Darling Letters: How to Keep Your Heart Tender

A woman in a navy blue suit crouched on the floor

We are bringing “Darling Letters” from your inbox to the blog! We love the art of letter writing and believe it helps build authentic community. Our editors and contributors have thoughtfully written encouraging letters to cut through the busyness and speak straight to your heart.

My bleary eyes check the clock, confirming it’s already tomorrow. 1:17 a.m. I grab my journal and scribble “I’m too raw and exposed. Just teetering on an edge.” 

I breathe in and out the prayerful pleas on my heart to steady myself back into my body. Now, it’s 6:12 a.m. I’m awake again as my 4-year-old daughter clumsily tries to sneak under my covers. Her big, sleepy eyes beg for a snuggle, and she’s wrapped up in my arms just like that. Down the hall my eldest runs his fingers across the keys of our hand-me-down piano, and music fills the house and my heart too, which is strung out from yesterday’s heartache. Right now, however, it’s so full from the sweet glory of a new day that tears hit my cheeks.

Right now, however, [my heart is] so full from the sweet glory of a new day that tears hit my cheeks.

The kids are antsy for breakfast, but I quickly journal, “My mind reels and wanders. My heart swells and breaks. I need the both/and. I don’t want to dull myself from feeling tender to all that remains good.”

The tender parts of us are a glimmer of our humanity. We remain tender by holding the tension of our “ands”joy and grief, hard and sacred. I want to be soft enough to behold and brim the beauty of it all while remaining unflinchingly curious and empathetic to wade into the deep of what is broken and painful. Hard-fought, deep joy doesn’t deny or look away from sorrow. Even in heartache, we can hold space for hope to return. 

Even in heartache, we can hold space for hope to return. 

Author and activist Parker Palmer taught me the etymology of the word humus, which is the decayed vegetable matter that nurtures the roots of plants. It comes from the same root word for humility. Our most humble momentsface down in the dirt, tender and rawmay create the richest soil for deep rooting and meaning. If we harden ourselves, we’ll miss it. Stay tender for truth, healing, beauty and justice to grow wild here.

With a tender heart,
Jessica Mayfield, the Darling family

What negative connotation does “a tender heart” carry in society? How do you perceive “tenderness” and “vulnerability”? How can keeping your heart soft and tender be used to your advantage?

Image via Taylor Roades, Art via Ash (Opperman) Wilson


How Returning to Play Shaped My Relationship With My Father

A close up of a baseball on an empty field

My dad and I started playing catch a decade ago, and it changed our entire relationship. To be honest, I’m not sure how it all began. It just happened. Like most life-changing habits, it started as nothing special and, slowly, became something meaningful. 

A decade ago, we had a hard time sometimes even being around each other. In my early 20s, I found myself constantly bucking against his advice. Our conversations quickly turned to disagreements, then into polarizing fights and eventually to silence.

For a while, we didn’t speak. I found other father figures who fed my desire for affirmation. Meanwhile, I was ignoring my own father’s attempt to reconcile—partially because I was being selfish but also because I didn’t know how to communicate with my dad. I didn’t know how to relate to him. Instead of seeing who he was, I was too focused on who I wanted him to be. 

Instead of seeing who he was, I was too focused on who I wanted him to be. 

Unless it was raining or snowing, we’d usually meet in Kirkwood Park to play. He’d bring the gloves and baseball from his trunk while juggling his keys and wallet. We’d settle into a grassy patch, put on our gloves and start throwing the ball. Then, we’d talk. 

That’s where it started. 

There’s something about the rhythm of playing catch that allows for good conversation. For starters, your focus is on the other person. You can’t be on your phone or looking elsewhere, unless you want to get a black eye. You’ve got to wait for the other person to be ready to receive the ball, and you have to throw it so they can catch it. 

After years of struggling, it felt like we could play catch and talk for hours. Sometimes, we’d share and lend advice. Sometimes, we’d fight and have a short game. However, over time, no matter what, we just kept returning to the field. 

No matter what, we just kept returning to the field. 

On the morning of my wedding day, we played catch and I bought him a baseball as a gift. He mentioned this in the closing of his father-of-the-bride speech that night. Microphone in hand and tears in his eyes, he looked at my husband and said, ”Son, I’m tossing you the ball.” 

