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From Raised as a Lie to Speaking Her Truth, Dr Naeema Olatunji

8th February 2022 Episode

This week I was joined by the fascinating Dr. Naeema Olatunji. Naeema knew she was ready for a career change, but a frightening accident involving her son shifted her focus and helped her to find her calling and go back to school later in life. Now running a successful chiropractic practice, Dr. Naeema has turned to writing- specifically her story- Raised as a Lie. Raised as a Lie explores her experiences growing up amidst deceit, denial, and racism- and the path she finally found to freedom.

Kristin: Hi, I'm so excited to be here with you today, Dr. Naeema. How are you?

Dr Naeema: I am phenomenal, Kristin. I'm really excited to be here talking to you. Thank you for having me.

Kristin: I feel like I just want to call you Dr. Naeema all the time, because you deserve the doctor.

Dr Naeema: I make my kids call me doctor mom in case you're wondering. That was hard-earned.

Kristin: I love it. Exactly. I accidentally called a friend the other day, Ms. And she's like it's doctor. And I was like, oh,

Dr Naeema: oh, my God.

Kristin: so bad.

Dr Naeema: I so do that,

Kristin: And it's just I know you've worked hard for this. I feel really guilty that I did not use the word cause I'm not into titles. Like I don't care. I don't, I just want to be Kristin. But when somebody has worked that hard, give them the doctor.

Dr Naeema: absolutely. I had a patient. She was five the other day. She said, miss. I said, doctor.

The mom just looked at me and I was like, you don't understand there's 250,000 years on this degree.

Kristin: I have to say it's really interesting here though, because surgeons, once they, this is a very male centric thing, but once they become a surgeon, they go from doctor to Mr. So Mr is actually better. And the first time I met with somebody who was a Mister, I was like, I don't want them telling me about my broken bones.

I need a doctor.

Dr Naeema: that interesting. I did not. Thank you for sharing that with me. That's really interesting. I love that. I would have never thought that

Kristin: This is so not what we're here to talk about, but interesting facts, something new for your day.

Dr Naeema: I absolutely learn first thing in the morning. I got something new in my pocket. Thank you.

Kristin: So I do want to talk about you becoming a doctor. I don't want to talk about a million other things, but let's go back in time a little bit. Tell me a bit about just the beginnings of your life.

Dr Naeema: I am born and raised and a really tiny little town in Utah. And we lived out in. Rural Utah, like farm land. There was nothing for miles and miles around. I actually later found out they didn't know this, but when I started doing some research, I found out that there was exactly 322 people who lived in said rural town.

And I thought holy cow, I knew that we didn't see anybody, but no idea. And my mom ended up leaving her husband and we moved to Southern California for which I spent the majority of my life.

We moved around quite a bit within the Southern California region. But that was mostly home and

20 years of that I spent in Los Angeles county and really just Los Angeles proper, which is far more city than where I grew up was far more suburban. And so I realized that I, when I became a university of Southern California student that is nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, I was not ready for city life at all.

And certainly not in what is known as South Central. That was a huge sort of culture shock for me and trying to figure out, and this is pre COVID, like this won't surprise people if it happened now, but this is, obviously 28 years ago, where there are literally, acrylic boxes that would be pushed out into the drive-through lines of drive-through restaurants so that you could put your money in and then they would bring it back.

And so there would be no interaction because it was such a violent city. And I wasn't pro I was like what do I do? What is this box coming towards me? And, at 19, I was so naive. But I ended up staying in LA, I met my husband and we stayed there for 20 years until we relocated. Now, I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and it's cool to be on this side of the country because we get like the fake snow and we'd definitely get the full, spring, fall season.

And I love that as an adult, I didn't actually understand that trees were supposed to change colors. And so my first fall, I was like, is someone not going to do something? Like, all these trees are there, there's something wrong. And people were like, where are you from? I'm like the land of Palm trees. You know what doesn't happen in Southern California? Trees don't turn, right? So it was really nice to be here. And and it's a good place to raise children. We have three children and when we moved and they were super, young, and so it was good to be in this smaller community as opposed to a city. And I joke my youngest, who's now 18 loves outdoors.

I keep, could spend all the time out there. And I think it just had so much to do with, there was so much freedom for him and space for him to do that thing. And I love being on the side of the world.

Kristin: Yeah, I'm really relating to a few of those things because I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, so very Midwestern girl, but my whole life was the east side of the country other than a very short-lived internship in California. But the thing that I really relate to is growing up in a mid-sized city and going to New York City for the first time, which I lived in New York, interned in New York, worked in New York.

And the first time somebody just held out, change to me before I even had the money out of my bag, because everything was so quick. And that acrylic box thing of no interaction and safety, and it was such a culture shock. So when you were saying that, I was like, I know. I actually was in tears because I was like, why doesn't anyone say hi?

Why is everyone sending me?

Dr Naeema: Can I just hug you?

Kristin: Yeah, exactly.

Dr Naeema: Yeah.

Kristin: when you were studying at university in California, what what did you originally.

