September 16, 2021

#179 Pandemic Be Damned

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

The Reply All Team talk to people trying to break out of their mid-pandemic funk.

Here is a list of organizations that offer support for anyone feeling distressed, experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, or thinking about self harm or suicide:

And here is a list of organizations focused on advocacy, research, education, and support for eating disorders:


EMMANUEL DZOTSI: Hey everyone! Just a quick note before we start the show, there’s a story in today’s episode in which people are sharing their experiences living with depression and eating disorders. So if that kinda stuff is hard for you to listen to, you might wanna skip this one. I also just wanna take a second to point to some resources in case you might be struggling with an eating disorder. Uh, if you’re in the US, the National Eating Disorder Association has a hotline you can call or text at 1 (800) 931-2237. Once again, that is (800) 931-2237. If you need immediate help, text “N-E-D-A” to 741741. Once again, that is “N-E-D-A” to 741741. If you’re not in the US, we’ll leave a list of country-specific organizations in our show notes. Okay, let’s start the show. 


From Gimlet, This is Reply All. I’m Emmanuel Dzotsi 

So, a couple weeks ago I woke up very very early to jump on the phone with someone a world away.

[connecting sound] 



EMMANUEL: How’s it going? Can you see me and hear me ok? 

JEVON: Yes…[indistinct]

That’s Jevon. She’s American but she’s lived in Japan for 13 years. She is no stranger to the complicated math of time zones.

JEVON: My friends on the East Coast and my family in the Central time zone, for sure whenever we make arrangements, I’m the one who does it — (laughing) it’s easier for me.

So when the pandemic started, Jevon wasn’t worried about not feeling close to people. She’s basically a pro at the whole long-distance thing. But the reality of the last year and half has been pretty different for her. 

JEVON: I just, I feel disconnected...


 from my friends and family in a way I never thought I ever would. 


JEVON: It’s like we went on these diverging paths from around March of last year and it’s been diverging ever since where I can’t catch up with them or they can’t catch up with me but I just, I feel disconnected. 

No matter how hard Jevon’s followed along with the other black women in her group chats, no matter how closely she keeps up with breaking news back home, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s been just a bystander to events that she should be actively living. Take June of 2020 for example. 

JEVON: [tongue click] When the marches started happening. Just...oh I wanted to be there. Um I have like 2 monitors at work and one monitor is showing all my work stuff and another monitor is showing some other work stuff but in the corner is a YouTube video tab and it’s just showing riots and marches all day, I couldn’t stop consuming it. I couldn’t stop watching it. I’m sure my coworkers (laughs) must’ve been worried about me, 'What is she watching all day?'

But I wanted to share the frustration with my friends, I wanted to add something to the conversation. I wanted to feel like I was a part of them, with them. 

But she didn’t. That feeling of being connected, feeling like she can be there for her loved ones, has been really elusive. When the borders closed a year and a half ago, Jevon told me that her first thought was to her family. 'Please don’t let something happen and I can’t get to you,' she prayed. But stuff has happened. 

JEVON: I’ve lost a grandmother and two cousins.

EMMANUEL: I’m really sorry. 

JEVON: Um...thank you...but it’s ok. It’s— it’s weird, I always have to end a sentence with “but” after something negative. It’s something Japanese taught me. 

EMMANUEL: I don’t think you have to qualify it. It can be...sad. I mean it is sad. Um

JEVON: Yeah.

The thing Jevon is talking about, the thing that she says Japanese taught her, it’s a concept she says is built into the language itself. That, you often don’t end a sentence completely in the negative — it's too abrupt so you soften it. You can say things are bad for example, but you’ll add that things might get better, make it kinda positive. But, as positive as Jevon is, she told me what she’s really been feeling this whole pandemic, even as things have gotten better in some ways, is this other complicated emotion, which, funnily enough, there’s actually a word for in Japan.  

JEVON: It’s moyamoya. 

EMMANUEL: Moyamoya.

JEVON: It’s this word used to express something intangible. This feeling of frustration and uneasiness that feels like a cloud or a fog just sitting in your heart, in the back of your mind hovering over your thoughts. 

Moyamoya has many meanings. It’s actually also a word for a sickness, but the moyamoya Jevon’s talking about, it’s a state of being where you’re not really sure how to think or feel. You’re just kinda stuck. For Jevon, it’s the frustration she feels when she’s trying to be optimistic and grateful about her life but her life is still feeling really hard. It’s like, when something bad happens to you, one of the ways to deal with it is to be like 'well other people probably have it worse off,' but that often doesn’t make you actually stop feeling sad about your situation. 

Instead I feel you just end up in a vicious cycle where your brain is telling you to be less sad already.

JEVON: But your heart is like...nah.

EMMANUEL: (laughs) Your heart’s just like, no we’re gonna be sad or we’re gonna be mad about this thing.

JEVON: Mhm. But I thought moyamoya would go away. I thought I would figure it out, I thought it would figure itself out, I thought these feelings would just dissipate somehow. But, they’re still here and I just felt like I wonder if there’s anyone else out there who also feels this strange.