Commitment has been a theme for me so far this year. As I reflect on the last decade, I can see how committing to a simple game of catch led to a recommitment in our relationship. Playing catch was also the catalyst to a million other inside jokes, hugs, tears and late night phone calls. However, I can attest to the fact that a simple act in a relationship can make a huge difference 10 years down the road. 

I’m so thankful for the time I’ve shared with my dad—getting to know him and letting him get to know me. I can honestly say that I’m a better person because of how he loves. Of course, we’re still human, and we have our road bumps along the way.

In the end, I believe it’s our commitment to growing together that truly matters. In a few weeks, I’m visiting my family back home and you can bet I’m packing my baseball glove. 

Dedicated to my father, thank you for all you do. Happy Father’s Day, I love you.

Image via Today I Found Out


How to Send a Follow-Up Email Without Being a Pest

Source: Social Squares

You scan through each and every sentence of a perfectly crafted email one final time and then hit “send.” Whether it was a job application, request for a meeting, or just a simple question you need answered, there’s now nothing left to do but wait for a reply.

Days tick by, and you’ve heard absolutely nothing. Understandably, you’re getting antsy for a response. But at the same time, you don’t want to seem like a total nag. So, what should you do?

Following up is always encouraged. However, there’s a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. Here are six things to keep in mind to encourage a response without coming off as completely obnoxious in your follow-up email.


1. Be realistic with expectations

In 2021, it’s standard to feel constantly connected, and while that’s definitely helped make life more convenient, it’s also warped our perceptions of what a reasonable response time is. So before ever drafting a follow-up email, it’s important to pause first to think about your expectations. That message you sent days—or even a week—ago that’s still awaiting a response? You can check in on it without seeming overly eager. But, if you contacted someone mere hours ago and are shocked that he or she hasn’t gotten back to you yet? Well, you’re better off practicing a little patience and keeping that follow-up in “draft” for now.


2. Be polite

It can be frustrating to feel as though you constantly need to chase people down in order to get what you need; however, no matter how irritated you become, you shouldn’t let any of that hostility creep into your follow-up message.

That means no snide remarks like, “I still haven’t heard anything from you,” or blatantly aggressive comments like, “I don’t understand why it’s taking you so long to get back to me about this.”

Most of us don’t respond well to anger and finger pointing. So, even if it manages to get you a reply, it likely won’t be one that you like. So make an effort to be overly polite. And remember the old saying: “You catch more flies with honey.”


3. Explain your reasoning

We all get busy. And in those moments when it feels like your to-do list is out to get you, it’s tough to think of anyone’s workload besides your own. This is why it’s important to remind the recipient of why you’re following up—why exactly is their response needed? Of course, this explanation will vary depending on the specific item you’re checking in on. But, for the sake of simplicity, here’s an example. I often have to circle back with potential freelance clients to see if they’d like to move forward with a discussed project. They can be notoriously slow on responding with a decision, so often a line of my follow-up email looks like this:

Please let me know whether you’d like to move forward with the project as discussed. Your firm answer will allow me to map out my workload for the coming weeks.

This is a gentle assertion that my own schedule is hinging on their response. Oftentimes, being reminded that they aren’t operating in a vacuum is enough to inspire people to fire off a quick reply.


Source: Social Squares


4. Switch things up

We all rely heavily on email. But, it’s definitely not the sole form of communication that exists. So if you haven’t had success with the written word, why not try a different method? No, you don’t need to send smoke signals or carrier pigeons. However, if you have a phone number for the person, why not give a phone call a try? Of course, you shouldn’t plan to bombard someone with an endless stream of emails and calls—that’s how you develop a reputation as a pest. However, if you’ve sent two messages and have yet to hear something, sometimes connecting in a more personal manner (such as via the phone) can get you the response you need.

If you’d rather stick to email? You can switch things up there too. If you sent your previous email in the morning, try sending your second follow-up in the afternoon this time around. Sometimes your key to success is catching someone when they’re not absolutely swamped.


5. Set a firm deadline

There’s nothing that lights a fire quite like an approaching deadline. And while including a firm end date in your follow-up emails might seem a little direct and brash, it’s usually effective. Why? Well, it puts the ball back in your court and makes your expectation clear to the recipient. It illustrates that if you don’t hear back by the specified date, you’re moving on.