Dr Naeema: I thought that I was when I entered USC, I thought that I was going to I entered as a political science major and I thought that I was going to become this very high powered corporate attorney. And I was going to live in New York city in a high rise. And I was going to practice at some, powerhouse of a law offices.

And that's not at all what ended up happening.

I absolutely thought for certain that's what I was going to do. And and then when all of that shifted and we'll talk about that a little bit later, when all of that shifted, what I ended up studying was a major that I made up, which was African-American studies with the university allowed, you know, me to are allowed, they allowed for a major that didn't exist.

And so they called it ethnic studies, but okay. I was only studying black people and I was like, all right, You can call it whatever You

Kristin: You can call it whatever you want, but that's not what I'm doing.

Dr Naeema: That was not at all. And so it was hilarious when I went back to school much later for a science degree. I was terrified because I had, I have literally, when I was on USC campus, my dorm sat kitty corner to the majority of my classes.

And so you had to pass through the math and science building and it was this beautiful, huge building. And there were arches and you could just walk straight through like literally diagonal. I spent an extra 10 minutes every single day walking around that building, because I was afraid somebody was going to be like you haven't taken any classes here you're going to need to stay. And so when it came like organic chemistry, what? No. So that's that second degree was a lot harder.

Kristin: Did you forging that path as far as making up your own major and studying black history, ethnic studies, whatever they wanted to call it African-American history. Did that end up doing anything for the university as far as did they realize that was a kind of a missing moment? Something they should be doing in a country that obviously has African-American history.

Dr Naeema: I love that question so much. I don't know how long it took them. I wish that I had spent some time interviewing some of the the decision makers, but now they have this complete, full, and I, by now, let's see, when did I find out, graduated in 94? So we'll call this maybe like 99, 2000.

They had a full-fledged ethnic studies department and they had, professors that each taught African American. Let's see, they had. Native American studies, they had Hispanic studies, like there were different degree paths that you could go through, under the umbrella of this ethnic studies.

Like It became this full fledged thing. Which was so beautiful because when I first approached the university, I started with my advisor and she said, no. And I went to my counselor and he said, no. And I went to his supervisor and everybody was like, what, why, what do you mean, no you cannot do this until somebody will swipe whatever, just whatever stop bothering us.

But there was exactly zero curriculum. That was all formatted into this is the path to attain said degree. I literally went around to the university and found the four black professors on campus and just took their classes. Like I spent so much time in the film school because Dr.

Todd Boyd was a new upcoming star in the film school. And he was just incredible. And he was 29 and full of fire. And I took so many of his classes that people thought I was a film student and I wasn't, I just wanted to know everything that he knew. And he would teach so audaciously. I just wanted to be a part of his world and energy.

Kristin: It is funny when you said nine, you graduated in 94. It's like that isn't that long ago. It really does feel like, I don't know. It's really shocking to me that it took you going around and bugging every single person on campus and forging your own path to be able to get that kind of a curriculum.

Because now it's just, of course, that's a thing.

Thank you for saying because you just made the face that said it, but I was like, we're on a podcast.

Dr Naeema: I said it because I was like, oh yeah, it's it's maybe out, you have a T have a voice for radio. No.

Kristin: Your eyes just went to the back. And I was like, exactly. So fast forwarding a little bit, but you mentioned that you got married, went to Atlanta, have three kids. And if I'm not mistaken, it was an accident with your son that led to the doctor that we talked about at the beginning and this new career path.

He was 13, right?

Dr Naeema: Yes.

Kristin: So can you tell me a little bit about what happened.

Dr Naeema: Yeah, my husband was in New York at the time on a work trip and me and the three kids were hanging out at a friend's house. He's playing in the front yard and they have a five foot cinder block wall that he's using as this balance beam. And I keep saying, get down.

And he ends up falling down directly on his, back on a concrete sidewalk, paralyzing himself. And at the time I don't know that it's temporary. I just know that my kid cannot move and I do what every mother and every neurosurgeon will tell you never to do. We literally pick him up . And so we put them in the the minivan rushed him to the emergency room and I'm pacing the waiting room for three hours. And when the doctors find they come out, they say, Ms. Olatunji, you are so lucky. Like he's going to be fine. Give him some time, but he's going to be fine. There are no internal damage, no internal bleeding, no broken bones.

He will be fine. And sure enough, within two weeks he was. And he turned right back into the precarious 13 year old teenage boy that he was and very extroverted full of life. And within two months he developed headaches that then turned to migraines that then turn to him, needing to be in dark places.

And, the light was just triggering to him missing school to me, kneeling at his bedside, his father. And I praying what on earth? What is happening? And it went on for months and I'm a natural granola. So of course we did all the herbs and the essential oils. And then we went to a natural path and when all of those things were not working.

And we went to the allopathic medical route and they prescribed, pain meds, muscle relaxers. And when that didn't work six months later, we were, we had relocated and we're in Atlanta and I don't have a network here and I didn't know what to do. And a chiropractor introduced herself to me at a PTA meeting at school.

