that’s, that’s the whole thing. Because I just don’t have any willpower. Zero self control when it comes to like, ‘Oh, buy a bunch of Costco.’ No, that bunch will be gone in probably eight hours, honestly. And then I’ll be sick and then I’ll lay in bed at 2 a.m. thinking, ‘Why, just why?’ So anyway, I have some issues. Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about this publicly cause I need some help.

Karen: I feel like talking about it as the first step. And I also just want to note that only a reporter would be so specific. Like it’s not just like, ‘I want a man to bring some chocolate to my house.’ No no no. It is a man? Or ‘I want an individual. I want someone to bring chocolate to my house.’ No no no. ‘It is a man. He is in a tuxedo. He is coming at a very specific time and he’s bringing this exact thing. Like, I feel like it’s important to know what you want and it will be scary if two years from now on the podcast, we’re talking about our sponsor Tuxedo Chocolates.

Katie: Oh, damn.

Karen: Of Course I’m Not Okay is brought to you by Tuxedo Chocolates.

Katie: Get your Tuxedo Chocolates subscription for $10 a week or $30 a month. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not, I’m still working on the pricing. But I think it all depends on the size of the chocolate because, to your point, I have ideas about that as well. One inch by one inch, that’s it. We’re talking small.

Karen: One inch by what? Come on.

Katie: Really? Okay, fine. Maybe I should get, they should be bigger. But if they’re like five inches, I’ll eat that too.

Karen: Well, I mean I don’t think-

Katie: Not that there’s anything wrong.

Karen: It should be the size of a lottery check. Like I’m not saying, like the dude backs a truck up to your house and unloads the chocolate. But I feel like one inch is really small.

Katie: You’re right. That’s pretty micro. Maybe three inches. I don’t know. I think it depends. Maybe bigger on the weekends.

Karen: So that, what you just said is going to get us an explicit tag for this episode. You just used the words micro, three inches, and bigger on the weekend. So.

Katie: Within the same two sentences shit. Oh, you’re right. We might get an explicit tag.

Karen: It’s fine.

Katie: Sorry listeners. You can’t listen to this.

Karen: Yeah. No. Tell your children to close their ears.

Katie: Ear muffs.

[musical interlude]

Katie: Listeners! We just finished the most amazing interview with our amazing guest.

Karen: We can’t wait to tell ya’ll how much fun we had talking to Naiylah Warren, who is a therapist out of New York. You will want to be her best friend. We now wants to be her best friend. And she’s also of course, an amazing clinician. It seems, but we just, we talked about almost everything you can possibly imagine. And she is just warm and wonderful and glowy. And we really think you’re going to love this episode.

Katie: This episode has everything. I mean everything from self-care to self-care for people who don’t think they have time for self-care to, you know, how to find a therapist to resources for black folks and people of color. Like, there are just so many amazing nuggets from this. It’s unbelievable. Also, ooh, one thing that we cover is Shine. Shine is an app. And that was how we found her, which was on this blog. Shine is an app for people of color. That is basically like a, it’s like a meditation app, right? But it has more than that.

Karen: Yes, it has more than that. And I, they target me on Instagram and one of the things I appreciate that they say is that most, and by most I mean all, meditation apps and meditation practices, the voices are white folks. They’re either, you know, people of color from India or from places where that is part of the tradition, or they’re white folk. And so this is specifically therapy and meditation and the voices are all black people. I think so, or people of color. You’re going to fix this in editing.

Katie: That’s amazing. I’m so, yes. I mean it’s, I’ll include all of these in the resources.

Karen: Naiylah Warren, you are going to want to follow her on Instagram. You can slide into her DMs with your questions.

Katie: Enjoy. She’s amazing.

[musical interlude]

Katie: Great. Well, Naiylah Warren, thank you so much for coming on Of Course I’m Not Okay: An Audio Project. We just so appreciate your time.

Naiylah: Thank you. Thank you. I’m really excited to be able to have this conversation with you all.

Katie: For the people who are listening who might not be familiar with your work, can you kind of talk us through a little bit about what you do and where you work and that kind of thing? Just a little bit about your background.

Naiylah: Yeah, absolutely. So by training, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I started out working in addiction. So I worked with mostly homeless men who were struggling with co-reoccuring disorders, meaning they would be struggling with some type of addiction, whether it be alcohol or opioids, and also struggling with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or generalized anxiety. And then I did that for several years until I transitioned into private practice. And I started working with a place called HealHaus, which, shout out to HealHaus. Love them. And it was a heavily spiritual community. They really introduced so many people to all of these very not mainstream practices of healing. So very holistic. There was a lot, I was working next door to like psychic mediums. I would be downstairs while I’m hearing like sound baths happening and like yoga going on. Like my clients were here chanting. So it was a really beautiful space of all around healing. So I got to do that for a bit.