What does this look like in practice? Let’s continue with the message I used with a hypothetical freelance client above. I’d just tack a simple line like this onto the end:

If I haven’t heard from you by the end of this week, I’ll assume you’ve gone in a different direction.

Whether you’re waiting on an answer from a client, a potential employer, or a co-worker, setting this firm deadline ensures you’re both on the same page—which is key for avoiding any further problems or miscommunication.


6. Know when it’s time to call it quits

The most important thing about using a deadline in your follow-up emails? Sticking to it. You don’t want to set an end date for your recipient, and then continue to contact them about the issue. Then your words and expectations will hold no merit. Why should they ever take you seriously? There comes a certain point when it’s clear you’re just not going to hear back from a person. So let go and move on. If you continue to pester someone, even after they’ve repeatedly (and blatantly) ignored you, you’ll only annoy the recipient and harm your own reputation in the process.

There’s no denying it: not hearing back from someone can be annoying, irritating, and even stifle your own productivity. There’s nothing wrong with following up in order to get your hands on the information you need. However, you want to do so in a way that shows you’re persistent—and not a pest. Keep these six tips in mind, and you’re sure to walk the right side of that fine line.



10 Email Mistakes You Should Always Avoid




The Only 3 Budget Categories You Really Need

Source: @jessannkirby

If managing our personal finances becomes complicated, it’s less likely we’ll stick with it. While you can get pretty high speed with a range of budgeting apps and financial planners these days, a few basic budget categories are all you really need. With a range of other family, work, and financial challenges on our plates, paring down to the budgeting essentials feels like just the minimalism we need right now.

Budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated or full of Excel sheets. All you really need is to pay attention to these three basics:


1. Essentials

This is the largest expense area for most of us, and should account for about 50 percent of our budget. Housing, groceries, insurance payments, and any childcare expenses go here. These expenses can be harder to shift quickly or cut back on in a pinch, so grouping them together can be a helpful way to see what your personal fixed expenses generally look like month to month.

Housing isn’t just rent or your mortgage payment—it’s insurance, repairs, utilities, and any other dues or fees you pay related to your living space. For those of us living in cities or without roommates and families, this may be a greater share of our budget than standard frameworks would suggest. In that case, try to take share from the spending section instead of cutting back on savings if at all possible.


2. Saving

Saving should be about 20 percent of your total income, and as you’ve always heard, you should try to pay yourself first every month from this category. “Saving” should include a plan for your investment and retirement savings, as well as short-term emergency funding. This might feel like an aggressive share of your budget to work toward savings, so it’s understandably a goal percentage for many of us versus the reality.

That said, there are a few ways to reallocate to up this savings share of your budget. Be sure you’re taking advantage of any before tax investing opportunities through your employer 401(k). You’ll also want to share any raises you get with your “future self.” That means any time you might get a bonus or promotion, kick a reasonable chunk of that money into a savings or investment product, depending on your personal financial strategy. It’s money that you won’t miss in your day-to-day budget, but definitely adds up over time.


3. Spending

Up to 30 percent of your budget can be for splurges and lifestyle spending. This might seem like a lot, but it’s also the category we would dip into for debt repayment. If you’re tackling credit cards or planning to pay off your student loans, trimming down this category is likely easiest.

You might also find that it’s the one that can get a little unwieldy. One strategy I’ve used historically is to keep separate bank accounts for discretionary spending and another for essentials. This delineation can act like a really helpful line in the sand to be sure that our standing bills are covered monthly.


Finding Your Own Personal “Bonus” Budget Categories

We’re not talking getting a bonus at work, though that’s a win for our spending plans as well. Instead, I find that my personal budgeting benefits from a few sub-categories to keep me on track with bigger goals. The beauty of ultra-simple spending plans means that a few personalized additions are barely extra work. Instead of using some generic 20+ category budget template, I add smaller breakdowns for the few places that make the biggest difference in understanding and shaping my own financial behaviors.


The Food Breakdown


Food spending in NYC is a strange beast. I’m committed to cooking more fun things at home—but work lunches are pricey, groceries are pricey. You can tell yourself any version of a story about where your own custom financial break even point is between the bring from home vs. deli salad discussion. With socializing over cocktails and networking coffees with business colleagues, this is the part of my spending that can get out of hand quickly. 