And we became fast friends. I was so excited to have a new friend when she said she was a chiropractor. I was like, oh, that's so nice. I have no idea what that means, not whatsoever. And um, we talked for hours and it on our second meeting in front of the school at the carpool pickup line I tell her about my son, but just really in conversation.

And she was like, you should bring your son into our practice. And I. Like smile awkwardly because she's like my new best friend and I don't want to offend her, but I have no idea. Because I had done some research since I had met her and it looked like they did like back pain or car accidents.

And I was like, I don't understand. He doesn't have the, either one of those. And she said something that literally changed my life. She said, Tried everything else. What would it hurt if you brought him in? And I was like, you are a hundred percent right. And so I dragged my husband. We went and talked with them for several hours before we brought our son in, cause I low-key didn't trust her a hundred percent. And they told us about how chiropractic works, how the brain needs to connect to the body. And they, and it does that via the spinal cord and all the nerves in order for us to be a hundred percent healthy, those bones that protect the spinal cord need to be in proper alignment because if they're not, then they compress nerves.

And then the communication is like having a water hose, you turn it on full blast, but then you step on it, all the water doesn't stop, but it doesn't come out at a hundred percent. And so when we brought our son in the next day, they did x-rays. Even I who don't spend any time looking at x-rays could see that bone had at the very top of his spine had misaligned and it was putting pressure on his brainstem.

And so he got his very first adjustment that day and he walked in with a migraine and they laid him down to rest after his adjustment. And I went into the room to wake him up and I said, how you feeling? And he was like, great. And I was like, no, really? Nobody's around. How are you feeling?

And he was like, I seriously, mom, I feel great. And then weeks and weeks went by of him getting adjusted and not having any migraines and not having any headaches. And at the end of the month, the father of the chiropractor I saw who had founded a university here in Atlanta, asked me, we were sitting in the office together waiting for, Kamel to finish his appointment.

And he said, what are you going to do? Because he knew that I was there in Atlanta for a career advancement. I thought I was going to Emory to go to midwifery school and open a birth center. That's what I thought, the direction I was going in and Emory said no. And so I didn't know what to do.

And so he's asking me, he's what are you going to do? And I thought and thought, and sat there for moments of silence. And then I looked at him and I said, I'm going to chiropractic school because if somebody can intervene in our life and change the trajectory of my son's health and where he was going from pain meds and muscle relaxers and just getting sicker and sicker too well and healthy.

And we had our kid back, signed me up for that. And that was almost 14 years ago. And I couldn't have it. Couldn't be more happy with my choice because we, every day we see those families and that's pretty exciting.

Kristin: The midwife thing, when you first said that, I was like, oh, I can see that. Cause I know you do other things to support women. And you were talking about the granola thing. You saying those things, I was like, yeah, I could see the midwife thing, but something like, I don't know, seeing your son just a dramatic reversal like that, I can see how that would just be the inspiration you needed to say ofcourse, this is what I'm going to do.

Dr Naeema: Yes. Yeah. And sometimes it's exactly those moments that you're like, oh, cause after Emory said, no, I was devastated. I was like, I moved my whole family. Like what do you mean, God? Like I followed the assignment. You said come to Atlanta because that's what I heard so clearly for so long.

And my husband who was from Kansas was like, have you ever been to the south? Have you been to Georgia? Do you know our history? Do you know what they have done to black people? And I was like so I'm supposed to go to Atlanta and it took four years. And when we got here, And everything was different and, oh, by the way, it was 2008.

So six months after we get here, the economy crashes and we lose everything. And everybody's looking at me like, remember how this was your idea now, what are we supposed to do? So we went from six figures to food stamps and sitting in that office, thinking, what am I going to do? And that hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I was just like, oh, okay. Okay. I misunderstood the assignment. I was supposed to come, just not for the reason I thought I was supposed to come.

Kristin: Yeah. And obviously at that point you'd made this decision. So what happened next? You mentioned the hard work that went into becoming Dr. Naeema.

Dr Naeema: I'm 38, 3 kids, two dogs, a husband, a house. And now I'm going back to graduate school, like four years of doctors school, like sciences, biochemistry. And it was gut-wrenching. I don't think there was a day, and I wish I was exaggerating, I don't think that there was a day that I did not cry at least one time from being a stay at home mom to now being in class and in school for 12 hours, at least. On campus, it was 30 minutes away.

We had one car, not enough gas money to go up and down the highway, my husband wasn't working. And it was just rough. I missed all kinds of things. Every day I kept asking myself, is it worth it? Is it going to be worth it at the end? Are my kids going to hate me at the end? What does this mean?

And thank goodness, I had my greatest cheerleader in my parents who just kept saying, they just kept encouraging me to keep going. And then halfway through the program, my dad died suddenly on the exact same day that my mom was diagnosed with fourth stage breast cancer and I, my whole world came crashing down and I had to take a year off of school.