EMMANUEL: Yeah. I mean you’re talking to one of them…(laughs)

JEVON: Oh really? Oh really?


EMMANUEL: Yeah. I’ve been feeling hella moyamoya. Especially after this thing that happened to me a couple weeks ago. 

I was sitting on a subway platform in Queens late at night, far from my apartment when the remnants of Hurricane Ida ripped through New York. It was chaos. There was flooding across the city, there were no cars, it was unclear if there were buses, the train wasn’t coming. And so I was just stuck there with about a dozen other people, waiting it out, trying to figure out how the hell I was going get home. I just felt completely overwhelmed and helpless. 

I did get home eventually that night. Took me four hours. I took a couple buses as far as I could towards my house and walked the rest of the way, trying my best to stay out of any floodwaters.

And I feel really grateful that I got home. I mean people died that night. And so many people had, and still have it way worse than I do. 

But I’ve been in a real funk. That helpless feeling I had in the subway station won’t go away. It’s like the longer this pandemic goes, even as COVID restrictions ease here, the worse I seem to get at handling the sheer relentlessness of it all. That hurricane was just one thing happening in this country that week, right? There was the anti-abortion decision in Texas, Delta cases were continuing to rise, there were ongoing wildfires, like all these things that my brain knows there is a path forward on, but my’’s exhausted. 

And I’m not alone in that. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve heard from hundreds of you all around the world. You’ve written to us about your coping mechanisms, your fears, your dreams, the thoughts that keep you up at night, and so so many of you are also lost in a bit of a fog. 

So today, we’re gonna get into. This episode is about the moyamoya so many of us are feeling and how we’re trying to shake it. You’ll hear different folks on our team talking to people in unexpected places, talking to people who are looking at parts of themselves they’ve stayed away from or just trying things they’ve never tried before. All to get out of the funk, pandemic be damned. 


EMMANUEL: One of the people on our show who’s been talking to folks about their pandemic lives in the last few months is my coworker and producer Anna Foley. 

Like everyone at this show, Anna’s been working from home since the pandemic hit the US, and it’s been pretty difficult for her because there’s a very specific reason that going to work in an office was safer for her than staying at home. 

And in the last few months, Anna’s been following a whole community of people on the internet who’ve been stuck in a similar situation. I’ll let her take it from here. 

ANNA FOLEY: So back in March of 2020, we found out that we were getting sent home from the office in the middle of the day. Supposedly it was just for two weeks, but it sparked a little bit of chaos in the Reply All offices. Damiano and Emmanuel were debating whether or not they should shave their beards to avoid catching Covid, I was frantically running around trying to figure out how on Earth I was gonna get my desktop monitor on the subway. Phia actually seemed most concerned about whether the plants were going to be watered while we were away. 

But, in the middle of all this hubbub, the thing I kept asking myself over and over again was 


am I going to be able to get myself to eat when I’m working remotely? 

Because, if I look back at the moments in my life where I was the most isolated: when I first moved to college, when I was super depressed in grad school, when I first moved to New York and didn’t know anybody. Those were also the moments where I was restricting what I ate the most. 

The reason isolation can be so difficult for me is because the thing that helps me with my eating disorder the most is just having a routine. Like, a couple times a week, when I get off the subway, on my way to work, I’ll stop in a coffee shop and I’ll grab a croissant or a muffin or just whatever looks good in the pastry counter. Around one, I’ll walk over to Whole Foods and I’ll grab lunch, and then I’ll eat that lunch sitting next to Alex Goldman, who, honestly, is probably spilling a soda all over himself. At the end of the day, I go to the gym, but only if I feel up for it. And, these may sound like really basic things, but I worked really hard to build them into my life. 

But when I was sent home from work, the rules and habits that helped me eat every meal instead of staring at calories and nutritional facts convincing myself I wasn’t hungry...they were disappearing. And that was terrifying. 

In the middle of all of this, I actually came across someone who, like me, was scared and confused about her eating disorder. But during the pandemic, she actually started managing it in a way that actually felt pretty radical to me. And it left me with a lot of questions, so I called her.  

ANNA: When you found out that quarantine was happening and like Covid was a real thing, do you remember what your first thought was? 

IONA: Um, I think my first thought was just like… fear, which isn’t, it’s an emotion. But like, I was just really scared that I was going to be really isolated and really lonely because the worst parts for me of my depression and my eating disorder have been, would be when I was isolating myself anyway. So like to have that sort of forced upon you is like, wasn’t like a great idea. 

ANNA: Yeah. 

This is Iona. She lives just outside of London. She’s been recovering from an eating disorder since she was about 19. Basically, she struggles with restricting her eating too much: both how much she eats and what she eats, and she also struggles with over-exercising, too. 

Iona says, at the beginning of Covid, she would wake up every day and just not know what to do with herself. She was supposed to be at college finishing her last semester, but instead she was back at home with her parents. Therapy helped, but she just felt like she had nowhere to hide... From her anxiety, from her depression, and from her eating disorder.

