In Episode 99, Quinn & Brian, with help from Inverse.com, ask: how are YOU feeling?
Our guest is: Ali Pattillo, a health and science reporter at Inverse.com and co-producer of The Abstract podcast. Supplements, metabolism boosters, miracle cures: Ali covers just about anything that can be put on or in your body and makes any health-based claims. In other words, she debunks all of the things that Brian buys online instead of reading books.
There are few journalists who do a better job at not just reporting on science news but explaining it in a way that is digestible, understandable, and practical for idiots like the two of us. And this is a service that really can’t be undervalued. You don’t have to go very far on your timeline to find someone jumping to conclusions or misinterpreting facts — and that can have dire consequences when it comes to your health, especially in the virus-assisted end times that we’re living through. Our conversation focuses on the mental health side of things and how 2020 has catalyzed a staggering epidemic of depression, but on the bright side, magic mushrooms might be part of the solution.
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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important, a fun, special episode in partnership with our friends over at Inverse, my name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: And this is the podcast where we give you the tools you need to fight for a better future for everyone, and today, that definitely starts with you. The context, we give you that straight from the smartest people on earth, and the action steps you can take to support them and support yourself.
Brian: Yourself, especially with this episode. Yes, our guests are scientists, they're doctors and nurses, journalists, engineers, farmers, politicians, activists, educators, business leaders, astronauts, even a reverend early on.
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), we've got one of the most diverse shows in science, folks, and we are damn proud of it, this is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts, feedback, chocolate to use on Twitter @importantnotimpt or you can email us at email@example.com.
Brian: That's importantnotimp on Twitter, you can also join tens of thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: That's right. Brian, this week's episode is about you, dear listeners.
Quinn: No, not you.
Quinn: I mean, there's a little bit about you, probably more than necessary. But it's about everybody out there, and Brian, our guest is coming again to us from inverse.com and also their wonderful podcast Abstract, which we've talked about before and we've linked to in our newsletter. Her name is Ali Pattillo, and Brian, there's not a lot of journalists out there who do a better job of sussing out the most vital truths in today's science news. Then, also explaining them in a way that's both digestible and also still practical where necessary and essential, all of those are difficult things to do on their own, much less to do them all together on a continual basis, and she's doing it on some of the most important things out there. So, we're really excited to have her on the show today.
Brian: She kills it, it was an awesome conversation, I'm very excited for everybody to hear it.
Quinn: Absolutely. All right, let's go talk to Ali.
Quinn: All right.
Brian: Let's do it.
Quinn: Our guest today, finally now that I've got my shit together, is Ali Pattillo. Together, we are going to really dig in, folks, and ask you how are you feeling? Ali, welcome, again, for the second time.
Ali Pattillo: Thanks so much for having me, guys, happy to be here.
Quinn: Uh-huh (affirmative), still, somehow.
Brian: I like that we're just totally digging into the issue that we just said, not ignoring it and making it sound great for the listener, but just really pointing it out.
Quinn: Yeah, right, we recorded 10 minutes and I didn't record.
Brian: Yeah, anyways, Ali, please let our listeners ... Jesus, I work at a restaurant, our listeners know who you are and what you do?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am a health and science reporter at Inverse, which is a news outlet based in New York City, we cover entertainment, health, science, technology, innovation, and specifically I cover everything to do with the mind and body. So looking at the breaking scientific discoveries, new cancer treatments, cutting through misinformation and looking at things like metabolism boosters, or these kind of miracle cures that you see online to figure out whether that's actually a real thing, and help people make really sound, evidence-based decisions about their body. I also co-produce the Abstract podcast, which tells all of Inverse's weirdest and most wonderful stories in sound three times a week.
Quinn: Thank you for doing all of that again, it is so interesting what you're doing, I love that it's evidence-based, and folks, where we left off when we realized I wasn't recording this wonderful conversation was Ali has been describing that she basically debunks all of the things that Brian buys online. So you were asking, Brian, I believe, about metabolism boosters, and Ali was just like, "No."