I couldn't get my life and my head and anything together. And then my husband very bravely walked me through the halls of the school on my return back

to say, just kept saying, you've got this, you can do this. I know it feels really hard, but we're counting on you. You can finish this.

And and another two years later I did. And so I think for me, standing on that stage at graduation was probably. The greatest tribute to my parents. My mother used to call me Monday, Wednesday, cause I'd have this amazing idea on Monday. And I was going to save the world and do all the things when I was growing up.

And then she'd say on Wednesday, she check in and she'd say, Hey, so how's that thing. I'd be like, oh mom, that so Monday ago . So to stand there, it was a great tribute to them. And I knew that I had done it for my kids. And I had watched a bunch of my other peers, students who were much younger than me who had quit for a variety of reasons.

And I truly believe it was because I had purpose. I had those kids waiting for me. I had this extreme financial hardship. There was no quitting, that wasn't an option. And to be at the end of that just meant so much to me. And so now to be practicing these years later, it's an honor. It's an honor to see the families that we see.

I know how hard I worked and I know that I worked that hard so that I could be in a position to help the people who walk through our door. And that matters to me.

Kristin: Yeah.

It's obvious that it's really an emotional thing for you as well, all these years later. It's bittersweet to see, you know, your parents being ill and all this hardship, but obviously it's, it was the right decision. It was your purpose.

Dr Naeema: Yeah, absolutely.

Kristin: So once you were able to graduate, once you stood on that stage what happened next? Was it something you decided directly you wanted to go into your own practice? Where there years of, I have to go work with these people and figure this out ?

Dr Naeema: I actually, for as amazing as my husband was the financial crisis lingered on for so long and it took a huge toll on my marriage. And when you are chronically crisis solving, you lose sight of the thing that is the foundation and that was our marriage. And we took our eye off the ball and you cannot, in my opinion, continue to do that for a sustained period of time and think that you can pick the relationship back up off of the shelf, dust it off and pick up where you left off, because that's just not possible in my experience.

And so at the same time that I was graduating, I was going through a divorce. And as much as I hated all things that were happening around me, my true goal and dream was to open my own practice. And I was fighting really hard to make that happen. And. I just think that God was like, please go sit down and get a job with somebody because you're not going to be able to withstand this.

For as much as we were these very conscious, evolved human beings, we turned into contestants on Jerry Springer show. It was super tragic at brought out the worst in both of us. And it was a long battle and I hated it. And so I went to work for somebody for a year and a half. And then when it became extremely obvious that the baby bird needed to leave the nest and It was exactly as outlandishly sounding as a mom bird pushing the baby out of the nest. That's pretty much exactly what happened. Like it became so uncomfortable that I had to leave and that was the greatest blessing because I then did fight tooth and nail to open my own practice. And we are going on five years and I am extremely grateful.

To fought this hard with zero resources at the time, and then to have survived a pandemic. I cannot tell you how grateful I am. Like every day I pull up to that building and I am just like, wow, thank you. Thank you.

Kristin: I was starting to say, what was the biggest challenge about opening your own practice? Which just sounds ridiculous because the challenges, there were so many around them.

Dr Naeema: All the things.

Kristin: all of the things exactly. It doesn't even make sense to say what was the biggest, but I guess maybe a better question is if somebody else was having this, I'm zero resources or I'm pursuing this dream.

With all the challenges around me. What's maybe the one thing that kind of got you through it or got you to the point where you are now.

Dr Naeema: Never lose sight of your vision. Michael Bernard Beckwith says pain pushes you until your vision pulls you. And I probably said that to myself, a thousand times over that process, I thought it was going to take me two, maybe three months to open the practice. It was literally a six week build out, right? Like the lease, like it wasn't supposed to take that long.

It took exactly nine months and I had a very limited amount of resources and I had left the job because I thought it was going to take two to three months and I would be able to sustain myself, not for nine months. And I had to say his words over and over in my head so often that they just became my mantra.

And then when it got right before we opened two weeks before I opened my practice, I started having like heart palpitations and I just wanted to have a conversation with my mom so badly. I missed her and I needed to hear her words and I found in her Bible that I had kept after she passed. She had written the word faith, in the the margins of one of the pages.

And I had an accountability partner, a dear friend that said, your word is faith. And we're going to go to the tattoo parlor because it's my birthday. And this is what I want for my birthday. And I don't have any tattoos because I'm allergic to pain. And so I was like, I don't think this is a good idea, but we go and I have the word "faith" in my mother's handwriting, tattooed on the inside of my wrist so that I, every time that I looked down would see the word faith in my mother's handwriting, which I always coveted because I'm left-handed and I never could write, like she could.

And it re-reminded me that you only need the faith of a mustard seed and that you have everything within you and pain will push you until your vision pulls you. And my vision had to get bigger than my pain. And so it did. And that is the only words. If I had anything that anybody ever asked me, it's the only words of advice that I would ever give.

Your vision will not fail you. It will not fail you.

Kristin: That is really good. I actually have not heard that before, so I really, yeah, that's a good one. And I'm also left-handed, which is completely not what I should have taken out of everything you just said, but I will mention it anyway.