To help me get a handle on where my money goes in this category, I allocate a specific percentage of my “essentials” budget to food, then break it down further into three categories: groceries, personal food spend, and date night food spend. Since there are only a few places I frequent on a lunch rotation, it’s really easy for me to group and create a separate category in budget apps like Mint to capture this. Plus, it ensures we’re not going overboard on date night food fun at the expense of (almost always) healthier grocery options.


Splurges vs. Lifestyle


Since that spending category is a pretty big share, I also give myself a splurges allocation for investment pieces and hobbies versus things that are what I’d call “essentials plus.”  For example, I keep a separate clothing budget because spending on seasonal items can sneak up on me. I also keep a line item for things that are nice to haves but not essential—that extra walk for our dog, streaming subscriptions, and other family entertainment. Bundled together, I know exactly where to go quickly if our family budget needs cutting back.



How the Stonewall Riots Changed the Gay Rights Movement

Source: Shutterstock

In talking about social movements and key moments in civil rights history, we’d all be remiss to exclude the 1969 riots at Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall Riots were pivotal because they galvanized the gay rights movement, which was growing steadily, yet covertly, at the time. Homophobia and transphobia were extremely prevalent, but a rebellion was a logical solution since the ’60s were a breeding ground for powerful movements. Coming off the heels of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements, anti-Vietnam War movement, and the second-wave feminism movement, society was rich with progressive thought and centralized human rights. On June 28, we celebrate trans women of color and others in the LGBTQIA+ community at Stonewall who fought fearlessly for basic humanity and to let the world know that “gay is proud!”


Gay Club Culture in NYC

If you identified as LGBTQIA+ in the 1960s and you lived in New York City, the Stonewall Inn was the place for you. Gay bars were a major part of the LGBTQIA+ scene, and the Stonewall was one of the most infamous. Like many other gay bars in NYC, Stonewall was owned by the mafia. Homosexuality and cross dressing were illegal, so members of the mafia saw it is a business opportunity to cater to the LGBTQIA+ community since there were no other safe spaces for them to gather collectively. With power and influence, the mafia paid the police department to overlook the bars and allow service to gay patrons. Despite the partnership, gay bars would get raided pretty frequently because it was still illegal to serve alcoholic drinks to people identifying as gay.

The raids at Stonewall were less of a deterrent and more of an annoyance because the bar was more than just a bar; for many, Stonewall was a place of refuge. Young gay, trans, and queer people literally treated the Stonewall like home when they had no where else to go. Everyone at the Stonewall was family—accepting, welcoming, and unashamed.


Source: Shutterstock


A Revolution on Christopher Street

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the NYPD raided the Stonewall. Plainclothes officers came in first and started doing “sex checks” in the bathrooms to confirm the gender of those who were suspected of cross dressing. Uniformed officers came later and arrested people for “solicitation of homosexual relations” and “non-gender appropriate clothing.” A crowd began to form outside of the bar as patrons were loaded into the police van, but before the van could pull off, the crowd started throwing bottles and other objects at officers. The crowd and the officers fought each other, and activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera took lead roles in defending the Stonewall and everyone who knew it as their home. Eventually, the crowd got the best of the officers and forced them to barricade themselves inside the bar. The officers only came out because the crowd set the bar on fire.

The New York City riot squad was called to the scene, and things didn’t quiet down until 4 a.m. This was only night one. For four more nights, gay activists continued to meet at the Stonewall to organize, support, encourage, and continue using their voices to advocate for basic human rights. NYPD would come each night and engage in confrontations with the activists into the early morning hours. The intensity of the confrontations diminished over the course of the four days, but the impact of the riots was undeniable.


Source: Shutterstock


How the Stonewall Riots Changed the Gay Rights Movement

The riots at Stonewall did not start the gay rights movement, but they solidified the movement as permanent, ongoing, and organized. The first documented gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, started in 1924 and distributed multiple newsletters before being forced to shut down the following year. Three years before Stonewall, a gay rights organization staged a “sip in” at taverns in New York, suing any establishment that refused to serve them because of their sexuality. Stonewall was a natural result of deliberate efforts—both legal and social—to normalize homophobia and transphobia. The LGBTQIA+ community was fed up with the blatant attacks, harassment, and criminalization, and Stonewall was the opportunity to fight back.