And then I transitioned to where I am now, which is a men’s health startup by the name of Real. And Real’s entire mission is to sort of, kind of disrupt the therapeutic industry. Because to be honest, we have never, we really never looked at therapy in the same way that we did physical health. We sort of looked at therapy and mental health as like its little thing and only a few people get to address it. If you have the money, if you have the time, if you have the resources, if you even have the support. So it’s a company that’s really looking to create more of a, making mental health really just a part of our daily life in the same way that we do everything else. So that’s where I am now. And so we do a lot of different things, groups doing individual therapy. We have a product called pathways, which is sort of like a therapeutic podcast and. We have Chromebook assignments and all those things. So it’s really, really fun to do.

Karen: Oh, sounds amazing. And I really, I, I can’t wait to see you expand. I can’t wait til you get to Chicago. I can’t wait til you get to the Bay Area, and then to Oregon, like I just, yes. All of it. Let’s do all of it right now.

Naiylah: Yes. Yes. 100%.

Karen: So who are your-, do you have? I know you started your career working with a certain set of folks. Do you have a set of clients? Like, who are your clients now? What does that, what does your client base look like now?

Naiylah: My clients are mostly, since I left addiction counseling, really are mostly black identifying women. They are mostly in the age ranges of really anywhere from early twenties to late thirties. Some of my clients-, in the past my clients were all in the demographic of like 40 and over. So now this is interesting working with sort of a younger demo. But mostly now working professionals. Mostly those who are struggling with relationship issues, or struggling with family issues, dealing with the generalized anxiety of, kind of the world. And that was even before COVID. So now that’s really heightened. So yeah, mostly that. Also people are dealing with a lot of transitions. So whether they’re looking to transition their careers, transition out of relationships, out of marriages. Things like that is mostly what I’m seeing.

Karen: So I mean, obviously I have a lot of feels about black women being in therapy because you know, I’ve been in therapy for a long time, but there is so much. It was not easy to convince myself to go. It hasn’t been easy to talk to people about it. And I don’t know if you can talk a little bit about how you, how people find you? How they come to you and, you know, how do you, how do you push past that thing that all black girls are raised with, which is just, ‘You just need to walk it off.’ I know a lot of girls are raised with that.

Naiylah: Oh yeah.

Karen: But I mean, especially black women, like ‘You’re just, you’re just going to walk it off. That’s just what happens. Why, why, why are you? Why you bringing up old shit?’

Naiylah: Exactly. Like be strong, move through it, push through it.

Karen: Yes.

Naiylah: Now in terms of that, like, shake it off kind of thing. I think that is cultural for so many different reasons. I think there’s so many reasons why we have maybe experienced having, not having space to process our feelings. One, it’s a matter of safety. I mean, and especially in mental health, especially in social services, especially for communities of color. Those people that we saw with those notepads were not coming to do any good, right? Oftentimes family felt like, ‘When we saw social workers, when we saw, like social service workers, bad news was happening, right? That our family was about to be threatened, ripped apart. But even historically, medically, and from the mental health field, there were so many ways that communities of color were harmed by those same entities. So there’s a lot of mistrust and distrust to work with medicine, but also to work with psychiatry. So I think those are all the things that sort of created these defenses as to why, you know, ‘Nope, we don’t do that. We stay over here.’ And then people just move towards just the natural ways that they would use to kind of heal themselves. Whether that be spirituality, whether that be compartmentalizing. So, so many different things.

Katie: Can I ask you, you know, do you feel like there’s a generational shift within the black community or within communities of color right now, moving toward therapy or toward, you know, mental health as, like you say, like a wellness practice? Like treating it, like any other part of our physical body? Do you think that there’s a change in that way? Or do you think that like these different communities are really still struggling in that way? Or how do you feel around that?

Naiylah: You know, I do think there has been a big shift in one, just how we interact with therapy. I think throughout the generations, I think we just continue to grow and evolve as humans do. And so our emotional intelligence has just increased. And then now seeing that also being met with more opportunities to deep dive into that emotional intelligence that we are developing. So I like to say that that is in part because we are just growing, we’re living, we’re seeing, we’re learning different things. But I think coupled with the fact that there’s so many different people who have started to kind of do that introspective work and then create platforms, like obviously you both have done, and be able to really have these real conversations about how are you really feeling. And those are questions when you ask people, those are not things that people are used to answering, honestly, right? Like even ‘How are you?’ is like ‘Fine.’ That’s it. Nothing. Anything else? That’s it. That’s the beginning and end of that sentence. So I think that our growth, our development, our evolving, mixed with having platforms that really push that, that really nurture that, that really encourage that, I think is why we’re seeing that shift.

[musical interlude]

Karen: Therapy is just one piece of self-care. So I don’t know if you can talk about what else self-care means, right? I feel like people think like ‘I went to therapy, I checked that box. You told me to go, I went. What else? It’s a whole holistic, self-care is a holistic thing. So what else, what else can it look like for people?