Dr Naeema: We take what we can use. We are more alike than we are different. So says Maya Angelou.

Kristin: This is very true. Speaking of differences though, and you kind of alluded before, we would talk later very recently you have written a book, Raised as a Lie.

Dr Naeema: Yes.

Kristin: So you've made so many references to your family and I know Raised as a Lie is about childhood trauma.

So tell me, I'm just going to say, tell me

Dr Naeema: That is so funny. That's

Kristin: it's a very open-ended question.

Dr Naeema: those are the two words that I say. So often, somebody who is listening to this is going to laugh at that point. I chose a very provocative title because I think that my life, my childhood was a bit provocative. Uh, The family that I might, the parents that I have been referencing were white.

I was raised in an all white family and an all white neighborhood and all white communities. And I was also told that I was white, my brother and sister, my older sister and my younger brother who both have different fathers, but We're both blonde haired, blue eyed. And my mom is brown hair, but she's green-eyed.

And everybody has very light skin. My brother's father who is on my birth certificate was he has passed blonde haired, blue eyed. And I always knew there were differences. My sister, who is seven years of my senior was not a kind human being when we were growing up and she used to tell me all the time that I was dirty and I was ugly and that my skin was stained and there was something wrong with my hair because it was curly and everybody else's was straight. And I couldn't refute the things that she would say in secret. She always presented as the, great big sister and she was my tormentor. But I internalized all of her words and never told anybody, because I knew what she was saying was true.

We lived on a farm when things got dirty and everything was, they were brown. And so it made sense to me that my skin was dirty as well. And one of the things that I talk about in my book was a moment. When I was four, we used to have a garden cause we live completely off of the land. Totally sustained by the land.

And my mother was gardening and she had this nervous habit of picking the sides of her thumbs. And it was just unconscious behavior. But I was watching her one day and I just thought, huh, that's interesting. And just tucked it away. Didn't think much about it. And then weeks later, what I hadn't realized that I had picked up that same habit and I'm in the bathtub and I've been in there for far too long.

So my little fingers are shriveled up as prunes. And my mom is drawing me, telling me off and it's at the end and the water's draining out and she comments about my hands and me looking like a raisin. And I looked down and the skins on the sides of my thumbs are white. And all of a sudden this little four year old brain starts thinking.

If I had picked all the skin off of my body, then I would look like all of my family and I too would be loved and I too would be worthy and I too would be enough cause I would fit in. Turns out that's not true. And I spent my entire childhood trying to fit in and trying to figure out where my place was and I wasn't very successful.

And when we finally moved from Southern California to this little tiny town in Arizona where there was no diversity, I got cornered in the cafeteria by three of the football players and they threatened to take me out to the hang out spot to Lynch me on the, I didn't know what lynching meant.

I did know I was terrified. And I did know enough to be afraid. And I went home that day and I called my sister. She had then since moved out and our relationship was a little less tumultuous. And I was, I told her what happened. And I was like, why would they say these things? Like what, what is happening?

But I was like, don't tell mom don't whatever you do. Don't tell mom. And then the next day, my mother summons me into her bedroom and I'm like, Pam, Michelle can't ever keep her word, like why? And my mom at that time, I think she's forced to reconcile that she has been lying this whole time, that everybody has been lying this whole time.

And she has to tell me at this point, because now she's fearful for her child's safety, that my biological father is clearly not Jim duh. Like at that point, of course, I know that, but every time I had asked in the past, I had been shut down. And so when she says that he's a black man, I don't know what I expected to hear, but all of a sudden, the whole world spins.

And I'm just like you said, what, why? And it took me. It took me a long time to get my mental and emotional health in line with that revelation. And then I went to USC and became super black.

Kristin: It's interesting. You say that though, because I do have, my sister-in-law's mixed race. My brother, my other brother's girlfriend her mother's white and her father is black. And I think it's interesting because I do see this kind of. I guess really it's not to make this very bizarre comparison, but as Americans, how we all look for, they make fun of us here because they're like, why is every American Irish, or why is every American Scottish?

Or why are you always looking for that thing? But I imagine that, you've grown up in this family. You realize that it's been this lie and it's like, where is my culture? Who am I? So to become, as you put it super black is just like, no, one's told me about this. I need to know about this. And I guess I make the correlation, because I think as Americans, we all kind of were like, where am I from?

And what is a tradition I can hold onto.

Dr Naeema: It's a hundred percent true. There are labels in boxes that we place all things and all people in. And when they don't fit under a label. And within a box, it becomes problematic in this country and it always has, and it is super tragic for it to have been such a melting pot of an assortment of cultures to be so intolerant, to be anything other than American.

And what that looked like for a very long time was a mainstream dominant culture was to be white and anything other than that was other, and it was somehow Less than, and somehow this very inferior to the greater superior. And that was no different in my family. Like my mother's side of the family is Italian and there's this sort of sociological hierarchy.