ANNA: Can you kind of tell me what a day in, like, early quarantine was like for you?


IONA: Yeah. I procrastinated a lot. Cause I still had to do, I had to revise for five uni exams and I was still doing my dissertation and I just couldn't focus on any of it so that’s when I started baking. 

ANNA: Were you gravitating towards, like, certain types of baking? 

IONA: Pastry (laughs)

ANNA: Pastry! 

IONA: Yeah, I got… I started sort of when I was really stressed, last year I started pain au chocolat. 

ANNA: Like croissants, like— 

IONA: Yeah yeah yeah. And I was just like 'I’m gonna learn how to make puff pastry. I’m gonna learn how to do that today.' Or like, ice cream...I think I made ice cream by hand without an ice cream machine. 

ANNA: Oh my god.

It may sound counterintuitive that someone with a difficult relationship with food is spending all of their time making food, but I understood it. 

Iona loved to cook, but when it came time actually eat what she’d made after a long day in the kitchen, that’s when the problems started: she’d suddenly feel sick, anxious. She would look at all the pies and the cakes she made and just...not be able to touch them.

And so, she came up with a tactic for facing this problem. 

It was one that when I heard about it, 


I found extremely cool, but also extremely intimidating. 

She decided she was going to make all of the foods and the drink that scared her the most. She was going to actually eat them, but this time she’d be doing it in front of an audience. She was going to film the whole process and put it on TikTok for other people to watch. 

IONA VIDEO: Soooo I have an eating disorder and one of the things I struggle with most is breakfast... 

This is one of Iona’s early videos. A lot of them start this way, by her saying flat-out 'I have an eating disorder.' I remember watching them at the time and thinking 'wow... this person is really brave.' 


IONA: It was really difficult for me to sort of start saying that. But I also think it’s kind of important because eating disorders are so stigmatized, particularly in the Black community, like I literally couldn’t find anyone else who was Black or mixed who was talking about eating disorders. And if they were, they were talking about binge eating, which is really important but wasn’t what I was dealing with. So I made the choice to put myself out there. I’m not particularly sure why.

She makes more videos, launches several different series

IONA VIDEO: I’ve decided to kick my eating disorder recovery up a notch and really start challenging myself. So welcome to this new series where I’m going to be cooking with and eating fear foods every day for a week... 

Some of my favorite videos of Iona’s are about fear foods. I think a thing that may be hard for some of y’all to understand is that for some people who have disordered eating, like me, certain foods can just have a weird power of you. For me, at times, it’s avocados. It started with me saying: oh avocados...that’s too much fat, but then, it morphed into avoiding avocados at all costs. The very thought of an avocado could make my heart race. 

IONA: So I basically started taking fear foods that I have and also asking people who follow me to send me their fear foods. I’ve just started making recipes with like one specific fear food for a week, so I started with peanut butter which was probably one of the most eye-opening ones for me.

ANNA: Hmm, how so?

IONA: It was cause it's like been a fear food of mine since I was like 13, it was one of the first things I think I remember learning to be scared of, and like it wasn't a fear or challenge because it like freaked me out so much... 

IONA VIDEO: So I decided to ease myself in with some peanut butter granola bar. Well, I thought I was easing myself in. I was not, I was very anxious about everything that was in that pot. But it’s fine, we persevered, and it was worth it. 


Week after week, Iona went into her kitchen and made foods that maybe even a year ago she would have been afraid to be around: things like butter, bread, pasta. And I ate these videos up. Like I watched every single one. Videos about brownies...

IONA VIDEO: Aside from the elite combination of serotonin and energy that a good brownie gives you, it could be easy to think that brownies have no purpose and therefore we shouldn’t eat them, but I would ask you to rethink that. 

And elaborate milkshakes that Iona painstakingly decorated with melted marshmallows...

IONA VIDEO: Now I’m very vocal about the fact that I think every aspect of diet culture is trash but if I was going to pick just one damaging thing that I think has ruined so many lives, it would be the concept of liquid calories.


IONA: I posted a video like a week or so ago, two weeks ago about milkshakes and the idea of drinking your calories. Because I knew that that's quite a triggering topic for a lot of people with rough relationships with food. 

ANNA: Yeah. I mean, I wanted, I actually like, when I was thinking about talking with you, I wanted to talk about the milkshake video because I had to confront that within myself. But then the way that you were talking about it, I was like confronting something. But also I felt extremely comforted by you. And so, yeah, it was, it was really nice. Also, your milkshake was beautiful, like, really, truly beautiful.


IONA: I really tried.

Watching Iona’s videos became a comfort for me. But Iona had also set out to make these videos to challenge herself and I wanted to know if she felt like it was working.


ANNA: I'm curious for you, like, does posting to TikTok help you? 

IONA: It has helped me more than any other stage in, like, my eating disorder so far.

ANNA: Oh wow.

IONA: ...which I literally did not expect.

ANNA: Yeah.