Naiylah: Yeah. I think self-care for me is really just doing what you know that you need to do to make yourself feel better and to make yourself function better. So that could look like anything from taking a nap if you’re really, really sleepy. That could look like peeing when you have been sitting at your desk for five hours and you are holding it until you finish that last email or something. It could look like not taking certain calls from certain people because you know that they drain you. It could look like making sure that you are eating things that, you know, that your body actually likes. Right? Like I know I’m lactose intolerant. I still play with trying to eat ice cream. Not the best self-care activity I can do, right? But I can just switch to, you know, a non-problematic dairy product and see what happens. Or nondairy products, excuse me. So I think it really just is about taking care of yourself. And sometimes it’s not always, like, as I said, like a bubble bath, doesn’t always look like something super luxurious. It’s really about meeting your needs in that moment. And oftentimes when we think about self-care, we think that it’s this very selfish thing that we’re taking time away, but it really is about just ‘What does your body need right now? And how can you meet that need?’ And you may not be able to do it in the way that you want to, but how can you at least address what it’s, what it’s asking for.

Katie: I think it’s so interesting talking about self-care, because I do talk to some friends. Specifically, I don’t have any children, but friends that do have children or have responsibilities that go beyond their, you know, their jobs or, you know, kind of things that are really quite time intensive for them. And honestly, I get a lot of eye rolls. You know, like I get a lot of-, I get a lot of like, ‘Okay, you know what? It would be really nice if I had the time.’ Or I had like, which I don’t ascribe to at all, but I guess I’m wondering how you react or how can people, your opinion around how people can really prioritize this and what this looks like. I love what you just said about, this doesn’t have to be a bubble bath. Like this doesn’t have to be, you know, something that’s kind of the traditional idea of let’s take three hours out of our day to do. Like for people who truly are struggling to find even three minutes in their day, what kinds of, kind of pieces of advice would you give them when they’re really struggling with even the concept of self-care?

Naiylah: Yeah, I think, I think first, while social media has been helpful in encouraging us to do self-care, I think it has created very rigid ways that we can engage in it. So it makes it look like a very luxurious thing, which if you don’t have time, it’s like, ‘I don’t have time to do that. Whatever that luxurious thing is that people are doing, like going across town for my favorite latte or taking this long bubble bath – I don’t have time for that.’ So I think if we start to, if we sort of try to restructure what that even means, if it just means to take care of your needs, making sure that your needs are met when, framing it that way, just already changes the game for a lot of people. Like when I tell my clients, ‘So you sat at your desk for 25 minutes with a full bladder and then what happened?’ ‘Yeah. I started getting really pissed at the person who kept talking.’ I’m like, Yes, and why is that?’ Like, and all of that is because you’re not allowing yourself to meet those needs and putting yourself in a really compromising situation to endure something that you don’t really have to. So I think when we try to reframe it of, ‘Okay, well, when you notice you have to pee, just go to the bathroom. When you notice that your lips are drying, cracking, and bleeding, drink some water.’ Like making it that simple and allowing people first to just get in tune with what’s coming up for them. What are sensations that are happening for you? You notice that you’re having dry mouth. Okay. So that means you’re thirsty. Okay. You notice that you have to use the bathroom. Okay. That means get up to use it. You notice that you’re starting to get a little hungry. Okay. So where can you start to go grab a snack? If we just start right there, that honestly is enough. Everything else is to, like, continue to elevate your mood. But if we just start there that that is enough, it doesn’t have to be anything more luxurious than seeing your needs, noticing them, and then trying to meet them in that moment.

Karen: And do you, that was actually one of the questions I wrote down. Follow up: do you have any tips for people? Cause I feel like it’s hard for some people to even listen to their bodies. Like the concept of like, being in touch with, I mean, I don’t know about your struggle with being lactose intolerant, but it took me a long time to figure out my dietary restrictions, because again, I was just walking it off. Right. So I felt like even the notion of listening to your body and taking the time to, ‘Oh, I’m thirsty. Oh my lips are cracked af.’ Like, are there any tips for people about, do you set a timer? Do you tell Alexa to remind you? Like, how do you, how do you even do, how do you build that into your day?

Naiylah: So I think the way that we tend to talk about doing that is by practicing mindfulness. And when we say mindfulness, that does not mean like sitting in Zen and meditation for like five hours. But it really is, is being thoughtful and being aware around what’s happening in your environment, both internally and externally. So that in itself is a practice. And when we talk about trying to pay attention to what’s happening in your body, it starts with just that daily awareness. So usually with clients who don’t really have that sort of mechanism yet, I start with letting them know, ‘All right. Well, how about you do a morning, check in, and then see if you can squeeze in an evening check in. So when you first wake up, just see what’s happening for you. Do you notice that you’re really, really hungry? Okay. Is there a moment where you can go grab a snack? Okay. Are you noticing that you’re a little bit anxious? Okay. Is there a moment when you can kind of take a beat, maybe watch something that’s really, really funny, randomly? Or maybe taking a walk around the block before you really like get your day started? So having a moment where you just sort of, have that time to just check in and see what’s present and what’s coming up. 