Brian: I've got quite a list here, things that I've purchased.
Ali Pattillo:Yeah, I think the supplement world, I mean, we've seen, is kind of like the wild wild West, it's not actually regulated for safety or efficacy by the FDA, so a lot of times what you're seeing online makes these really crazy claims like you're going to have increased vitality, so much energy, you're going to drop 50 pounds. The research, for the most part, isn't necessarily there to support those claims, when you're talking about metabolism, exercise is probably the best way to keep it running smoothly. But these miracle cures or these drinks or shakes that you see, they're not going to do as much as just going to the gym and working out would.
Quinn: Right, eat a salad.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah.
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, it really is, and again, this is not the topic for today. Well, people are looking for fixes and cures and help in a lot of ways, and this is just the disclaimer to say, that shit is literally entirely unregulated. We had a great conversation with Gregg Renfrew who's the CEO of Beautycounter, about basically what are you putting on your body and in your body? And I was not aware that, Brian, what was it? The last regulation for things that go on your body was 1934 or something like that [crosstalk 00:05:51]-
Brian: Just no laws.
Quinn: Right, it's bonkers. No, everything's going fine.
Brian: Everything's great. Hey, quick reminder for everyone, our goal today and every time we do this is to provide some context for our topics today or our question, how are you feeling? And then dig into some action-oriented questions, and what everyone out here and out there can do about what's going on.
Quinn: Yeah, which is a lot, does that sound good, Ali, are you still in for this?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, absolutely.
Quinn: Well, yeesh.
Brian: Let us know when we have to stop and start again because you haven't been recording.
Quinn: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, don't worry.
Ali Pattillo: I think we've got it.
Quinn:We'll go three for three. Ali, we like to start with one important question to set the tone for this fiasco, instead of saying tell us your entire life story, even though you were telling some of that ahead of time and it sounded fantastic. We'd like to ask, Ali, why are you vital to the survival of the species?
Ali Pattillo: It's a big question, but-
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative), be honest.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, no, I mean, I've obviously, thought about this a lot like every single human on the planet has, and I think that as a journalist, my job is to help people make sense of the world, and sometimes even escape it. So a lot of my job, as we kind of touched on, is breaking down really complicated and confusing messages from scientists, from politicians. Breaking down the news to help people figure it out and how it applies to their life and figure out ways just to live better and happier, and healthier. I think that this is really vital because a lot of scientists are incredibly busy actually conducting clinical research, or doctors are really busy treating patients, and they don't always succeed at translating their insights and findings in a way that people understand. What happens then is that journalist, or even just laypeople in the public, they jump to conclusions, they misinterpret, they make something a bigger deal than it needs to be.
Ali Pattillo: That can have really dire consequences, so my role is to bridge that gap between these people doing amazing work that often seems impossible to understand and the public, and help them navigate this ocean of mixed messages about their health. As we've seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, this is more important than ever because people's lives, their health, their economic wellbeing is all on the line.
Quinn: Like you said, what you do, and you do so well, it has never been more vital than it is now, so thank you for just putting that out there and for doing it every day, and we'll get into this, we all joke like everyone's an epidemiologist now, right?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Quinn: And no one knew what that word was on March 14th, but on March 15th, we all had playing cards for the top 20 epidemiologists in the country. But what these scientists are trying to do, which is really wild this year, was never really meant to be exposed to the day-to-day of social media because science is this inherently complex and one step forward, seven steps back, 100 steps forward, you know?
Ali Pattillo: Right.
Quinn: It's crazy, and the entire point and this is the hardest thing for especially I think Americans to wrap their head around, is the entire point of science is to constantly doubt your convictions and to prove yourself wrong, that's what gets scientists out of bed every morning and that is just not what people are looking for right now. So, it's so vital to have someone like you and people like Ed Yong, and Helen Branswell that are out there and are both schooled in this and schooled in how science works and the best way to translate it to people. Because like you said, the ocean of misinformation, but also just information that isn't ready for the light of day yet,[crosstalk 00:09:56] for the regular people is hard, and that makes it hard on people when we're all locked inside.
