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Zahra Ahmad and Virginia Thornton are building a sanctuary for self-care in Norfolk

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Reading time6 minDateFeb 16, 2022Published byZahra Ahmad and Virginia Thornton
Photography by Nate Ryan

Founders of Get Well Soon, a self-care sanctuary in Norfolk, Zahra Ahmad and Virginia Thornton share their commitment to inclusive healing, the creative legacy of Norfolk they’ve built their foundation on, and the constant back-and-forth encouragement their partnership supplies.

[ZAHRA] The industry of self-care is whitewashed. For example, if you take a yoga class it’s likely a selection of white women wearing Lululemon or Athleta. And they definitely know each yoga pose that’s being called out by the instructor. It’s easy to imagine feeling a bit uncomfortable as a newcomer entering these spaces. It feels as if everyone’s vegan, and you’re eating a lamb chop, you know?

These days, brands are selling a story—that health is synonymous with wealth. If you want to take care of your mind and body, then you’ll need to be prepared to shell out whatever’s required for each pilates class or yoga class, expensive facial treatments, and the latest leggings from your favorite fitness influencer. The uniform is the price of belonging, so to say.

[VIRGINIA] When we started Get Well Soon, people were calling us and saying, “I’ve never done a yoga class. What do we need to bring? What do we need to wear?” Honestly, it made us double down on creating a space that made sense for most people in Norfolk.

[ZAHRA] Could a self-care sanctuary be relaxing, fun, affordable—and cater to a diverse background of people who might have always wanted to participate in these things, but didn’t want to be side-by-side with 30 people who’d been doing yoga for two decades? We love that a 23-year-old, who probably can’t afford a $200 facial in Virginia Beach, could come here and still have an experience that leaves them refreshed and rejuvenated.

[VIRGINIA] If you don’t have community, you don’t have anything.

[ZAHRA] That sounds cheesy. But it’s so true.

[VIRGINIA] And if you want to be welcoming to the community, you have to participate in the community first. You have to know what the city needs. You have to contribute to the city’s needs. And that’s our hope for Get Well Soon in Norfolk. Maybe it’s time to take self-care back.

We started Get Well Soon because this was our story. We both had issues with anxiety, depression—largely stemming from large life decisions or changes that impacted us. And we envisioned a place that could offer us solitude and tranquility to move forward better.

[ZAHRA] We had been thinking about Get Well Soon for a while. I mean, we obviously needed to make money as a viable business, and that’s very much still the plan. But our vision is to always point this place back to accessible mental health for all people. We’ve had meditation classes focused on creating the right space at your home. You don’t have to come here every Sunday and pay us, if you don’t want to. Can we teach you? Offer insight? Answer questions for you?

You were born alone, and you die alone. And while hopefully you have a support system around you as you address mental health issues, there’s a beauty in quiet moments of solitude. I think you learn a lot about yourself.

Photography by Nate Ryan

[ZAHRA] While meditation has been around forever, we have people who would never have gone to meditate anywhere else but here. Perhaps innovation is inspiring people to try something they normally wouldn't have done. We can do that.

[VIRGINIA] So we started Get Well Soon University. It’s a series from Get Well Soon that focuses on self-empowerment and learning. We launched classes and conversations that teach participants how to develop their own meditation practice at home, create a morning routine for health & wellness, learn how to assess and treat your own skin, etc.

Most of this, we had to teach ourselves. There weren’t spaces for us. So now with Get Well Soon, it’s become important to us to help people learn how to do the same. You can come here, and be with a group of like-minded people, sure. But you can also go figure it out yourself. We don’t have a problem teaching people how to think about their mental health themselves. That’s why we’re here.

[ZAHRA] And we’ve launched a social club for our members in Norfolk. We’ll bring women together for beading events, or International Women’s Day, or group classes to learn and explore together. Since Virginia and I aren’t actually the instructors teaching yoga and meditation classes, or the estheticians providing treatments, we decided this would be a way for us to participate with our community and develop relationships.

[VIRGINIA] You were born alone, and you die alone. And while hopefully you have a support system around you as you address mental health issues, there’s a beauty in quiet moments of solitude. I think you learn a lot about yourself.

[ZAHRA] We all have an immense amount of healing to do. You might not even be conscious and aware of it, to be honest. We’re programmed a particular way and sometimes it takes time to navigate through trauma to get to the other side. Just sitting in a sauna—you’re alone. You can’t get on your phone, since it’ll overheat while you’re in there. You have an actual real moment to yourself.

Maybe this isn’t the right word, but you’re forced to breathe for a moment. Disconnected. Your brain will speak to you. Your mind is going to wander. You might think about things that you weren’t expecting, or connect dots that had been eluding you.

[VIRGINIA] This sort of healing can be found everywhere, sure. But we wanted to bring something to Norfolk that could be a service to our community. I’m born and raised here. This is my city, where I feel a sense of peace. It just felt right to explore this venture here.

Investing in my city forces me to develop my creativity. And coming from a small town? You look at those cities like New York or Los Angeles, and you decide that those things could happen here easily. You just have to wish it true for yourself and your community. And then you make it real.

[ZAHRA] Norfolk offered me a chance to slow down. I came from D.C.—and it felt like a life-and-death change. Just going down to the beach every day during quarantine; slowing down and spending time in nature. It’s so different from the go, go, go D.C. life. Most people, in my opinion, are becoming more mindful and conscious of their surroundings. Do you want to be driving in two hours of traffic and paying outrageously to live in a tiny, 500 foot apartment?

Or are you interested in the alternative: a more diverse, more vibrant, more creative community that can check the boxes that you originally didn’t know existed?

[VIRGINIA] There’s a creative energy that lives in this area. There is a lot of talent that was birthed here that moved or will move to other, bigger cities. But investing in my city forces me to develop my creativity. Coming from a small town? You look at those cities, like New York or Los Angeles, and you decide that those things could happen here easily. You just have to wish it true for yourself and your community. And then you make it real.

Norfolk is waiting.

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