Sometimes you wake up, I don’t know about you all, but I have some crazy dreams and I wake up and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on, right? And I did not go to sleep with the mood that I woke up with.’ But in that moment I’m like, ‘Okay, let me check in.’ And so just having that process, it doesn’t have to be super long. You don’t have to journal, but if that’s helpful, then doing that. Maybe writing down some of the first thoughts that are coming into your mind. Or maybe it is about sitting down, listening to the music before you get your day. Started shaking up your routine a bit, putting fun things in your day that you would normally like, wait for a fun day. Right? So like Saturdays, I want to like blast music cause I know I’m going to clean up, but I might do that on a random Tuesday. Just because. 9:00 a.m. I’m listening to Jay-Z just because. It doesn’t have to be a clean day. It doesn’t have to be an ‘I’m Happy’ day. So I think having those moments to check in, seeing what’s happening, seeing what you’re noticing. And then starting to meet those needs. And then start throwing in different things in there that can just sort of interrupt that process that’s happening. Especially if you notice things like your mood being impacted.

Katie: This is like hitting me directly in my heart because I’m sure that many people can resonate with the concept of not being in touch with their bodies, and also not being raised to be in touch with their bodies. Like I think that so many people are just like, up here, you know, in their heads. And just this past year, actually I had a total wake up call where I, you know, I was going really, really hard with work. And I was constantly, you know, I just wasn’t paying attention to those little whispers, I guess they call them? Where it’s like, you know, your body will whisper at you until it really, you know, is yelling at you. And yeah, one morning I woke up having hit my head on the wall and I passed out and I had a concussion and it was because I was so depleted, honestly. I’m fine now. 

I mean, I’m not saying this to have any, you know, sympathy or anything like that. I’m just saying like, this is just an example that like, I think people, even if they’re listening, thinking like ‘That might not be me.’ Like, I think it’s actually incredibly common, and to not have shame around it, because I guess I would love to talk to you about that a little bit, because at least for me, I have kind of a perfectionism mindset in some ways, or I’m trying to recover from that, I guess you could say. But I think it’s, you know, it’s interesting cause it’s like, you know, after this happened to me this past year, I really had to sit back and think like, okay, what is going on? And it wasn’t until a neurologist actually said like, ‘Hey, you need to slow the fuck down. Like, you just need to sit.’ And it was really important to hear that message from someone who was, like, looking at x-rays of my brain. And so it’s just-, can you talk to, I mean, this is. As much as this sounds so wonderful, like this is serious shit. Like, can, I mean, can you speak to that a little bit? Like this is real.

Naiylah: Yeah. I mean, one of the reasons why I always joke when I do certain projects that self-care is my favorite thing, but one of the reasons why it is because of the degenerative nature of stress and chronic stress, right? I don’t think that we as a society really give stress that credit its due in literally killing us. So when we talk about how dealing with, maybe relationships that are consistently stressful, or dealing with jobs that are consistently stressful. Having an array of obligations on a daily basis that overwhelm us, we don’t, we talk about the immediate feelings of what it’s like to be stressed and having anxiety. But we don’t really talk about the biological impact that stress is having on us. And so it starts to tear down these different mechanisms in our cells. Like our telomeres, for example, are these little, these little, I call them like screws on the end of our chromosomes, that they start to break down when it’s consistently exposed to stress. And that comes out in so many different ways, whether it’s physical illness, whether it’s mental illness, mood disturbances. 

And so those things start to – stress being the number one culprit – and it, over time, becoming chronic, that plays a huge part in the way that our bodies begin to process everything. And so the body, under consistent stress, nor the mind, does well. So when we have self-care activities, those things are to help release that stress. Especially if we notice that stress is acute for us, meaning stress in the moment. So let’s say you get like a really – I was going to say a bad word, but I didn’t know if I could say a bad word- but really like bad email.

Karen: Say it.

Katie: It’s really okay.

Naiylah: If we get like a shitty email from someone that we did not want to get an email from, or like things are just maybe getting overwhelmed with, maybe responsibilities at home. Like I know a lot of the parents that I’ve been talking to are ready to, like check out, like they just can’t be bothered anymore. So when we have those moments of stress suddenly coming to us, and then we do something about it, either in that moment or a little bit later to address that, right. Cause our bodies have been activated in that moment. And then we do something then to deactivate and that’s what really self-care is aiming to do.

Karen: I hope that resonates with people. Cause I’m with Katie that just like, I feel very exposed right now. For a lot of those, a lot of the things you’re talking about, so yes, I feel like you’re talking to me. Katie, did you set me up? Is this an intervention? But.

