As Told To Veronica Wells-Puoane
My Therapist Taught Me: I Took My First Love Into My Other Relationships
Imani has been in therapy off and on since she was a child being treated for depression. She found as she was entering the world as an adult, she needed help again. But she became the most consistent in therapy after she became a mother. Read about her journey with therapy and some of the most valuable lessons she’s learned from her therapist below.
After my daughter was born, I had postpartum depression, for sure. And I started seeing somebody. I liked him. But I realized eventually, he had served his purpose for me and I needed to find somebody else. It was a four or five month gap between him and my current therapist.
NSNC: Would you always say you had good therapists? When did you find your first helpful one?
Nope. I think I had my first good therapist, when I was allowed to pick my therapist. And when I say good, I mean good for me. The people who have helped me in my past, God bless them. They’re great people. They’re just not the people for me. I think there’s something to be said about when parents have too much say in who their child sees for therapy because my mother would choose people who she knew from church, who weren’t licensed therapists. And it was somebody I was also seeing every Sunday. So I didn’t feel the same sense of autonomy because they know me. They’ve known me too long in a certain way.
I didn’t feel comfortable opening up. I didn’t feel like they understood my philosophies or thought-process. If my child ever wanted to see a therapist, I would absolutely encourage them to seek therapy. I would interview the therapists but I would also allow my child to have much more say in who their therapist is.
The man who saw me after I had my daughter was a Black man. It was important that a Black man was my therapist. But then I needed to move on from that to who I’m with now, a Black woman.
NSNC: Is it important to you to have a Black therapist?
Now it is. When I was younger, I didn’t realize how important it was to have a Black therapist. As an adult, I realized I needed a Black person to help ground me. I was in white spaces for undergrad, for work, my master’s program. The fashion industry is a white space. That’s a lot of white people. I can navigate. I’m okay. But sometimes you see a Black person across the way and you’re like, ‘Hey girl!’ And they don’t want to have anything to do with you. Black people don’t always want to be your friend in white spaces.
So when it comes to my therapist, I need to be in a nonwhite space. Also, unfortunately, through conditioning, I want to make sure I’m not offending a white person by being true to my Blackness. You should never feel that way but it’s a fact of life. And I don’t want to go to therapy and be walking on egg shells. I don’t need to be thinking about that. It’s supposed to be about me and I’m paying you a lot of money to be about me.
I needed a Black person to help ground me.
NSNC: Why did you feel like you needed a Black woman?
I won’t say I felt uncomfortable with my Black male therapist. I would send anyone to him. I have a lot of close guy friends so I didn’t feel uncomfortable speaking to a male. At the time, he was available and in my price range. So I went.
He knew about religion. And religion is very important to me. Even though I was dealing with mom things, it was mom, spouse, partner things. It was all the things. And he helped me to understand ways that my husband was acting or not acting. He helped me in researching certain things in the Bible because that was important to me. I needed a man at that time in my life to help me understand my husband and the situations I was trying to figure out.
I was the type of person who said, ‘We’re always going to prioritize our marriage first. Don’t love this kid more than you love me.’ I was saying all of those things. Now I need to say them to myself. Because your child is of you. Your partner, your spouse is a choice. That child is not a choice in the same way. Rejecting your child is like rejecting yourself. They need you in a different way.
And the idiosyncrasies of men wanting to be parented by their wives, their spouse becomes annoying. It’s like, ‘This person actually needs me. You’re a whole grown person.’
So it was important to have a man help me navigate that. And he did his part.
But I needed someone with more availability. Accessibility is crucial for me. Also, I had a lot of changes in my girlfriend relationships since becoming a wife but even more so since becoming a mother. I lost a lot of friendships, a lot of deep friendships. And it really hurt me. To this day, it still hurts me. And I needed a woman to talk to about why my relationships are not working. 'I can’t keep a girlfriend. This man is on my last nerves. Relationships in general, I’m just trash at all of them.' And I still struggle with that thought process. Sometimes it’s not you. Sometimes it is you and not them. She don’t tell me I’m right all the time.
It was time for me to have a woman.
He did his part.
NSNC: You said that some of the best advice your therapist gave you was looking at your first with love and examining the trauma that came with that experience. Where were you in your life when your therapist told you that?
It’s my most recent therapist. I’ve been seeing her a little over a year. And this was four or five months in. Therapy is time. You don’t get to the good part in the first month.
We were talking about different things and my first love came into the conversation. And she said, ‘Well, look at how you’re dealing with relationships now.’ She said, ‘Do you realize you feel like you can't love a certain way?’ You feel like you have to love in the same way you loved the first time or the way he showed you love. This was the first guy that ever said he loved you or the first guy you believed. The way he presented this love to you, it either validated you or invalidated you. Possibly both. Looking at your relationships now and how you’re dealing with them, it’s still very similar.’