And anything above black is all that you need to be. And so in my family, as long as we, because we were Italian, like we were better than black folks. And so there was all kinds of racist jokes and slurs and those sorts of things that were flying around my family's home when I was growing up, not from my mother, but her brothers, my grandparents but she would never say anything either.

And she also had her own sort of bias when it came to Latinos and growing up in Southern California, like we're hello. We used to be Mexico. So it was this very sort of weird experience growing up where there was so much intolerance. And my, my mom got remarried when I was in third grade and he was Hispanic, but we used to always call him like the gringo, because he was so not Hispanic.

Like his parents moved from Mexico and they had their kids in Southern California when, at the time that there was, it was not okay to be anything other than American. And so he didn't. Spanish and neither did his siblings and right. He was hilarious and he was the kindest human being that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing at he had.

Biggest heart. And so whenever he would hear something, he would try to correct it. Even if my mom said something like he gently you know smooth those over because he just loved all people. And I think that was what gave me my courage to pursue going to USC and like full out 100%, full throttle pursuing, what does that mean to be black?

And what does that look like? And how do I embody it? Because now I feel like I blow key, missed out on some thing, and now I just want to do all the things. And and he was really great about it. And my mother, not so much, she struggled a lot.

Kristin: How did you reconcile that? Because obviously, like you said, do you have the faith tattoo and you have referred to your family several times. And I don't know if there has been a reconciliation with your sister, but how do you get from I've just been told my entire life is a lie to, my family is still my rock.

Dr Naeema: When in those years, afterwards, those few years following her revelation I spent a lot of time. Separating myself and distancing myself from my family because I needed to figure out who I was independent of them. So they, my parents at the time lived in Arizona. The rest of my mom's side of the family lived an hour and a half away from the university I was attending.

And so while I was at USC, I could be in that world, in that bubble and be as black as I wanted to be and became president of the black student union and, you know, got big Dukey braids in my hair and a ring in my nose and, wore shirts that said black power down with whitie like I was a hundred percent in and I could explore all of those avenues.

And then when I would go home, it would be this entirely different sort of persona. And it would be years before I could figure out how to bring the two together. And ultimately the most honest and direct answer is that I didn't figure out how to blend the two lives. What I did ultimately is watch how the world perceived me and the world perceived me as a black woman.

There was never any moment as an adult woman, that somebody mistaken me for a white woman. It just never happened. And because of that, I fully embraced what it meant to be black. And then I spent years not talking about my white family. As much as my mother and I were. I had strained, but it was definitely a strange relationship for a while because I was struggling how to be in the world.

And then and then I got pregnant and what I found was that my husband and I were like really connected and on the same page and I married a black man and we were on the same page in so many other things, but I was like, you've never been pregnant. Like you've never been a mom. I don't know what I'm doing.

And I need my mother. And in that pregnancy and becoming a mother myself, I met my mother. I found the spaces for which that she resided because when I looked at my newborn son, there wasn't anything in the world that I would do to jeopardize him or his safe ty. And I would do everything to keep him in safety, in love, in enjoy, and watching him smile in laugh.

And I thought that's what my mom did. That's where her heart was. It was 1970. She was terrified of the world that we lived in. What did that mean? That she was going to have a black daughter. She married a white man two weeks after she found out she was pregnant with me. I think that although her and I never had this conversation and I talk about that in the book, what I believe is that she did the best that she could with what she had and what she knew at the time.

And that allowed me to let go of any resentment, let go of the animosity and just love her for who she was.

Kristin: The word that came to mind was it's so emotionally mature to get to the level where you can recognize. And maybe like you said, through your pregnancy and through looking at your son, there was a new level of emotional maturity that yeah. Was very forgiving because I can imagine that would not be easy.

Dr Naeema: No. As a matter of fact, I wrote the book just last year. I started writing a year ago, almost to the day. And so I think it's super ironic that today is February 1st and I love that. So thank you for having me on new show. And the, this idea of. Writing the book now I was 49 when I started writing the book and I could not have written that book 10 years ago, my parents were still alive and there was something still in me that could not that I was like, let me be clear.

I a hundred percent never thought that I was a writer. I didn't even own a journal. But let's just say that I did, and I did want to write, I would have not written this book 10 years ago because I don't think that I felt like I had the freedom to tell the full story.

In a way that I don't believe that I dishonor my mother at all in this book, but I spent a lifetime of protecting her. This was self assigned. She never asked me to do it. And I talk a little bit about this in the book. My first formative years grew up in a violent home. She married a very violent man.

And and I took on that identity of protecting her. And I just carried that forth. Even when she met my stepfather, who became dad, like we all called him dad. He was an incredible human being. I still found myself protecting her even against my own feelings and emotions. And so when I started writing the book last year.

I just felt free to tell the whole story. And it felt like the right time to do it.

Kristin: Yeah, I was thinking about, you turning 50 and this being able to tell a story at a really pivotal we look at, 50 years old as a

Dr Naeema: Yes. Yes.

Big milestone.