Katie: *laughs* You caught me, Karen!

Karen: Wow. So I feel like it, the other thing that I am very guilty of when you mentioned social media is looking at social media in this sense that like anything, whatever you are doing it is not enough. That however, you are in the movement. However you are out of the movement, whatever you were doing for yourself, your family, whatever. It’s never going to be enough. And I don’t know if you can speak to, if there are mantras, if there’s anything you can say to people, I mean, other than just unplugging from social media, taking breaks from it. But how do we, how do we deal with this feeling that like, you’re just not doing enough.

Naiylah: Yeah. I think for me, I always go to kind of a mantra, but really kind of like a way of living in a way of like ‘My best is good enough.’ And knowing that our best, and I believe it was the Four Agreements, which is a book that I really, really like, but talked about that your best is different at different times, right? Your best when you’re sick is going to be so different from your best when you’re well, and your best when you’re frustrated is so different from your best when you’re pleasant and joyful and upbeat. And understanding that you’re allowed to have that range. You’re allowed to give what you can when you’re feeling guilty. You’re allowed to give what you can when you’re feeling joyful. You’re allowed to give what you can when you’re feeling at peace. And that may look a little bit different because the state that you’re operating from is different. 

So I think if we can normalize that, in and of itself, that sometimes when I’m really, really sleepy, my clients could probably tell you, A sleepy Nai is not the best therapist than when she’s, like, energetic Nai and that just has to be alright. Because there is, I’m allowed that fluctuation and they’re allowed that fluctuation as well. My client who’s really excited about therapy that day is very different from a client who’s like ‘I really did not want to be here right now.’ Completely different, right? And we’re always allowed to have that. So I think if we can just kind of normalize that these different states will produce different outcomes sometimes in our mood. And that will produce different outcomes in our behavior. And again, and just has to be okay. Now do we have to run a-fucking-mok because those things are happening? No, right? The way that we show it, the way that we emote it, if it is consistently problematic or causing a lot of issues, then obviously that’s when we want to address it and maybe switch and change. But that doesn’t mean that we pretend that we’re in peace all the time. It doesn’t mean that we pretend that we’re happy all the time. It doesn’t mean that we pretend that we never feel angry. So, yeah, if we can just be okay with that, I think that will kind of give us a lot of peace and grace as we try to move through life.

[musical interlude]

Katie: Some of the things in the Shine story that you mentioned was emotional intimacy and friendships, which kind of goes directly back to what you were just saying about if you’re okay to say you’re okay. If you’re not, tell people you’re not, and that’s part of a self-care practice. Can you speak to emotional intimacy? Cause I feel like that has changed, at least in my experience with my friends. You know, within the last six months, you know, the answers of like, ‘How are you doing? Fine.’ It doesn’t work anymore. Like those conversations no longer work, which really was the inspiration for Karen and I starting this audio project because we’re trying to have as frank and real conversations as we can. I guess, you know, for people listening who are like, ‘Okay, I love the idea of being intimate and emotionally intimate, and really telling someone how I feel. But none of my friends do that. All we do is joke around all the time. Or is it gonna, Is it okay for me to say that I’m not okay? And also, how do I know if the person I’m telling, maybe if it’s a long-term friend or not, is a safe person to tell? Because not everyone has a reaction that feels nourishing. And so can you speak a little bit to that? Cause I feel like that’s so important. I mean, I know right now, I’m basically only talking to people who are safe. Who are, who I can be emotionally intimate with, but not everyone has that.

Naiylah: Yeah. You know what I think, to your point, about developing emotionally intimate relationships with people, it does start with being safe. And that also looks like taking a temperature check of that person and also the environment. So sometimes for certain people, they may feel really uncomfortable with emotion. And it’s usually not because they are, it’s nothing, they’re not like intentionally being, you know, like maybe cold or distant. But they really may be uncomfortable with their own emotions. And so they have no idea what the fuck to do with yours. You’re like, ‘You’re crying. Oh, okay. Do you need a tissue?’

Katie: Welcome to my every day. Yeah.

Naiylah: Yeah. Like ‘I don’t know what to do here.’ And so that may already be present and that’s okay. But I do think that one, taking a temperature check to see who you feel most safe with. Who do you feel most comfortable with? Who do you feel like, which relationship is the most nourishing or nurturing to you, right? And that can have various degrees. You may have some friends that the way they choose to nurture and nourish is to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, I’m so sorry. ‘And kind of be very soft and very, sort of like mothering in a way. And then you have some friends who, their approach is to be soft, but also to like, kind of make you laugh through it. Then you may have some friends who are like, ‘Don’t worry about that at all.’ Like they’re their friends that are like, ‘Let’s get your mind off of it.’ Right? And so you may have friends who deal with these things differently.