What Iona was doing uniquely helped her. Of course, it might not work for everybody. 

Iona’s also in therapy, I’ve been in therapy. Obviously not accessible to everybody. So I just wanna say, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to treating an eating disorder. 

For Iona, at the time, these videos, they did make a difference. And they made a difference for a lot of folks her videos were blowing up, like, some of them were getting half a million views. 

I think that was in part because Iona and I, we weren’t the only ones who felt like their eating disorders got worse during COVID. At the beginning of the pandemic calls to the national eating disorder hotline went up 70-80 percent. 

There’s millions of people who are struggling without the normal scaffolding in their lives. And every time Iona posted a video, there were more and more people tuning in. And so the pressure, it just kept building. There were always more people commenting, asking for help with their eating disorder Iona wasn’t a doctor, she was just a person making TikToks, and she wasn’t qualified to be giving medical advice.

And when I was talking to her about all this, it sounded like managing her TikTok was a full-time job. Especially once the trolls showed up. 

IONA: I made a video about something to do with race, I can't specifically remember what it was, but I got a lot of hate. A LOT of hate just because you know the more people interact with a video, the more sort of the algorithm pushes that video to people with similar interests.

ANNA: Yeah.

IONA: And yeah I had a couple of videos kind of pushed to the kind of racist side of TikTok

ANNA: Right.

IONA: ...and for a couple of days I was just getting like abuse, like racial abuse, sexist abuse, just like calling me stupid and stuff like that, which is just very overwhelming.

ANNA: Yeah, totally.

IONA: And it like, when you're trying to make all this stuff and you've got like trolls coming to all of your videos and stuff and harassing other people was actually more of my issue was that they were harassing like kids on the internet who were just trying to like engage with stuff about recovery.

When I was talking to Iona, she said she wanted to keep making the videos. She had a lot of ideas that she wanted to put out into the world. Like, for example, when we were getting off the phone, she was gonna head into her kitchen and film the first day of butter week. She was going to make some garlic-y, butter-y noodles. 

When I got off the call with her, she seemed like she was in a really good place. But of course, as with any sort of mental health issue, including eating disorders, progress isn’t linear. A few months after our interview, in June, I was scrolling through TikTok and I saw that she posted a video titled “a bit of an update.” 

IONA VIDEO: Hi.... so I relapsed… There’s not really a more subtle way to say that. This isn’t really something I’d usually, like, announce because it’s a bit weird to do that, but seeing as this platform is basically all about recovery it felt weird not to say something. Basically for the last 5 months I’ve just not been in a good place and in the last sort of 2 or 3 months things have just gotten quite bad really quickly.


Iona felt like what she was doing online making positive videos about food and her relationship to it that was no longer matching up with what was happening in real life. Her eating disorder had come back, louder than ever. 

This is a pattern I know all too well. I’ve been there. I’ve had moments in my life where I feel on top of my eating disorder like I’ve outsmarted it or at least worked around it. But sometimes, it feels like the moment I relax the voice in my head that says, 'Do you really need dinner? We had a late lunch' or 'Do you know how much fat is in that?' It just gets louder and louder and it’s exhausting. Sometimes it feels like agreeing with it is just easier. And then suddenly I’m right back where I started. I know I’ll work way back, I’ll get better again, but it's just the road to get there... it feels long. 

It was painful to watch Iona basically have to start her own journey again. Slowly she did. A few weeks later she returned to TikTok. She started making new videos again. 

There might be a day where Iona decides, once and for all, that making these videos doesn’t help her anymore. Just like I might wake up one day and decide I’m not gonna watch them anymore. 

We’re both gonna have to keep a bunch of bizarre, strange, maybe scary things to make living with an eating disorder just a little bit easier. 

But, until one of those days comes, I am gonna keep watching. Because every time I do, I see a piece of myself. And for now, that’s enough.

IONA: A lot of us have fears about eating: eating on our own, eating in front of people, eating in public and I’ve realized this is a fear for me too so I decided to start challenging it and today I decided to spontaneously take myself out to Starbucks to eat on my own, I can’t explain to you how anxious I was but this is a fear I’ve had for years and for what? 

Also yeah as soon as I sat down, ketchup went all over me and I realized no one was watching me, no one cared, so I just decided to start eating...

I got a breakfast sandwich, I got some watermelon, I got a chai latte. I was kinda scared that the girl, like, at the till was judging me, but she didn’t really say anything, so it was fine! 


{FADE} I was scared someone would judge me for what I was eating or for, like, sitting and eating on my own but literally no one cared, everyone just went on with their business and it was like nothing. And it was actually such a nice time…. [fading out]

EMMANUEL: Producer Anna Foley.

Just a reminder that if you’re someone struggling with an eating place that might be a good resource to you is the U.S National Eating Disorder Association’s hotline. You can call or text them at (800) 931-2237. If you need immediate help, text “NEDA” to 741741.

And like I said at the top of the episode...if you’re not in the US, we’ll leave a list of country-specific organizations in our show notes.