And the fight continues! One year after the riots, thousands of activists and supporters gathered at the Stonewall for the first gay pride parade in U.S. history. Many cities now have gay pride parades and celebrate gay pride weeks. In 2016, the Stonewall became a national registered landmark, the first one celebrating gay history. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual identification, making it illegal for businesses to deny employment or fire employees who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Much of the progress made in the fight for gay rights is directly attributable to the bravery of hundreds of gay, lesbian, and trans people who refused to be silent on June 28, 1969. Being “out” and proud comes with horrific challenges, and unfortunately, that has been the reality for decades. But it is because of those who blazed the trail for equality that we can celebrate PRIDE, honor their sacrifices, and prove that love always wins.


Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]



Juneteenth: Moving Forward in the Fight for Justice

A pair of hands of people of different races intersecting

Recognized annually on June 19, Juneteenth marks the federal order to free slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. While Juneteenth has historically and primarily been celebrated by Black communities, the day marks an important moment in our nation’s history. It offers an opportunity for all Americans to learn more about the history of slavery in the U.S., the specific structures of racism that followed Juneteenth and today’s ongoing fight for justice. 

Here’s a brief look at the history of Juneteenth, its significance and ideas for how you can recognize this important day in history:

The History of Juneteenth 

Though released on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation did not automatically free all enslaved individuals in the United States. In states like Texas, slavery continued until June 19, 1865 when federal troops reached Galveston and proclaimed the freedom of enslaved men and women. A year later, on June 19, Black communities organized what we now call “Juneteenth,” a celebration of freedom that involved religious services, community activities, musical performances and big feasts. 

Throughout time, strawberry soda, barbecues and baseball became special hallmarks of the events, and Juneteenth adopted key focuses such as an emphasis on prayer, education and self-development. 

How to Honor Juneteenth Today

The National Museum of African American History and Culture writes, “The legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of deep hope and urgent organizing in uncertain times.” Though anti-racism education should be a consistent part of our lives, Juneteenth offers us a distinct opportunity to pause and dig in further to the history of and struggle for racial justice. 

Read a report from the Equal Justice Initiative on Reconstruction in Americathe complex history following the earliest Juneteenth celebration—or attend a virtual lecture offered by a respected institution, like the NMAAHC or the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The urgent work of racial justice happens when we organize and gather in community to learn. Gather your community—your school, neighborhood or religious community—to honor Juneteenth. Follow Black activists, scholars and artists and engage in calls to action. You can also support organizations working toward racial justice with your time and donations.

Why the Fight for Justice Still Matters

The fight for justice for Black Americans matters. We still live in a society that is riddled with injustice. In the last year, we have witnessed injustice waged against the Black community and a stark rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, both in spite of a supposed increase in awareness about the reality of racism. 

Recognizing and honoring Juneteenth presents us with the shared opportunity to recognize where our nation has been and where we would like to go. It is a time to recognize a group of people who throughout history have been overlooked, marginalized, abused, stereotyped, profiled and threatened. It is up to us, not our parents or their parents, to be the change we want to see, which begins with humility and growing in our awareness and understanding of the true history of America and its injustices.

In what ways can you take time to learn about the history of Juneteenth? How confident are you to pursue hard conversations about race and racial injustice? What, if anything, holds you back?

Illustration via Micaela Fox


How I Would Uplift My Younger Self

A woman holding her ankles as she wears a pink dress and sits on the floor

If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t go back to try and save the world. Before you judge me too harshly, let me explain. 

I am a 30-year-old, 5-foot-2, plus-size, mixed-race Black woman in America. The year is 2021, and I think it’s safe to say, the world is a mess. There are plenty of moments in time where one could argue that it would be smart to use time travel to go back and “fix” things. But who are we kidding? Time travel doesn’t quite work like that.

Here’s what I would actually do if I had a time machine: I would go back and hug myself at five pivotal moments in my life. Yes, you read that right. I’d use the power of time travel to be kind, compassionate and present for myself.

I’d use the power of time travel to be kind, compassionate and present for myself.