And so as you start to notice, and I’m sure all of us as we’ve lived throughout our lives, we know which friends are for what. Right? Like you don’t have, you have some friends you’re like, ‘I’m going to call you cause you’re going to tell me to do that bad thing. Or I’m going to call that friend and they’re going to tell me not to do it. But if I want to do it, I know which friend to call.’ So you already kind of have a sense of who’s who in your life. And so you can use your experiences, those moments when you have those needs and use your relationships in that way as well. So I think one, paying attention to the temperature of the environment of those relationships, where you feel self-nurtured and who’s going to make you laugh. Who’s going to try to make you forget about it. Cause sometimes we may want to be nurtured and mothered, but we go to the friend who’s like, ‘Forget about it. What do you mean? That doesn’t matter.’ Like ‘Let’s go do something else.’ Right. And so really, it just means that we may need to look into some of the friendships that we have to see how they can best support us in that moment. But that also takes us being self aware and knowing what we need. And so knowing what we need in that moment. So we can actually look to those people, um, who can provide it in that way.

I think another part to emotional intimacy is also you allowing yourself to be intimate. I have a colleague who always says, she gets this from Brene Brown, that vulnerability begets vulnerability. And when we are able to share just a little, you don’t have to like, you know, give like your list of big T and little T trauma. You can just kinda like, you know. So I’d be like, ‘Yeah, today was a really, really tough day. I felt really sad.’ That could just be enough. That in itself could be a temperature check to see how that person responds. And then is that, does that feel safe? Did they respond in a way that made you feel like you could keep going? Did they respond in a way that made you feel like they were uncomfortable? And that kind of lets you know what, like what kind of relationships you may have around you, what their capacity is for emotional support and emotional intimacy.

So the first part I would say is definitely doing a temperature check and then the next thing is testing and seeing how vulnerable you’re able to be. Usually we, we kind of know. We can feel it. Like when we share something, if we’re like holding our breath? We’re like, ‘I don’t know what they’re going to say.’ Sometimes it ends up working very well. Other times you’re like, I probably shouldn’t have said that because they couldn’t handle it and that’s okay. And now I’m going to have a vulnerability hangover and just, you know, go have some ice cream that I probably shouldn’t eat because I’m lactose intolerant. So yeah, I would definitely say that. Those two things, for sure.

Karen: We look to other people when we need them and it, for me, it brings up also like, how do I be a good friend to people? Right. I feel like it’s, there’s, there’s mutuality to it too. You know? Like I feel like there are a lot of us who take care of our friends a lot, and don’t know how to be taken care of and all these other things. So I don’t, I don’t know what you, what that brings up for you. This notion of like, it’s not just about what other people give to you. It’s what you give to them too.

Naiylah: Yeah. A hundred percent. I think we, we can tell a lot about so much of our little mini world from the way that we ourselves operate. So if we notice that we ourselves really may not have, I don’t know, like maybe a large capacity, for example, for like feelings or it may make us uncomfortable. We may also be sort of radiating that kind of energy to our friends and maybe our friends wanted to be vulnerable with us, but we kind of seemed really uncomfortable with our feelings too. So now they don’t really want to share that. So I think it’s in part, exactly to what you said that, yes, there’s a part of us that want to be thoughtful about what other people can provide for us, but also looking at ourselves and saying, ‘Am I also giving off the kind of environment that breeds emotional intimacy?’ Do I give off a vibe that makes someone feel safe? Do I give up a vibe that’s non-judgmental? Do I give off this nurturing vibe? Do I try to make people laugh? Like what is the way that I try to show up?’ And being able to communicate that to your friends as well, being clear about that, I think is really important so that way people know where they stand. And you know where you stand as well.

Katie: One of the things that I wanted to ask you about is something that Karen and I talk a lot about, which is how to find a therapist. And I think it’s something that, so both of us have been in therapy for a long time and I’ve gone through many – not gone through, that’s not the right terminology – but I have visited with different therapists throughout my life. And some of them are amazing and some of them haven’t, you know, I’ve kind of cycled through a few that weren’t the right fits. And so I’m wondering if you can speak to the idea of, well, several things, I guess. Like how you even look for a therapist? And then also, you know, I actually had a conversation with a friend the other day about how she interviewed five therapists before she chose the right one. And I seriously was shocked. I mean, I was like, ‘What are you talking? Is that a thing? Like, I didn’t even know that was a thing?’ And so I don’t even know. I mean, there’s just so many questions. This could be its own episode, but I wonder if you can speak to anything around how to even start that process? And then how to know if the person is right for you? Because sometimes it can be so I think it’s so overwhelming to think, ‘Okay, I’m going to go to someone, not sure if they’re the right person and then unload. And then that will really trigger a lot of things. And then what if it doesn’t work out?’ So I think it’s like, that’s sometimes the roadblock that people encounter.