Quinn: So, thank you for that, I want to now basically establish some context, which I don't think any of this is going to be a surprise for people. None of us are specific professionals in any of these categories we're going to talk about. I mean, you definitely have the most experience from a meta point of view of diving into all these things over and over with everything you cover. But it's important to understand that everybody is dealing with something right now, and this is not a knock, but no one really seems to be dealing with it well and that's okay, that is okay. So let me just go down the list, and this is going to seem sad but again, the point is we're all in this, we have to be real about what's going on which is, in March, which to be clear, was a 1000 actual years ago, a study dropped that said, again, this was March, "24% of respondents had serious depression symptoms, and 50% had at least mild symptoms."
Quinn: Now, those numbers are triple the usual percentages, three times as many people checking some of the depression symptoms box, that was in March, that was, joking aside, six months ago. But it's important to remember that for a lot of folks, shit didn't just get hard in March when everyone went inside, millions of Americans and people around the world have been suffering increasingly on the daily for a very long time from, I mean, deep breath, devastating inequality, racism, low-wage jobs, preexisting conditions, loneliness, domestic abuse, urban heat, climate change, toxic environments, lack of healthy food, homelessness, PTSD. The list goes on and on, and of course, since then, we're all now united by this one thing where things have gotten real with COVID and we've all been locked up or have been asked to be locked up in one way or another. There doesn't seem to be a rudder at the ship leadership wise, at least in the US.
Quinn: In places like France and Spain, again, we're recording on September 11th of all days, during, by the way, I couldn't quite narrow it down online, it appears to be National Suicide Awareness Day, week and month, which is all great, we'll take it. But the point is, there's a lot going on, COVID is raging back in France and in Spain, Madrid is a nightmare again, fires are raging everywhere, in the past few years, something like 60,000 farmers in Northern India have been killing themselves because of climate-related issues. The suicide rate in England and Wales is the highest it's been in 20 years for me, Hurricane Laura, which I think a lot of people have forgotten about, basically destroyed Louisiana, in the middle of a pandemic last week. Then, followed it up with a crushing heatwave, gun sales are double year over year from last year, Americans bought an estimate 12 million guns from March to August this year.
Quinn:Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, 4% result in death, that's without a firearm, 90% of gun suicide attempts end in death. So anyways, if you want to hear about the fight for gun control, we just had an incredible conversation with Fred Guttenberg just before this, which gets into this a little bit, he, obviously, is very close to this. A CDC report from August, now getting a little more recent, surveyed 100,000 Americans and said that one in four respondents in the 18 to 24-year-old range had considered suicide in the month prior, one in four Americans 18 to 24. The suicide rate for young people has grown every year since 2007, poor mental health symptoms are massively elevated among frontline workers and caregivers, and you are feeling it listeners, and I am certainly feeling it, and Brian is, and Ali is, and we are the lucky ones. We can do most of our job from our Zooms, Brian couldn't do all of his job from his Zoom and he got fucking COVID, and he's one of the lucky ones.
Quinn: But there are options, and there's hope on the horizon, and there's options for you and for the people who you're depending on, and the people you love, there are suicide and self-harm hotlines now, and text lines and groups. There's climate action, and there's telehealth options now, and there's mushrooms, and we're going to get into a lot of that today with this incredible, intrepid reporter who's sharing her time with us. But again, I want to be clear, none of us are mental health professionals, that wasn't actually the point today, but what I think is going to be helpful is to take a really meta look at this landscape, which is everybody now, and then eventually we'll do some more deep dives with some of the subject experts on these things where appropriate. But again, it's important that so much of what we talk about here, we understand the generalist perspective is important, the systems thinking, which is that so many of these things and these symptoms and these causes are linked together.