So like I said earlier, we’ve heard from tons of you  our listeners since the pandemic began. And deep in the middle of winter last year, 


we asked you to send us your best self-care strategies, the stuff that was getting you through this pandemic. You’re gonna hear some of them sprinkled in here and there in the rest of today’s show...starting with these. 

VOICEMAIL 1: Hi, guys, my name is David. I live in central Victoria, down in Australia, and my coping strategy has been to take up cold water swimming. Earlier in the year, I started jumping in our front dam, um at night, at the end of the day, after the kids have gone to sleep, I just slip down here and hop in the water and it helps to kind of uh wash the day away. You probably hear some frogs going in the background, there's little bats flying overhead and it's a pretty full moon out, so I'm going to try and slip into the water now. All right, here we go.


VOICEMAIL 2: For me, self care means being cozy, which can come in the form of sweaters and weighted blankets, but can also mean enjoying my torso being wrapped in saran wrap, which is happening right now, makes me feel really calm and safe. So, yeah, sometimes self care is being wrapped up in industrial-strength saran wrap. 

VOICEMAIL 3: Hi, uh, something that makes me happy is every time I feed my cats, I like to sing them a little song. Cat feeding time, cat feeding time. It's time to eat. It's cat feeding time. Cat feeding time. Oh, yes. It's time to eat, cat feeding time. Tasty kitty treat, it's time to eat. It's cat feeding time. It's time to eat. It's cat feeding time. Here you go, kitties!

EMMANUEL: Next up, we have a story from my colleague Phia Bennin about a woman who, during her worst moments in this pandemic seeking clarity and a purpose in her life decided to do something she’d always wanted to do, and took on a responsibility that Phia felt would only make someone’s life more complicated. 

Here’s Phia. 

PHIA BENNIN: So, I recently talked to this woman..

PHIA: Hello!

NANCY: Hello! How are you?


PHIA: Oh you are too loud for me. Good. 

Her name’s Nancy, she’s a software engineer, lives in San Antonio TX and in the spring of 2020, the most intense months of lockdown in the US, Nancy, like so many people, was having an incredibly tough time.

NANCY: like I was in a very dark place, it just like — I lived alone, But — like, the doom scrolling was like kind of extreme for me. 

PHIA: Uh-huh. 

NANCY: like, I can remember when there were six cases in Portugal. And like following in really close. There's this — and like county by county for a while. 

PHIA: Mm-hmm. 

NANCY: I could have told you what was going on in the United States. 

The loneliness of the pandemic felt particularly hard for Nancy because of her age. She was 36 at the time and COVID felt like it was completely stalling out any opportunity for her to start a family. You know over the years she’d been watching her friends couple off, and have kids, and watching them do that, she felt this heartache.

NANCY: I don't know, like seeing their lives, and like — I kind of missed having the kids more than I missed having the husband that much. So like the partnership of it like, would be nice, but like, I wanted to be a parent and that wasn't — I wasn't going to wait anymore, basically, is what I decided. Or I wasn't going to assume that that was like the route toward parenthood that my life was going to take. 


And so, at a time when everyone was talking about how impossible it was to be caring for kids and maintaining a job, Nancy  she decided to run towards that she decided was going to become a foster parent. And she was going to do it alone. 

I found this really intriguing, like as a parent of three-year-old twins, since covid started… I feel like there’s been this split, like the way we think about the lives of people with kids and people without kids is so different. 

On one side, there are people without kids who supposedly are like drinking red wine, baking bread, watching hours of love island. 

And on the other side is my group, like the people with kids who are just soaking up every bit of empathy. We're calling in sick when daycares close or noses get too runny. You know, in my case it feels like I'm asking a whole team of coworkers to bend to my rigid needs. And it’s felt like this gulf like there's two groups who don't fully understand each other's experience and everybody is living in their own pain.  

Nancy was this person who was going to jump from the alone side, to my team. She was in fact going to sign up to care for possibly multiple kids, she was gonna do it without a partner, and I wanted to know what had happened when she’d done that. 

The first thing you should know is that Nancy wasn't thinking she was being that bold as it turned out she was. 

NANCY: I wasn’t thinking to myself like, 'What this pandemic is missing for me is toddlers.' [laughter] For sure, that’s not it.

PHIA: Okay, that makes you seem sane.

NANCY: And like, that’s not the time—like, I didn’t really think that we were still gonna be going with pandemic now either. Like, in July, I went to New York. I thought we were done. I was like, I’m vaccinated. I ate inside two restaurants in New York. But here we are.

The fact that the pandemic was still going, it did not stop Nancy at all. 


She applied to a foster agency, went through the training, she bought bunks beds, and in April 2021 she got her license. And then, she got a call from the foster agency saying there was a two-year-old and four-year-old, they were brothers. They needed a home ASAP. So, the same day she got that call, by midnight, the boys were there.

