Looking at Christy Ray, Taylor Nicks and Ryan Nicolaidis, one wouldn’t ascribe them a care in the world. Ray is a successful DJ. Nicks is the former lead singer of Atlantis Aquarius, and Nicolaidis is a medical aesthetician. They’re all popular characters in the music scene and could’ve easily started a band or any other kind of business, but what they want to do is talk about mental health.
The trio bonded over the subject a year ago and decided to use their shared experiences to start uncomfortable-but-necessary conversations with listeners via a weekly podcast, Jagged Little Feels.
“Mental health is a global crisis of its own,” Nicks says. “Almost everything falls under the umbrella of mental health.”
From the first episode, the group opened up about their own issues. Nicks has struggled with an addiction to pills, Ray with anxiety and depression and Nicolaidis with sex addiction.
The group began brainstorming ideas for the show early this year, and their first episode came out in March. Since then, they have covered subjects like body dysmorphia, suicide, racism and gaslighting.
The women preface each show with the caveat that they aren’t medical experts. Their mission is to touch on their own experiences in the hope of reminding others that they're not alone.
“I personally had somewhat of a mental break and had started doing therapy probably seven years too late,” Nicolaidis says, adding that she worked through 12 steps to better herself. “These girls were who I gravitated towards because the importance of it resonated with them and I could see they were putting all these tools to practice in their daily lives.”
Nicks says that after kicking a 12-year addiction to the amphetamine drug Adderall, she was ready to help others by sharing her story.
“I wanted to share and help others however I could,” she says. “The conversations have been stigmatized and we each feel it’s so important to start normalizing these topics and raise global consciousness all together.”
“Mental health is everything to me,” Ray adds. “It literally is the underlying point that connects every aspect of our lives together, and it’s just not talked about enough. When you speak on mental health issues, you’re really speaking about everything.”
Ray is a hip-hop heiress, the daughter of Salt-n-Pepa’s Spinderella. She met the spotlight early on as a teen on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. Since then, she’s been an in-demand model for music videos and a nightclub fixture.
She says opening up about her struggles to strangers wasn't easy, especially “opening up about trauma or things from my past."
Nicks, a sky-high vocalist who often shares the stage with friends like Leon Bridges and Medicine Man Revival, says she’s more “share-y,” so speaking publicly came easier. She says that while the public learns the intimate details of their inner worlds, the friends have also learned volumes about each other.
“You think you know somebody? Start a podcast with them,” Nicks says jokingly.
The podcast has also been a savior during quarantine, they say.
“It gave us a sense of purpose, and I felt like we were all working toward something during a time where it kinda felt like we were all losing everything — our shit and our jobs,” Ray says.
In the early days of the pandemic, they were still meeting up at Nicolaidis’ home to record, with disinfectant, gloves and masks.
“Then, much like you do with your family members, we just accepted that we were all a part of each other's little inner circle now,” Nicks says. "If they went down, I guess I was going down too.”
“Which has happened essentially,” Ray says.
Nicks recently tested positive for COVID-19. Her symptoms are mild, she says. They’re all quarantining separately and will resume the taping for the next episode, scheduled for July 3.
These days, Nicks, Ray and Nicolaidis are keeping their heads above the pandemic through meditation and enjoying the extra time with their families.
“We always talk about how it’s the little things,” Nicolaidis says of self-care. “Taking care of yourself in small ways, taking agency over your day. Getting dressed, making your bed, spending time outside and not diving too hard into your phone 24/7.”
Jagged Little Feels often has guests like Cameron McCloud from Cure for Paranoia, singer Caroline Kraddick (who spoke about social media) and Keite Young from Medicine Man Revival, on a recent episode about Black Lives Matter. In that episode, Ray compared the stress of being Black to having an additional job, in having to “assess the risk” before leaving her home each day.
Some subjects are harder than others, they say.
“The week of Black Lives Matter felt so raw to me,” Nicolaidis says. “I was having to come to terms with my role as a white woman and own up to some hard truths.”
“Suicide gave me a run for my money,” Nicks says of the subject that affected her most. “Trying to approach the topic in a way that honors the dead and the living was a challenge for me, and I tried to be as delicate as possible while still being transparent.”
Ray and Nicolaidis are both mothers, and they’ve spoken on the podcast about their firsthand stories of postpartum depression.
“That made my heart smile because that’s something that I went through and was especially hard for me,” Ray says.
In the end, they say, putting their lives on display is worth it. The trio's vulnerable conversational style is resonating with listeners.
“Feedback has overall been positive and pretty widespread,” Ray says.
“It’s scary putting ourselves out there like this,” Nicolaidis says. “Sometimes we make content and hope it’s good, but there’s that little voice wondering if anyone out there is really getting anything from it. So when we get feedback like this it’s validating our vision. We’ve always said, if we can just help one person we are happy. So multiple people? I’m blown away.”
“What’s that thing you say Tay?,” she asks Nicks. “Sharing our story will heal us, and sharing our story will give people permission to share their story.”
Mental health is not necessarily a rare podcast topic, but it can be reassuring to hear these issues affect even those we assume live privileged, "influencer" lives, blessed with the things others strive to project: success, youth and looks.
“I’ve had listeners reach out to me saying I never would have thought you’ve wrestled with these things,” Nicolaidis says. “I’m surprised to hear it from them and they are surprised to hear it from me. It humanizes us to each other and brings us together in this collective conscience.”
“Honestly, that adds to it,” Ray says in agreement. “The fact that people think we have ‘everything,’ but then it’s like, boom, we actually have issues just like everyone else. Everyone has trauma. Everyone has things to unpack.”
“From the outside looking in, whatever you see is paired evenly with total authenticity and love for humanity,” Nicks adds. “Like we’re willing to bare it all — good, the bad and the ugly.”
Nicolaidis has spoken about how sex addiction, for her, translates to a co-dependency in relationships. She was worried about people misunderstanding her condition.
“I know the stigma attached with the name,” she says. “... Sex and love addiction are lumped in the same category and I identify with the love addiction/codependency aspect. Upon going to step studies with women who identified more with the sex addiction, I learned that the root of the issues are coming from the same emotional traumas.
“I think the hardest part — aside from being open about it — has been hitting walls and relapsing while we are doing a mental health podcast,” she continues. “Admitting to still dealing with this and not making sound decisions was really, and still is, really hard.”
Each of the hosts brings her own story, but also her own personality to the project.
“They both are able to articulate their emotions in ways that I just am not able to,” Ray says of her co-hosts.
“She’s reasonable and pragmatic,” Nicks says of Ray.
“Painfully reasonable,” Nicolaidis adds.
“But I’m the oldest and therefore the wisest,” Nicks adds, jokingly, which explains why her friends say she’s the comic relief of the show.
“It’s a good balance,” Nicks says of the team. “Like, honestly, this girl group has long-term potential.”
“And we are open to being represented by a producer,” Nicolaidis replies. “Just throwing that out there.”