Naiylah: Yeah. So I think one, I think there’s so many different ways that you can start the process and it really just depends on what practically you need. So in looking for, number one, your level of care. When you talk about looking for a therapist, are you looking to be in a clinic? Because maybe you also want to do group therapy? Maybe because you want to see your therapist more often? Maybe you want to utilize your insurance, which would be great. Right. So sometimes looking at first, which setup you need? Do you want someone who’s in private practice? Someone who may be able to be a little bit more eclectic with their approach so they can kind of bring in all these different modalities.

So that’s one thing I think the other part is, practically, looking for someone who maybe has the insurance that you have. Looking for someone who is in your budget or your range. And you can do that by going on tons of different sites. Like Psychology Today helps you filter through all these different things. You can go on sites like HealHaus. There’s also Therapy for Black Girls. There’s Talkspace. There’s so many different places that sort of, have groups of therapists available, so you can kind of sift through it. 

But to your point about interviewing therapists, a hundred percent. I think therapy is something that’s so based on the connection and the vibe, that if that is not there, then so much work can be lost. And I think that is the part that we, we don’t really, because we don’t really have a culture that asks us to like, really engage in mental health. We don’t have a culture in screening people and finding what works for us. So I do hear lots of clients who all have therapist-shopped. That’s totally fine. Setting up like five different consultations, taking a few different calls with a few different people and seeing how you feel at the end of those. Most therapists, especially those in private practice, tend to do consultations. So you go in, you have the first session, you feel it out, you see, you know, what the vibe is. Or you’ll do a phone consultation, get to talk to them, tell them some of your goals, what are they thinking about what treatment could look like? And so you have the option to be able to do that. So setting up a few different consults with a few different people can really help you to sort of feel out who best sort of seems to get you, but can also provide the treatment that you’re looking for.

Then again, that’s the other thing is looking for people who can provide the treatment that you are looking for. So if you have a lot of trauma work, looking for a trauma based therapist. If you have a lot of anxiety, looking for a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety. If you’re having issues in your family, looking for a therapist to specialize in family issues. So those are different ways that we can start to filter through all of these different people, but really just starts with your needs. You don’t have to have the therapy jargon. Just like, ‘Well, what do I need? What do I even want from therapy right now?’ I think there’ll be, has become so buzzy and like become, so like, what’s the word, like mainstream almost now, that I think people want a therapist, but they don’t really know what they want out of therapy. So they kind of just jump in the room and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really know why I’m here. And Karen told me that I should do this because I might have trauma. So let’s see what’s in here.’ So I think first also having a plan for yourself, like, what are you looking to get out of this? What do you want to feel different? How do you want to be different? If a therapist walked into your life right now, how would you want their presence to impact you? So just really thinking about that, I think for yourself is really a good first step. And then also looking at all these different platforms that provide you resources as well.

Karen: That’s so helpful. Thank you for all of that. And you know, one of the things I thought of when you were talking, I’m going to date myself. I don’t know if either of you seen the movie ‘Kissing Jessica Stein.’ I don’t even know-,

Katie: That’s one of my favorite movies! I’m not even kidding. I seriously feel like that movie, that movie. What was it like 96 maybe? 95?

Karen: I mean it’s 90 something.

Katie: Oh, it’s such a good movie. I will link that in the resources. It’s amazing.

Naiylah: LOVE.

Katie: I will send you the link. Yeah it’s great.

Naiylah: I have to check that out. Is it a romcom? Because I’m a sucker for a romcom, easy.

Katie: It is.

Karen: I don’t, no spoilers. It is a romcom. I mean, I know it’s not a spoiler to say-, I’m not going to say anything else. What I’m going to say about it is this: So Katie, you will remember this. How did I not know this about you? There’s a scene where two of the characters are talking, and one of them asks if, ‘Oh, have you, have you told your therapist about us?’ And it’s Jessica Stein and she says, ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. This is way too personal. It would never talk about this with my therapist.’ And it’s just like, ‘What are you? What? What are you going there for then? So I love the idea of goals. Being honest with yourself about what you’re doing there.

Katie: Totally. I also love the idea of what you said in terms of like, looking for therapists that are specialized in what you’re looking for. Like if it’s anxiety or if it’s depression or if it’s trauma, that is such a, like, my mind is blown, honestly. Because I seriously have just made the connection between what you said so early in the conversation, which was basically how we should be all treating our mental health, like any other, you know, thing in our bodies. And basically what this is, is it sounds like you’re looking for second opinions. It’s kind of like, if you’re going to get heart surgery, you’re not going to go with your first person and be like, ‘Hey, that person looks great.’ Like you’re going to actually shop around. You’re going to talk to different people. Or if you’re looking for care for diabetes or whatever it is, like you’re going to shop around. And you’re also going to make sure that the person that is treating you is treating your exact condition. And so that’s a really, that also is like even more reinforcing that there should not be any taboo around mental health because it’s just, it’s just the same as being well in any other area of your life.