NANCY: They were so cute. But then when the social workers left, the four year old started crying. He was in my arms and just started sobbing. And he kept— it was like his dad, his grandmother and YouTube or what he was asking for. He kept saying, "I want to watch YouTube. I want to watch YouTube." So after the bath, I let them watch two YouTube videos. One was a compilation of funny cat videos and one was Ernie singing I'd like to visit the Moon. And then they went to bed.

Nancy had officially jumped sides, like she now was going to be caring for two little boys, during a pandemic and she wasn’t getting the slow build-up that most people get with a sleeping newborn. She was in the throws of all of the huge emotions of toddlers. And I think a lot of the things that make caring for that age group so impossible are things that like from the outside seem really pedestrian.

NANCY: Installing car seats by yourself is like real frustrating. Like not having someone else to be like, is it me? Like, what is wrong with this? Like, there are pieces of aren't here that they say are supposed to be here.

PHIA: Especially, if you've never done it before. Like the first time [NANCY: Yeah.] you're just like what the hell is all of this?

NANCY: And like I can't bring it to the firehouse to get them to do it because — 

PHIA: You have kids that you can't — 

NANCY: Leave the kids. 

PHIA: they can't come in the car. Yeah. It's, it's a wild puzzle. 

She eventually got them in. But there are so many little tripping hazards like that when you're a parent that you never know about before you're a parent. And then like, on top of that Nancy's navigating that as a foster parent. 


She's was a stranger to these kids and she had earn their trust. So like, for two weeks, she's caring for them every moment of the day, making meals together, taking them to playgrounds, middle of the night wake ups and she feels like they were starting to trust her.

NANCY: The two year old, would put his nose up to my nose if I was holding him and he would say, titi. He just was like, really so sweet. 

PHIA: That’s so cute. 

And then, one day, the kids caseworker tells her there's a relative that's available to take the boys, which is what’s supposed to happen, and of course is really hard. After the caseworker picked them up Nancy cried all night. She really missed them. 

Then sometime later two new kids arrived. This time a three-year-old, and two weeks after that, a one-year-old. Both of them are still with her now. 

PHIA: How do you feel like this has changed you? 

NANCY: Well, one thing that's different, I definitely have a different kind of empathy for parents than I did before. Especially, like during the pandemic I – I didn't really understand how impossible it was. 

PHIA: Huh. 

NANCY: I do still feel like... people who were not living alone the whole time also didn't understand how impossible that was. But like, I feel more empathy for like the other... version of it now. 

There are so many moments as a parent, like especially during this pandemic, that this all feels way too hard. Like if there was a way, I would love to cry uncle. But that's not an option. But for Nancy, it is, like she could decide to stop fostering or she could opt to put it on pause until the pandemic was over. But Nancy said she’s not interested in that. LIke she wants to keep going. 

NANCY: And like, I can’t explain it to you. I—like, if somebody told me like, “I want to have kids, I think I want to have kids, but I’m not really sure,” I’d be like, “Don’t do it then.”

PHIA: [laughs] Me too.

NANCY: You’ll have a better life without them.

PHIA: But like, you won’t follow your own advice.

NANCY: Well, I’m not on the fence. Like, I feel fully—


NANCY: Yeah.


I kept asking Nancy "Are you sure it's worth it?" And she said she couldn't exactly say why but she was clear she wanted to keep going. She said there's a lot of joy in what she's doing. She'll even will sometimes scroll through videos and photos from her time with those first two boys and it makes her happy. 

At first that didn't really make any sense to me, like some happy videos and memories didn't seem like it was enough to offset, like, the challenge of Nancy's situation. But then I remembered this thing that happened to me back in June.

My partner, Matt, had just torn his achilles so I had to go to the pharmacy and I had to bring my three-year-olds with me, which is something I’d pretty much avoiding the entire pandemic until that day, like we hadn't gone into any stores with the kids until that day. And so when we walked into the Walgreens one of my daughters stopped, sort of like took it in, and said “ it’s so beautiful.” And then she kept saying it as we walked through the isles, like past the makeup and the candy back to the back where the pharmacy was. 


I think the thing that’s gotten lost in all the sympathy that parents have been getting through the pandemic is that even though, at least for me, like wildly hard having kids right now, I'm also happy that I have them. And I’m happy for Nancy that she’s getting to care for little kids too.  


EMMANUEL: Producer Phia Bennin. 

VOICEMAIL 4: Hi! I'm biking along the river. On my right, there's a row of trees, and because I'm biking every day, I can see them changing according to the seasons. And on my left you have a [French] Garrone because I live in Toulouse. In France. I am a very happy and positive person, but yeah, I am angry all the time these days and actually it's because I'm sad, just makes a weird combination of a tiny, angry person. All right, I'm almost home and the scenic route is almost over, so I'm going to leave you guys here. 

VOICEMAIL 5: Yes, I'm doing my favorite type of self-care, which is called smelling my dog. She smells like old corn, dirty old corn, and it's the most relaxing smell in the world. And I have allergies, so it's definitely a bad idea but just being close to her makes me feel so much better. 