I’d go back and lift up the 5-year-old version of myself, who just saw her father pack his bags and leave her family behind for the first time. I’d make sure that she knows his leaving has nothing to do with her. I’d hug her close, kiss her on the forehead and tell her that she is loved immensely by her father and that she will see him again.

My second trip would be to the locker room of my 10-year-old self who just lied to her group of girlfriends about her weight for the first time. I’d grab her hands and walk her to the mirror. I’d tell her to look closely at the beautiful, curvy girl reflecting back at her. I’d tell her that there is nothing wrong with her body and that numbers on a scale can never define her. I’d hold her close, kiss her on the forehead and tell her that one day, the love of her life would find her and love every inch of her.

I’d visit my 15-year-old self who is insecure about her body and wardrobe, terrified that anyone will realize she’s wearing hand-me-downs and three-year-old shoes that are secretly falling apart. I’d tell her to never let where she came from hold her back from where she’s going. I’d also tip her off that by senior year, she’d be voted “Best Dressed” by her classmates because she turned what she had into something fabulous with her creativity and sewing skills. I’d hold her close, kiss her on the forehead and tell her she is enough.

At 21 years old, I was still two years from college graduation, hopelessly single and trying to “save” my mother by having her move into my college apartment with my siblings and I. I’d go back and tell myself to give my mom more grace because she’s hurting more than I know. I’d remind myself how much my little sister, Shamora, was looking up to me and to be proud of the strength that I portrayed for her. 

I’d hold myself close, kiss her on the forehead and give myself permission to mess up. I cannot save anyone but myself. So I’d tell myself to love the ones I love wholeheartedly and without condition. No matter how hard the moments in life might be, be present in each of them and have grace because we are all hurting.

I’d hold myself close, kiss her on the forehead and give myself permission to mess up.

My final trip back in time would be just two years ago. I was 28, just diagnosed with PCOS, when my 19-year-old sister, Shamora, died. I’d run into that hospital room and wrap my arms around myself in the most painful moment of my life. I’d tell myself that it’s not my fault. There is nothing that could’ve been done to change this. No amount of willpower, protection, strength or self-sacrificing could have stopped this. Epilepsy is a dangerous disease, and this could’ve happened anytime. 

I’d hold myself so close. I’d cry deeply and kiss myself on the forehead. I’d remind myself that Shamora knows how much I love her and that one day, I will be the one to share her story with the world and bring much needed awareness to epilepsy.

If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t go back and save the world. I’d go back and save myself because with healing, self-care and a whole lot of love, we become better people. We become people who do better and who intentionally love the people in our lives while we still can.

If you had a time machine, I hope you’d go back and lift yourself up too. If we all lifted ourselves up a little more, we’d be strong enough to reach back, give back and work together to save the world.

Radical self-love and care, that is the secret to save the world.

What advice would you go back and give your younger self? Why is it important to have grace for our younger selves?

Image via Melanie Acevedo, Darling Issue No. 11


Common Misconceptions About Therapy and Counseling

A bookshelf with books and magazines

I’ll never forget how nervous I felt the first time I went to therapy. I fumbled through the magazines in the uncomfortable waiting room chair, anxious about meeting my therapist in person. Even more than that, I was anxious about what this person may think of me, judge me for or say to me.

What would they think of my story? Would I be told there was something wrong with me? Was there something wrong with me? I second-guessed my decision to begin therapy in that waiting room. 

I second-guessed my decision to begin therapy in that waiting room. 

These are not uncommon fears to have when beginning therapy for the first time. As a practicing therapist myself now, I try to always keep in mind the inherent vulnerabilities in opening yourself up to a complete stranger for the first time. I often ask in the first session how the client is feeling about starting therapy. It breaks the ice, allows them to voice any fears and helps me to normalize their concerns or answer any questions.

Throughout the years, I have found some common threads about why people won’t go to therapy. This information is often volunteered to me about a person’s spouse, parent or friend once they know I am a therapist. They might roll their eyes and say something like,”My husband would never go to therapy because he doesn’t want someone telling him what to do. He doesn’t want advice.”

These misconceptions are completely understandable, but they unfortunately can keep people from getting the help that they could benefit from. Here are the most common misconceptions about therapy I hear and (as someone who believes in the power of therapy, both personally and professionally) I am happy to dispel:

A therapist is going to tell me what is wrong with me.