Quinn: We really need to all try, when we can and when we feel good about it, to take a step back and understand those mechanisms. It's not just so we make better policy, it's also so you don't feel so fucking alone out there, folks. We are isolated from one another, but we are in at least this one thing together so, Ali has written extensively about mental health over at Inverse, and so we're grateful she's here today and we're going to talk about the big question, how are you feeling? So, Ali, let's start with you, or I'll go first, I don't care, whatever works, Ali, how are you feeling?
Ali Pattillo:I am feeling all right, I'm feeling okay. I think the past few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions like it has been for everyone. I think for me particularly being so embedded in the news cycle, filtering through thousands of headlines every day, feeling like, and I think a lot of people share this feeling like you're constantly careening on the edge of a cliff. You're just about to fall over and you're holding on as tightly as you can, but it just seems like crisis, after crisis, after crisis both in personal life and just in the world we're living in. I think, I mean, as you mentioned, people were feeling mental illness and negative mental health symptoms long before the pandemic emerged, but the pandemic has exacerbated and heightened all of those things, amplified them, and completely transformed every part of our lives. Ali Pattillo: People are now dealing with lost jobs, lost lives of loved ones, they're feeling disconnected from friends because they can't see people as much as they used to, their routines are a mess. They're working from home, they're not in their office, parents are dealing with teaching their kids. I mean, all of this takes an enormous toll on our brains and in turn, our bodies and it's kind of foolish to imagine that we could operate normally in this really abnormal time. So I think that that's a long answer to your question, but I think everyone, I'm feeling an extremely complicated mix of emotions and just trying to take things day by day, week by week, and remember that even though sometimes it feels like the world is ending, the world is not ending, at least not today and we can move forward and move through this.
Quinn: Thank you for being so candid about that, yeah, that feels about right.
Brian: Thank you for your hope.
Quinn: Yes, necessary. Brian, you want to go next or you want me to go?
Brian: I feel fine, I feel pretty good, feeling a little old, but that's all right, I can fix that with stretching, and I feel a little tired, but also very lucky that everything's pretty good, things could be so much worse. I always try to take that angle, though, when I start to think about anything to complain about is, "Hold on, you're doing pretty good compared to so many other people." So I'm overall just doing just fine, thanks for asking, Quinn.
Quinn: Sure, sure, sure. I mean, your work has been, besides your work here, has been on and off, you got COVID, you and your girlfriend both got it, so we shouldn't minimize what had happened. I also think it's important like, yes, so many people are well off, but I think just like we all need to give ourselves some self-validation, give yourself credit for what you've been dealing with as well, you know?
Brian: Absolutely, totally agree, COVID sucked, very glad it was not much worse and that we didn't have to go to the hospital and all that crazy stuff, I'm over it, we're good. I guess trying to stay positive over here, trying to keep that hope going like Ali said.
Quinn: I'm glad you two haven't snuffed it out yet.
Brian: How are you?
Quinn: How am I? That's a great question, that's a great question, I'm up and down. I mean, we try to do this on this show, but as always I'll say again Brian, you try to do it and Ali you as well, I have enormous white, straight male privilege in America, I have three very healthy children who have food, who have the devices they need to do their remote schooling as much as it's a disaster. That's not anyone's fault, the teachers and school district are doing literally everything they can, their teachers are putting on, basically, they turn on Zoom to 25 kindergartners and basically put on a five-hour performance trying to keep these kid's attention, it is incredible and they're doing everything they can. But it's 50 different things to click on, and it's six-year-olds and it's impossible, and it's hard, and they want to be in the classroom, and they haven't seen other kids in six months.
Quinn: All these things, so I feel for them at the same time, they're thousands of times more resilient than certainly, at least, me. It's incredible how well they have handled this entire thing for how long it's been going on. Work is hard and crazy, and there are real deadlines and then there are deadlines you try to make up for yourself, which is part of running your own company and also Ali, I think we discussed, my day job is I'm a screenwriter, which is always trying to make up your own deadlines. Unless you're in TV and you have real ones, with movies you don't really have those until the very end, and usually, shit doesn't get made anyways, and certainly not now. But you do things like, "Oh, I've got to turn this thing in." And then sometimes you sit back and you're like, "I don't fucking know why, what's the point? What's the point?"