VOICEMAIL 6: OK, my name is Vivian, I’m in Sao Paulo, Brazil, um, I thought about this a lot, it's going to be very minor. You may laugh, but, um, taking off my pants, I just I, I often forget how amazing it is to take off your pants if I have a problem, like a difficult email and need to send or I'm cleaning my room and it's stressful and I'm try not to think about my country burning. Did I mention I'm Brazilian. And then I remember. Take off your pants. Now it's fresher, everything's better. So that's my trick. 

VOICEMAIL 7: [ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi] Aloha kākou, koʻu inoa ʻo Kimo Watanabe a me e hoʻokani au i ka kīkā kī hōʻalu. So, uh, hello, everybody. My name is Kimo Watanabe and I’m in Salt Lake City, Utah. And during these unusual times, I try and wind down at the end of the day with, uh, by playing some slack key guitar, even if it's just, you know, five, ten minutes at the end of the day, it's a nice way to relax and unwind. 

[sounds of music playing]. 

We’re gonna take a short break. When we get back…Alex and I test the limits of our luck. 

[After music] Ke Akua pū e hoʻopōmaikaʻi iā ʻoukou. Ia kākou.

EMMANUEL: Okay! So... here we are at Coney Island. I am on the pier, it is a beautiful, beautiful Tuesday afternoon, it’s a little windy but honestly, I will take it. It feels so refreshing...

[MUSIC -- Solomon Organ luke modified]

That’s me, out on the boardwalk at Coney Island the other day, late for my first in-person hangout with Alex in a few months. It was like 86 degrees and the sun was beating down but Alex was wearing exactly the same thing he’d been wearing the last time I saw him back in March when it was 60 degrees outside. 

EMMANUEL: Alex! Dude how are you wearing pants?

ALEX GOLDMAN: What? What do you mean how am I wearing pants? 

EMMANUEL: It’s so hot out here!

ALEX: I don’t wear shorts. I mean, you are really, you’re really dressed for summer, 

you don’t even have sleeves.

EMMANUEL: Look, we’re off work at 4pm. It’s still, I don’t care what people say, it’s still summer out here.

I asked Alex to meet me in the middle of the workday because those acts of self-care you heard earlier got me thinking about the one thing I’d done over the course of the pandemic to stay sane. Fishing. So we headed down to the end of the pier to get started. 

EMMANUEL: Alright we’re gonna go out here with the big boys.


The “big boys” I’m referring to are the older guys who always seem to be around. The guys I wanted to emulate when I first started fishing last summer. 

I’d spent every summer in New York City going to beaches by the water, playing basketball by the water, and when it felt like I might need to stay away from the crowds, I realized I needed to find a new hobby something that I could do that would get me out by the water that I could do by myself. I needed something that would bring me some peace. And fishing, it really did the trick. 

I went out almost every day last year and I got good at it! Caught multiple fish. It was like this daily injection of joy in my life. But this year as the pandemic rolls on, I’ve found myself going out a lot less. 

Because I have a problem. I’ve caught just one fish in the last 9 months. 

EMMANUEL: You know what we’re gonna do today? 

ALEX: Are we going to catch a fish? 

EMMANUEL: We’re gonna catch a fucking fish if it kills me, mate.

ALEX: Uh, I mean how big are we talking?

EMMANUEL: Literally, I just want any fish. 

ALEX: Alright, well you’re keeping your expectations—

EMMANUEL: If we catch a minnow… If we catch a minnow I’ll be ecstatic. 

I’ve tried everything, like I’ve tried fishing apps that tell me where other people have caught fish, I’ve tried the advice of old men at the pier who took pity on me for losing my hot streak. None of that worked. But the day I took Alex out I was hopeful. 

EMMANUEL: And the reason why I have picked you Alex is because I feel a good feeling. I have tried many things but I have not tried bringing you out.

ALEX: It’s so funny that you picked like probably the most negative person you know who’s insistent that everything is terrible and beyond reprieve, and you’re like, this is the guy, this is my talisman, the one that’s going to get me the fish that I’ve wanted for so long. 

I really don’t know what I was thinking. Alex is right. Like, Alex is not the person who will talk you out of your funk. He is a validator. He will meet you in the funk. I love him for that. 

He’s also maybe on paper the worst person to take fishing. Which I was reminded of as soon as we started doing it, like we started getting set up... 

EMMANUEL: Here’s a rod for you…

ALEX: Okay... 

We started putting baits on hooks…

ALEX: What is that, shrimp?


ALEX: It’s still pretty— it’s still kinda gross for me cause it’s still got the leggies on? 

EMMANUEL: Wait, you get grossed out by like cooked shrimp with legs on it?

I tried to walk him through the basics of public safety when fishing...

EMMANUEL: Oops careful you got a hook in your knee.

ALEX: Oh. Meh.. [Emmanuel laughs] 

And to be fair to him, like Alex really tried his best.

ALEX: [wind blows] I thought I had something but really it was just hanging in the air… [Emmanuel laughs] 

Fishing, obviously is not for everybody. I mean, when I tell people that I’ve been out fishing in New York they’re normally super confused. The first question I feel like I get a lot is, 'Where?', 'Where in the city would you go fishing?' 