This is a very common and understandable fear—that you will show up to the therapist’s office and be told all the ways you are lacking or messed up. This sounds infinitely worse than a trip to the dentist. It sounds more like being put on trial than going to therapy.

What happens instead, however, is that you—the client—tell the therapist where it hurts. You tell the therapist what is not working and what is difficult or painful, not the other way around.

You tell the therapist what is not working and what is difficult or painful, not the other way around.

People are driven to seek out therapy most often because they are suffering in some way. In your therapy session, you will be given space to share, perhaps in lengthy detail for the first time, what is hard, hurting or painful for you. I often find that people are pleasantly surprised by what a relief it is to tell someone their stories.

Therapy is advice or someone telling me what to do.

Advice implies that the “advisor” knows more than you, and I believe that is one thing that repels people from therapy. “Who is this person to tell me how to run my life?” is a common question I’ve heard.

Therapy is not advice. Therapy is experiential, and it utilizes science and your relational experience to help you find healing. Therapy is more about what you think about yourself, rather than someone telling you how to live your life. Yes, a therapist should have more education on mental health than you do, but that education is meant to be a tool to help come alongside you as you enter your process of self-discovery and healing. 

Therapy is not advice. Therapy is experiential, and it utilizes science and your relational experience to help you find healing.

Therapy at its best is collaborative. I often give this explanation as I am detailing the therapy process to a new client. Then, I add “you are the expert on you.” This means that you know a lot more about being yourself and living in your skin than I ever will. A therapist should always take a position of curiosity without judgment. I want my clients to teach me about themselves and about what it is like to be them in the world.

Therapy is all about my mother or dwelling on the past.

A common misconception I hear is: “I don’t want to just talk about my mother. I don’t want to dwell on the past.” Therapy actually begins in the present with what is not working or what is hurting now, and the hope is not only for the present but for the future.

I often tell clients I am trying to work myself out of a job, but we all know that our present has been informed by our past. This is not dwelling on the past. This is understanding it and how it impacts you today.

Some people have a fear of talking about the past—that it will overwhelm them. Other times, it is a fear of being disloyal to a parent if you “complain.”

Our past is in some ways like a marinade. It is not who we are or who we have to become, but it undoubtedly impacts our view of ourselves, our relationships and the world around us. Unpacking your own story allows you to decide your future rather than be controlled unknowingly by your past.

Understanding should truly lead to freedom. Freedom is the goal, not dwelling on the past.

Understanding should truly lead to freedom. Freedom is the goal, not dwelling on the past.

It is vulnerable to open up to a therapist, but that vulnerability is often where you meet yourself, where you find healing and where you understand more about your past. That sacred place of vulnerability is not about someone telling you what is wrong with you or what to do.

Instead, it is about clearing space in your life for you to really hear, connect to and understand yourself and your relationships. Therapy at its best creates an emotionally safe place for you—free of judgment and free of the unwanted advice you get in other relationships. It gives you a chance to understand your own story.

What are some of the negative perceptions you believe or have heard about therapy? How can understanding our pasts and our internal processes lead to greater self-awareness and freedom?

Image via Joe Schmelzer, Darling Issue No. 17


How Nature Can Revive a Weary Soul

A woman's hand holding out a book along a gravel trail

While it may seem trite or obvious that nature is good for us, the benefits of nature on our mental wellness are infinite. There’s something so poetic and Thoreau about it, of course. We all love a bucolic moment—visualizing ourselves milking the cow and leisurely running our hands through a wheat field. But how do we, the suburban and city folk, really benefit from nature? 

After 2020 and transitioning back into a faster pace of life in 2021, it is possible that you may be feeling weary. We’ve overcome the trappings and the drawbacks of a year of the “new normal” and are walking a path now that is perhaps ambivalent and unknown. We are all finding our footing again. Last year, we were inside more than ever, and now as we return to the hustle of our “new normal,” it can be harder to find time to simply take a walk in the woods. 

So this, my friends, is where we begin. 

A walk in the woods is a lovely place to start, but what if we don’t have the woods? I know in suburban Southern California that I do not have any sort of woodland nearby. However, hills will work. Hiking paths, trails, a small yard or public park, they all work. 