Naiylah: Absolutely. And I think that is, in part because I don’t think in general in society and in so many cultures, we don’t really value the issues that we go through in life as real problems that are real threats to our health. So when someone is struggling to connect with certain family members or having a lot of conflict in their family, therapy is usually not the first thing that they think of. Right? But that is a place that you could go to, to kind of help to remedy some of those situations. And so when we think about the experiences that we have, we don’t really tack that to, ‘Oh, wait, there’s a place that I can have this addressed.’ And the same way that if I hit my pinky toe the wrong way on the side of my bed, I’m going to go to a podiatrist. Right? Because if my toe is kind of crooked, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to get this fixed.’ And I can’t go to like the endocrinologist because they can’t do that. So, you know, you want to try to one, value your experience. Value how you’re feeling enough to say, ‘You know what? I do deserve to kind of get this looked at, get this checked out. And that be okay.’

Karen: Well, and I wonder how much people think, I mean, it’s like people who clean their house before the cleaning lady comes over. Right? You don’t have to, you don’t have to wait until you’re feeling better to go to therapy. Like, ‘No, no, I can’t, I can’t go to therapy. I’m too much of a mess.’ Like, ‘No, that’s why you should go.’

Naiylah: Yeah. And those are the, that honestly is often what happens. Or, when there’s a crisis, you usually book the appointment in crisis. So usually when I’m looking at like forms, or I’m getting ready to do the call, I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is really serious.’ And then I’m on the phone with a client and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, no, it was fine. Like, we just kind of had an argument and we’re good.’ And I’m like, Okay. And I’m like, ‘But you still want to go?’ ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Cause I’m still gonna need the help. But you know, in that moment I was like, you know, ready to kill my whoever. And I just needed someone in that moment.’ Right? So I think it’s either in crisis mode, or let me hurry up and fix myself so that no one sees any of that stuff that I might have going down in there. And I think that is really doing a disservice to both clients and therapists. Cause as therapists, we want to do that work. I always tell my clients, ‘I want you to cry. Please cry. Like I can’t wait to see it,’ because those are the moments – and not just when you cry, you have a breakthrough – but those are the moments seeing that vulnerability. That’s that growth. And that’s what I want for my clients. Is to have those moments, to have those A-has, to have that insight. To start developing new perspectives, new behaviors. To start to hear themselves, cause really that’s what therapy often ends up being is you being able to heal yourself. And I think when we can do that, that changes so much about the way that we experienced everything in our lives. So just going there, as raw as you can, which I love now. My clients’ coming in super raw. And I love that. So, I think that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s one of the beautiful things that’s happening now.

[musical interludes]

Karen: Can you list any mental health resources that you would recommend for black folks or people of color that are either online or not online? Anything, any resources for those communities?

Naiylah: Yeah, absolutely. So there is one, HealHaus. Really, really great. We also have Real. We have pathways, which is for individuals who may be pre-therapy or post-therapy. So it’s like sort of like a maintenance tool or as like an introductory tool. And we have certain pathways for, specifically for women of color, which is really, really great. I would also encourage Therapy for Black Girls. They have a humongous directory of black female therapists. There’s also another, and I can’t remember the name of it, but there is one for queer queer therapists of color. [Editor’s note: It’s the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network.] For clients who identify as queer, clients who identify as trans, clients who identify as gender expansive. I will make sure to give you all that so you can list that as a part of the resources. I just, the name is escaping me and I don’t want to mess it up. And then we also have Psychology Today. I know, no shade to Psychology Today. I know the site looks a little dated, but it is really, really helpful in that you can filter through literally so many different things. You can identify certain specialties. You can identify insurances, [and] regions of practice, identifying therapists who work with LGBTQIA communities, like all of it. So, I really do think that that’s a really nice place to start as well.

Karen: That is wonderful, thank you so much. We will list all of those things. We so appreciate you. And so appreciate your time. It’s been so wonderful to talk to you. Katie and I have a secret agenda that we want to become friends with all of our guests. So just know that, this is not the last you’ll be hearing from us.

Katie: Yes, very much.

Karen: Not-so-secret agenda.

Katie: Yes. This is, this is basically the reason for the podcast. We’re just like interviewing friends.

Karen: Yes, that is correct.

Naiylah: I loved that. I loved having this conversation with you all. I feel like one, you just are so warm and just so real. So that just made it easy to have this conversation. So, I just really appreciated being here and talking to you. It was, it was actually a lot of fun.

Katie: I’m so glad. Can you tell all the listeners where to find you?

Naiylah: Oh sure. So they can always follow me on Instagram. It’s really the only piece of social media I have. So I have my Instagram page, it’s @naionlife. All one word. And you can find me there. You can always shoot me a DM or something like that. I’m usually really quick to respond if you have questions. Thank you all so much. This was so much fun.

Katie: Aw, have a great weekend. Take care.

Naiylah: Thank you. Bye!

Katie: Alright. Bye bye!

Karen: Thank you!

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