Yeah. I actually felt pretty cool when I woke up on my 50th birthday and I thought that I was going to feel some kind of way. And I was like, first of all, I'm cute.

Kristin: I was going to say, first of all, you're gorgeous.

Dr Naeema: I feel good. I'm in, relatively good physical shape. Like I just, there was no reason to feel anything other than pretty fucking amazing. And I'm okay with that. I was perfectly good. One of the things that I write in my. And the introduction is something that was so true for me. And it is to this moment.

I am so good in my own skin. I am so good now. And I love that and I can celebrate that. And even at this milestone of 50, where you're supposed to as a woman, be old and all the negative attributes that go along with what is aging beauty and, and I just feel amazing. And gratitude is the thing that is the undercurrent of my life now.

Kristin: And I, there is something pretty amazing about finally telling your story as well. I don't know how much that contributes to the feeling of amazingness, but by all means looking in the mirror saying, I look good. I feel good. I don't have anything to hide.

That's kind of the magic trio.


Dr Naeema: yes. I love it. I'm going to start using the word, the.

Kristin: I know. I just coined that. a good one.

Dr Naeema: I'll give it to you. We'll trademark it..

Kristin: Give it to me then. That's a little tray. That's a good one. So not to go back to total seriousness for one second, but did you ever reconcile with your sister?

Dr Naeema: I did not. I tried to make peace when my dad died. actually When he passed, she had astranged herself from the family and she, when she got a little bit older in her teenage years she was in and out of, drug rehabs, and just, she had made a lot of unfavourable choices in her life. And and but her choice ultimately was to become astranged. She'd come back around and she'd cause a bunch of havoc and then disappear. That was her sort of her rhythm. And so when I reached out to her, she wasn't in a financial position to come.

And so I had sent her money um, buy her a plane ticket so she could come and be at the funeral. And again, we, the same day we found out that mom had four stage cancer. And so she'd only have a couple of months to live. And so I wanted her to be there. I wanted her to come. And she did typical Michelle.

She came, she raised up an entire hurricane and a tornado and an earthquake all in the same sort of moment. It caused all of this chaos and then left as if she was never a part of it. Like she wasn't the thing. And that was 10 years ago. And I have not heard from her since I do not know where she's at in the world.

I wish her well. And I think that even when they are your blood relatives, sometimes you have to love people from a distance. And the greatest place for me is to be able to create separation and say, I love you, and I wish you well, and I'm going to be right here.

Kristin: Yeah, I have a lot of sisters, so I understand that to some degree, we're all close, but there, there have been times I will tell you

Dr Naeema: I believe that

Kristin: that I need to be, I do live in England after all them there.

I love my family. Hi everyone, if you're listening, but I've escaped.

So I don't want to go about talking about your podcast as well, because you're so empowered now and you're also empowering other women. So Elevate NOW in all capital letters first of all, before I even ask you more about it, I have to say that one of my favorite episode titles is what is your superpower?

So what is your super power? And then tell me about the podcast.

Dr Naeema: Vulnerability..

I would not have told you that before. I was raised in a family that vulnerability was seen as a weakness and weakness was not accepted. It was not okay. You could not survive in a world that you were weak. My grandparents, who I loved dearly were raised during the Depression. It, you wouldn't have survived if you were weak, they understood that. And something that I'm currently working on, this very second in therapy. Thank God for my therapist. Is. This notion that had been seeded and grown into this, all encompassing vine that sort of was choking

These sort of emotions out of me

and I didn't realize it. And it's the notion that life is hard. My grandfather would say nearly every day, life is hard until you die. Now, he was this very kind man, but he also understood that weakness was never going to get you anywhere. And so my mother's favorite saying is what is the worst thing that can have that worst case scenario?

She would say it all the time, worst case scenario. Because she was raised by her parents and her parents were raised by their parents and I was raised by her. And so this idea of how can we prepare for The Very Worst that means you've got to arm up. That means that you've got to make sure that your armor is in place, that you've got all of your walls and protected, barricades around you so that you can fight this

Kristin: The scenario that's looming somehow.

Dr Naeema: and the truth is that if you let it all go. Vulnerability and transparency is where you intersect with the people that are around you and from heart to heart. That's where you connect. And in telling my story, what I can tell you in the last year is that I now know that vulnerability is my superpower.

I would not have told you that two years ago, I would have told you that arming up was your super power preparing and embracing yourself is your super power, but that's just not the truth. I think that there is the greatest amount of strength in vulnerability and where you choose to lay your soul bare is where we release all of the notions of the shadows and the should haves and all the things that.

These beliefs that we have about things ourselves and other people that we can just choose to let them go. And we can be in that space where I like to call it my godlike space, where you Just get to be you and love that space. And I'm pretty psyched about that. I love this space and I have to be, because every time I would write a story and the chapter, I would be like, wow, that was a lot.

And then when it all went to the editors and I pushed that, send return, enter whatever the button on the keyboard, and then all of it was gone and it was all in the hands of the publishing company. I started panicking because Brene Brown calls it, the vulnerability hangover. All I could think is people are going to read this.

Like I wrote this in my bedroom. I wrote this when I was alone, I worked it through in my therapist office every Friday afternoon. Wait a minute, they're going to, can you just buy it and put it on your shelf? Cause you might not want it

Kristin: Just don't actually read it.

Dr Naeema: I need to read it. And just, support is, it took me all whole long minutes to get to where I am today.

And it is, I'm excited about you reading it and I might have to breathe through the fact that you're now going to know this thing about me. Because I've been very private and they keep my cards pretty closely to my chest. And now you're going to know all that. And now I'm, I, every day I just breathe into vulnerability as your superpower and you're okay with it.

Kristin: And how did the podcast come about?

Dr Naeema: Oh, ' cause I woke up one day at 36 and said, I looked in the mirror, I'm standing. My kids are 10, no, 11 7 3. And I'm the they're pulling on me and their mommy, this and I groceries shopping in the future. Park trip later that afternoon. And I'm looking in the mirror, I'm exhausted. I, my three-year-old is not sleeping through the night.

And I'm like this image, this reflection, this is what you thought this was what your life was going to be at 36. You were going to take over the freaking world. Like what are you doing? There's spit up, like from the night before, because my, seven year old at the time, didn't keep her dinner down and that's just oh my God.

Kristin: Yeah.

Dr Naeema: And I knew that moment. Was not mine alone. So fast forward, we're at the beginning of the pandemic. I'm terrified about my practice. I don't know that we're going to survive, but this is what I do know when I had that moment in the mirror and I asked myself, why are you not as successful as you thought that you would be, why are you not as far along as you thought that you would be in this moment that I wasn't alone.

And I knew that there were other women asking themselves that same question in that moment, 2020. It was January the end of January. And I had this thing in my heart and all the things were rubbing up about this pandemic. And I was like, you know what, I'm going to do.

I'm going to do the thing. That I want in my heart to talk to other women about. And so it was this very sort of selfish motive to start these conversations. And because I was an entrepreneur and I'm so nosy, like I want to know all the things and this just gave me license. If I have you on my show, you have to answer my questions.

So you have to tell me your secrets. And so I just figured that I would. Ask a lot of questions and we would have some great conversations. And then I started writing a book a year later and I realized I can't do all the things. I can't parent run a practice, have a podcast and write a book. So I had to pause recording the episodes, but now I'm super pumped to get back to it because elevate now is still meaningful to me.

Like And I have now the brain space to be able to do that now that the book has finally been done.

Kristin: But will you write another one?

Dr Naeema: Absolutely. Absolutely. I can't believe those words are coming out of my mouth words. Yes.


Kristin: you're so excited to be done. And you just went through this. I I'm, you know, I've never been a writer, but I wrote a book. Well, You read another one. Yes, absolutely.

Dr Naeema: Is that ridiculous. There's something wrong with me. I think it's just the same moment that you have after you look down euphorically at this baby that has taken you 10 lunar months and 14 hours to push out. And they're like, oh, we have another one. You're like, absolutely. Because you've got complete amnesia about what it took to get there and the psychotic pain and not sleeping.

And every time you got to roll over, you're picking up the entire belly, kicking a leg over and the 14 million trips to the bathroom. And you're like, yes, I want another one. So Yes, Will I do that in the next three months? absolutely.

not. No, because here's the really super exciting part for me is that we, we have this official unboxing coming, in two days it's Tuesday. Yeah.

So I'm Thursday. I get to hold my baby, my fifth child. Cause the fourth one is my practice. So my baby, I get to hold it for the very first time on Thursday. So it's shipping, it will arrive and I'll open the box and then that's when I will absolutely say I'm going to do it again.

Kristin: I admire you, as you said, pausing on the podcast, cause you had so much else going on, but the fact that you're running a practice that you have this podcast, the book it's so exciting. And I think really it's honestly what the second chapter is all about. So I'm so glad that you came today and shared your story with me.

It's been so much fun and really just what an interesting story. So I really appreciate you being here, Dr. Naeema. My () mom said, you need to say people's names more because halfway through I'm like, who is she talking to?

Dr Naeema: Yes. That's thank you, mom. I love that. Yes, no moms have the best advice. I a hundred percent agree. And I think you might also find this to be true. And when I don't do it, I am like, I regret it is not saying people's names more so that it cements into your mind. Because you just met the person and you're so intrigued by all the things that you're learning about them, that their names filters down into some unknown abyss in your memory, but just repeating them as as a great idea.

Kristin: In general. Yes, because I do have a bad habit of just starting to chat with someone, not on the podcast. Obviously I know their names and events, in life, I'm just like, I've just talked to this person for half an hour.

I don't know.

Anyway, we'll leave it at that, but thank you so much again.

Dr Naeema: I just want to say that I am honored. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate this conversation. It was really fantastic. And so worth rescheduling or other things today for, I am so glad that I did it.

Kristin: I'm so glad you did too. Thank you so much.


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