If there’s nothing nearby, then I encourage you to familiarize yourself with what is close and accessible to hike or visit. There are urban farms and even many fairgrounds have botanical gardens or large grass lots where you can picnic. If nature isn’t convenient, please do not let that deter you. Find a way to access your own little piece of the great outdoors and bring it into your fold.

Find a way to access your own little piece of the great outdoors and bring it into your fold.

Here are a few practical tools on how to use nature to counteract your weariness:

1. Train your brain to crave the outdoors.

Just like exercise and coffee, which you’ve told your brain to do each morning, add going outside to your daily routine. After a while (it takes 21 days to build a habit), it’ll be second nature (pun intended). 

When you start to feel unrest, anxiety, sadness, the 2 p.m. slump or even the itch to “doom scroll” your Instagram, instead go outside. Sit with the sun on your face. Feel and smell the grass. Walk slowly enjoying any trees, shrubs and flowers that are along your path.

Sit with the sun on your face. Feel and smell the grass.

2. Soil makes us happy.

It’s been scientifically proven that gardening reduces anxiety and depression. How? Soil contains microbes that when inhaled, mimic what serotonin does to our brains. What?! I know, it’s wild. 

Gardening, and literally digging in the dirt, increases happiness and relaxation while decreasing feelings of dissatisfaction. Place yourself in the way of good things and find a way to garden if you can. Perhaps, a small 2 x 4 ft. raised bed would fit on your patio, or find a community garden that you can become involved in!

3. Learn to rest, not quit.

When you’re weary and rundown, it’s common to want to throw in the towel on whatever is ailing you, whether that be relationships, jobs, projects, etc. Nothing is safe. Instead, rest and then reevaluate. I’m not talking about a 20-minute power nap where you awake to an alarm and remain groggy all day. I’m talking about active rest in nature.

Nature has a revitalizing effect on us because it entertains us while allowing us to escape mentally. It turns off the active thinking brain and allows the subconscious to take over a bit. Similar to meditation, being in nature allows the neural pathways in your brain to rebuild and heal. It changes up your environment and introduces calm. This is necessary for our bodies and brains, and it allows our cells to repair and, in turn, keeps us healthy, rested, happy and moving. 

Everyday wonder and miracles abound in nature. Seeds self-sow. Colors emerge that have never before been seen. Plants create medicine that heals us. Being in mere proximity to that kind of wonder will revive your weary soul. After all, we’re simply atoms and dust ourselves, belonging quite perfectly amongst the ferns and flowers. 

Everyday wonder and miracles abound in nature.

For absolutely no reason whatsoever other than your own joy, today go be in nature. See for yourself the difference in how you feel. 

How often do you intentionally spend time in nature? How do you feel after time spent outside?

Image via Zoe Lea


Darling Letters: The Freedom Found in Embracing the Grey

A gray image of an ocean shore

We are bringing “Darling Letters” from your inbox to the blog! We love the art of letter writing and believe it helps build authentic community. Our editors and contributors have thoughtfully written encouraging letters to cut through the busyness and speak straight to your heart.

Four summers ago, a friend and I sat on a dock, staring at the stars and pondering life. We talked about the differences in how we thinkhow she thinks in the grey whereas I think in black and white. Since then, my way of thinking has been turned on its head, and I now see the beauty of life in the grey.

I now see the beauty of life in the grey.

This past year held more paradoxes than I could have imagined. A year of deep sadness and grief, laughter and fun, anger and examination, adventure and renewal, shame and fear, curiosity and growth. I felt more confused than ever before. Yet, somehow I came to a place of grounded confidence that I didn’t know was possible.

Areas of grey can be intimidating because there is no control there. We have to actually see people as dynamic human beings rather than separating them into neat, little categories. Some people might describe this as holding a tension of opposites. I experienced it as a freedom washing over me like a wavesometimes so powerful I couldn’t stand and sometimes so calm that all I could do was sit and breathe everything in. 

Releasing the tension of paradox and embracing the grey leads to both radical acceptance and gratitude. There is beauty in recognizing how unique experiences and even opposites can coexist.

Releasing the tension of paradox and embracing the grey leads to both radical acceptance and gratitude.

With resolve,
Emma Dixon, the Darling family

Do you tend to see life and people in black and white? What is the value in learning to hold space for paradox?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography