The COVID-19 pandemic brought conversations about mental health to the forefront. Americans experienced an increase in anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders amid the economic and mental stressors of the pandemic. For creative professionals, the pandemic rampaged the arts and entertainment industry, leaving many without an outlet to express themselves. Or pay their bills.
All of us needed someone to talk to. We needed someone to share our frustrations with, to share our pandemic-induced woes, and to share our experiences of social isolation. Some turned to mental health apps like HeadSpace and Calm for virtual therapy and meditation. Others found comfort in the voices of their favorite podcasters, individuals who articulated their experiences with the pandemic in real time. For millennial women in Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond, Christy Ray, Taylor Nicks, and former co-host Ryan Nicolaidis offered an auditory shoulder to cry on. (Ray is a DJ, Nicks is a singer, and Nicolaidis is an esthetician; all professions were affected by the pandemic.)
The three women started Jagged Little Feels, a mental health podcast whose mission is to “normalize the conversation surrounding mental health issues and ultimately, to promote the optimization of self” at the start of the pandemic. For 33 episodes, the trio created space for conversations about suicide, attachment styles, postpartum depression, body dysmorphia, and a plethora of issues related to mind, health, body, and psyche. Nicolaidis left after the new year, bur Ray and Nicks continued the podcast until episode 40. Then the duo said “see you later” to their faithful listeners.
Throughout these episodes, which were affectionately grouped together as “season one,” listeners were suddenly privy to frank conversations among millennial girlfriends. Think Sex and The City, but make it mental health. We heard musician Keite Young speak about the Black Lives Matter movement after the global uprisings for George Floyd. Cameron McCloud of Cure For Paranoia shared his own diagnosis with the duo, before a group conversation about the financial difficulties of being a creative professional. Each episode felt like a mini therapy session or debrief with trusted friends.
Jagged Little Feels was the best friend its listeners needed to survive. If you don’t believe me, read the sweet reviews on Apple Podcasts. In true JLG fashion, Ray and Nicks closed out the season with a honest and raw conversations about their current needs as podcasters, creative professionals, and millennial women. Shortly after the season one finale, Ray and Nicks spoke to FrontRow about the past, present, and future of Jagged Little Feels.
With over a year of recording and 40 episodes, how does it feel to be in this moment of self-reflection? Some TV shows don’t even make it to 40 episodes.
Taylor Nicks: I was just at lunch with somebody who has been an avid listener of the show. She gave her mom a brief rundown and paraphrased the different episodes that stood out to her. It actually hit me while I was at lunch with her. I was like, damn, we really did that. We said on our last episode that we’re proud of it, but I guess I haven’t even given myself much time to just think about, like, wow, what does that feel like?
Christy Ray: I feel the same way. I think it’s because we did it every week. We met up every week and we did everything in-house. We edited ourselves, we ran our content pages. So we didn’t actually have the time to reflect on the actual process until it was over. I haven’t really been able to think too hard about what we did. It’s always a nice reminder when somebody like you, says, I’ve listened, I’m an avid listener, I love it. We did a podcast panel at Makers Gym in Frisco. The guys who prepared the event looked us up and we were like, ‘wow, that’s amazing.’ Other people are telling me that it’s cool and amazing. And I’m just like, ‘Okay, I’m taking them.’
In conversations with women creatives, I find we don’t realize the impact of a project until after it’s done. In terms of podcasting, there’s so much hard work that goes into editing and producing content for listeners. Jagged Little Feels feels like you’re having a conversation with your girlfriends, about topics that our mother’s generations didn’t talk about like abortion, postpartum, body identity. Do you feel like your friendship grew stronger throughout season one?
CR: 100 percent. We’ve always been in the same circle of friends, so we were constantly around each other. We always had that foundation, so it was easier to work together. When you meet with somebody and work with them on a product every week, you grow closer.
TN: I’ve had friends that I’ve been friends with for eight years now that I don’t feel as close to as her because those hard-to-have conversations are fewer and far between. To come together weekly and talk mental health specifically, and have these hard conversations and hard topics—we went through the pandemic, we went through racial injustice and that coming to the forefront of everyone’s attention. I feel like the podcast took a meaningful friendship and condensed it into a year. In the meantime, we went through a divorce or a breakup, and all those experiences were kind smashed into one year. So I do feel like the podcast itself was the caveat to an even stronger friendship just based on the nature of the episodes themselves.
CR: We would come in, record these episodes, and it felt like a mini therapy session. I really enjoyed that in the beginning; it was really nice to come together. As far as social distancing, being able to talk about my feelings and having a sense of purpose by working on something when there was nothing else to do but stay in your house, it was really nice to come together and do that. That made the relationship stronger as well, just being able to talk to that another person.
Ryan left the podcast at the beginning of the year and you continued on as duo. How was that transition for the two of you?
CR: I would say it was just creative differences. At the end of the day, with Ryan’s blessing, Taylor and I decided that we still believed in the mission and what we were doing. We still had that drive to keep it going. Because we knew we still had work to do in some sense. We discussed it amongst ourselves like, if this is what we’re going to do without her, what would this look like? Like, how can you do this?
TN: In a sense, it did get harder because it was all on us. Doing it by ourselves, I realized that Ryan was doing a lot of work the whole time. I knew that she was she was bearing a majority of the workload. When it became just us, I realized this is really hard to do with two people. It was hard to do with three people, but it was even harder to do with two. It just applied more pressure, but the transition, going from three people to two people and having to process, pick up your bootstraps, and continue going was really growing for us to just prove to ourselves that we could do it.
I think the transition itself was formative for us. It helped us understand our capabilities. I don’t think we had fully tapped into them, because when Ryan was there because she took on a lot of work and we allowed her to do that. She took it upon herself to do a lot of the work, so learning how to do it by ourselves was really growing for us. I’m grateful for that.
Both of you spoke about an inclination of what you wanted the podcast to be, the goal of the podcast and the ending. Would you mind talking about the specifics? What was the path? What was the goal? And when you reached it, what’s next?
CR: My goal was always to help people , even if it was just one person who said, ‘this episode really stood out to me’ or ‘thank you for talking about this.’ If we could continue doing that, I would have been okay. For me in terms of the podcast, other goals include getting a producer and the behind the scenes aspect of it. Just fleshing out the business and brand part of it. That was a separate goal outside of what our mission was, and that is very open-ended. I want to leave it very open ended because I don’t want someone to think, well, they’re all done now. You know and miss other opportunities. We just need to take this time to regenerate, refresh and then see, what else we can do with it?
TN: The things we have come up with together, we have so many funny and amazing ideas. We could have our whole own variety show, a Jagged Little Feels spinoff.
CR: We want to make it a lifestyle brand. The thing I learned in doing a podcast for the last year is there’s so much more that goes into just having the idea. I think that’s what people don’t understand. That’s certainly what I didn’t understand. I was like, ‘let’s do a podcast.’ I didn’t realize that there are so many more monetary and other things that go into making a podcast.
TN: I think given the right support team to facilitate and bring our ideas to life. I could see ourselves traveling the world.
CR: We wanted to do trips. We had all these ideas; we could take it, but we also have to stay realistic. I’m a Virgo, and I’m very grounded. To me I was like, all right, what if we can’t do this now? When do we figure out how to live our normal lives? Also, to do this, which was a passion project for a long time, we had to be real with ourselves, like, how do we make money? And how do we profit?
TN: Our vision for it wasn’t necessarily what’s happening right now. Being cognizant of the now and our goals and what we envision are two different things. The sky’s the limit and who knows what lies ahead of us. I like to keep it open. I would love to do another season.