And I was like, Oh snap! I didn’t even know I was being this way. I didn’t know this was connected. It wasn’t even something I was thinking about. It wasn’t something I was looking for. It wasn’t even how the conversation started.
Then I started thinking about other relationships in the past and I realized, I didn’t even put two and two together.
NSNC: How would you say that insight helped you in your life?
I haven’t necessarily changed things perse. But I think that the awareness that you get from therapy is part of the process. You can’t unsee it. That’s what therapy does to you. Even if you choose to ignore it, you still saw it. When you see it again, you’re going to recognize it.
And you’ll be like, ‘Okay, I know why this is happening. I know how I should react to this and I know the healthy way to react to this. I can ignore it. But I know what I’m seeing.’
That’s the biggest thing, it made me aware.
You feel like you have to love in the same way you loved the first time.
NSNC: Was there something about becoming a mother that made therapy more important for you?
Girl, everything. Everything about becoming a mother makes therapy necessary. Motherhood, even more so than marriage--and I definitely needed a therapist after I got married. I consulted multiple people because I felt so lost in the sauce. I was like, ‘Who am I?’ I took this man’s name, adopted parts of his culture--by choice, not by force. But it was like, ‘Who am I now?’ I felt very, very lost.
But as a mother, you will say all of the things about how you are going to parent, before you become a parent, when you’re pregnant, in the delivery room. You might be 5-15% of that type of parent when that child really starts coming out.
Also, maternal instincts are not necessarily like ‘Boom. Here we are.’ For some people it comes like that, some people it doesn’t.
Motherhood just makes you very self aware. There’s an overload of information out there on parenting but also our own traumas and how we’re letting those traumas affect our children. How does our culture affect our children? How are we dealing with being Black.So it’s like I need help.
I think my mother did what she thought was best, 110%. I love her. I think she’s a great mother. But we parent very differently. My mom knows I parent differently.
Becoming a mother made me look at how I was raised. My father died when I was very, very young, three years old. I have maybe one or two memories of him but I think that those memories are slightly made up. They’re a conjunction of stories that I heard and memories together. And becoming a mother and being married made me miss my dad something serious. It made me wonder what if and what he would say. It made me wonder how my husband was parenting versus how my dad would have parented. All of those things, digging for information that I can never truly have--if I ask, my mother will tell me what he would have done or how he would have been. But it’s still not from him. So it really made me miss my daddy in a way that I don’t think I ever missed him. So therapy has helped me navigate those emotions.
NSNC: How would you say therapy impacted your motherhood? What were the benefits of being in therapy as you took that new step?
Again, it makes me aware. I’m more aware of my emotions and my triggers. I recognize that it is not my daughter that’s making me upset. It’s something else. This emotion that I’m trying to manage has nothing to do with her. So let’s take a chill pill. Let’s all take a breath.
My daughter says, ‘I don’t want to take a chill pill, Mommy.’
I’m really trying to raise her the way I would have liked to be raised if I had a say in it. I didn’t have a truly traumatic upbringing but everybody has trauma in their lives. Trauma is relative.
I recognize that it is not my daughter that’s making me upset. It’s something else.
I’m always worried about how things will affect my daughter. But therapy helps me to recognize that I can only deal with what I can deal with right now and hope that as she gets older, she’ll realize that I did what I thought was best.
Sometimes what’s best for me is going to be what’s best for her. Sometimes it’s not. But that’s still okay, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it. Remembering to do what’s best for you can be hardest for some of the best mothers.
NSNC: What would you say to Black women who are considering therapy, are on the fence about it, or may feel like they don’t really need it?
If you’re considering it, go. If you’re on the fence, go. If you think you don’t need it, you definitely should go. Because therapy is not always about, ‘I have a problem. I need to fix it.’ I mean, I definitely have problems and I definitely need to fix them. But there are some days where I’m like, ‘I don’t have anything to talk about.’ My therapist will be like, ‘Okay.’ And she still will find a way to start a conversation.
The thing about it is, I really be wanting my therapist to be my friend. I wish we could be friends in real life. Of course we can’t though. If we were friends in real life she couldn’t be my therapist anymore so which one do you want.
She’ll just strike up a conversation, we get to talking and then it’s been 45 minutes. Sometimes it’s just there to shoot the shit. Sometimes you just want to talk about a book or a movie. You can just have a conversation with no filter and no judgement.
Because honestly, even with your closest of girlfriends or spouse or whoever, there’s probably a judgement. You know how your best friend is going to answer you when you tell them some stuff. Sometimes I know how my therapist is going to answer and sometimes she surprises me. But even if she does, I know she’s not judging me. She’s literally paid to not judge me. And everybody needs to feel like they can say whatever the hell they want to say.
There’s not one week that goes by that I don’t say, ‘Ooo I’m so glad I’m in therapy.’ ‘Ooo it’s almost Thursday. I can let this go then.’ There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t have one or all three of those thoughts.
I think that’s important because you don’t realize how much you’re holding until you put it down.