Which, I dunno, is a fair question. I don’t think people think of fishing when they think of New York. But we do live on a series of islands off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. 

You can fish more or less anywhere. It’s simple really. It’s just you, the fish, and the water. Which I think was starting to get to Alex. 

EMMANUEL: You feel something? 

ALEX: I thought I might have but who can say these days. 


This last year and a half honestly, there’s been a lot of stuff to deal with. It’s hard to center in on any particular feeling beyond the fog so many of us are under. It’s like trying to find one note in a cacophony. Only you’re not even sure what the note is supposed to be. 

When bad things happen, people talk all the time about how there’s no right way to be feeling at any given moment. That’s true, but lately that advice hasn’t made me feel at peace with my feelings. 

As I said at the beginning of this show, in the past couple weeks in this country alone... we’ve seen a hurricane, Delta cases are still pretty high, there are ongoing wildfires, we saw the functional end of Roe vs. Wade  like all crises that, to differing extents, we can act on. There is still time to limit how bad climate change is going to be. There are people who’ve been fighting for reproductive rights in this country who will keep on fighting, and more will join them. 

But even as we do these things, how are we supposed to spend the rest of our time? Like, it’s funny, I feel like I grew up learning to fear the end of the world, learning that there might be a time when we’d have to fight for our survival. And somehow I thought it would be all-consuming? Like no one ever talked about what free time is like in the apocalypse — how you’re supposed to recharge, how you’re supposed to heal without feeling like you’re relaxing on the deck of a sinking ship. 

Last summer I used to heal by sitting out on a pier at dusk. I’d stare at the water as the darkness encroached, looking, at first, at the schools of minnows making their rounds below me until all I could make out were the bubbles and ripples they made; until I couldn’t really see anything except the hint of my fishing line in the darkness.

I’d feel gratitude...calm. I don’t know why, but even if the ritual didn’t get rid of my anxiety, it would focus it. Help me know what to do. Help me keep it pushing. 

Alex and I, though, that night on the pier, it felt like we had nothing going. So we just talked. 

EMMANUEL: Yeah man, I felt like last year...all of this stuff felt easier somehow. Like I could come out here and I’d feel the gratification, I’d catch a fish and that would make me feel better about my ability to make myself feel better, you know what I mean?

ALEX: It’s interesting that this is, that you’re struggling in this time because I just feel like I’ve...I’m just like… well this is life now. That’s sort of like, I’ve really adjusted to the idea that this is what it’s going to be going forward for a while. 

EMMANUEL: When you say that, what do you mean?

ALEX: I dunno, it’s like having kids in this period of time is really instructive cause they haven’t really known anything different…. And they just don’t get upset about it. 

EMMANUEL: Wait something happened—

ALEX: Yeah.

EMMANUEL: You lost, yeah you lost your shrimp—

ALEX: I lost my shrimp. [Emmanuel laughs] 

EMMANUEL: I’m not gonna say the thing that I’m thinking. 

ALEX: No, do! Please. 

EMMANUEL: How did you not feel that, my dude? [Alex laughs] 

ALEX: What if, what if the shrimp just swam away? You don’t know…


I replaced Alex’s shrimp with new bait. And sitting out with him, just watching the sunset as we talked about everything, it did make me feel a little better. It was a nice brief break from my moyamoya. 

Well...that and this.


ALEX: Ahh I think I might have something…. [reeling in sound]

EMMANUEL: Oh my god! 

ALEX: Oh my god, I’m a fisherman! [both laugh]


Alex caught a flounder fish. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his eyes so big as he pulled it onto the pier in front of a small gaggle of tourists, children, and jealous fishermen, all craning their necks to see what Alex would do next.

EMMANUEL: Do you wanna hold it? [both yell] 

ALEX: Woah, buddy! Calm down. Oh my god… [both laugh]

EMMANUEL: It’s okay, calm down. Calm down. I’m so proud of you, Alex. 

ALEX: Thank you!

EMMANUEL: You did it. 

I have a picture of this moment. Alex is there, finally holding the fish, naturally doing the thing fishermen on Instagram do where they hold the fish close to the camera to make it look bigger than it actually is. Grinning from ear to ear. Not pictured: me behind the camera, hyping up my guy to anyone who would listen. 

EMMANUEL: This is his first-ever fish yo...

PERSON: No wayyyy…. 

ALEX: Yeah.

EMMANUEL: Way! Okay, now toss her back. She’s a— she’s a small one. 

ALEX: Okay. That’s it? You just toss it back now?

EMMANUEL: Yeah, just toss it back! 

ALEX: Alright. 

EMMANUEL: There she goes!

ALEX: Swim away! I hope you survive—

EMMANUEL: Nice job, dude. 

ALEX: Thank you. Alright, now it’s down to you. 

EMMANUEL: Oh man...

I didn’t catch a fish that day. I taught someone else how to catch one instead. Would highly recommend.