Quinn: I have the world's greatest manager in writing, and he is always like, "We're going to do this." And I mean, he basically lives and dies by the phrase, "Goonies never say die."
Brian: Goonies never say die, sure.
Quinn: Yeah, and has been that way throughout our whole relationship and I remember calling him a week ago and he was like, "It doesn't matter." And I was like, "No, not you too, you're the last one." I don't know, it goes on and off. But, Ali, I feel like you, in doing the newsletter where we try to curate the most important science things that happened, but also you probably miss because there's so much else going on from the most reputable places in the most subjective way possible, and then pairing them with these really reputable, data-driven action steps that people can take. There are times, same thing, where it takes me a week to do this thing and to get it out and working on it that I just sit back and go like, "I am exposing myself to a lot of existential shit all of the time, and it is necessary and it is by choice, and a lot of people depend on it from us." And there are times where I'm like "I don't know, I would rather not do this anymore."
Quinn: That can certainly get to me for sure, but again, I'm lucky to be able to administer self-care to myself, and spend time with my healthy kids, and to put food on my table, and I try to keep those things in mind as much as I can. So, yeah, anyways, once people are able to, if they're able to, and it's okay if you can't, but we do have, for instance, an election coming up, so I think it is important for people to try to take a step back and think about how they're thinking about things because humans, we've got these lizard brains and we operate in fight and flight. The future looks logistically and statistically different for boomers than it does for someone like Greta Thunberg, everything is different, but we have to think about how we're thinking about things. Ed Yong at The Atlantic wrote this tremendous piece recently again about how we need to reorient our thinking around COVID because that's part of where we've gone wrong.
Quinn: You recently wrote a piece, Ali, about embracing uncertainty, and that's important because again, as we've talked about a little bit and I don't remember if it was during the fake recording or during the real one now because time is a flat circle, embracing uncertainty, pursuing uncertainty is basically what the pursuit of science really is, that is the scientific method, right?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Quinn: And COVID itself, the way it's portrayed in the media, the rise of science social media and bots, and poor messaging from the government at best, it makes setting expectations really, really difficult for everybody, "Am I going back to work? When are my kids going back to school? When is the vaccine coming? When's a treatment coming? This one works, that one doesn't." So the world we're facing now and over the next 10 years is more uncertain than it's ever been for more people than ever, and yet, I mean, we deal with uncertainty so poorly. It's a hard one to get over, to be stoic, to admit you can only control what you can control, and even I have a very difficult time with that, so I wonder, Ali, now all that said, if you can talk a little bit about uncertainty and everything you've learned about mental health at least this past year?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I mean, uncertainty is hugely prevalent in our lives now. As you mentioned, it's been prevalent for decades but with the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, we have more questions than we have answers. A lot of that is because the virus was a novel Coronavirus, meaning scientists didn't know much relatively speaking, about it, how to treat it, what it looks like, how fast it spreads. Scientists around the world are racing to answer those questions, and they've gone leaps and bounds in understanding it, but we still have a lot we don't know. Unfortunately, I don't know isn't really an acceptable answer for a lot of people, I mean, human beings are evolutionarily embedded to look for perceived threats in the environment and often weight negative information, or scary information, fear-inducing information more than positive information. When we're scared and we don't have an answer, we often jump to conclusions or we can, as you said, kind of venture into this lizard brain where we reduce these really complex, nuanced topics into binary yes or no categories.
Ali Pattillo: That's really dangerous, and it's interesting because throughout the pandemic, we've seen this huge upswell of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and I've done some reporting on a bunch of different ones, but one, in particular, was about the 5G cell towers, which was just a theory that really caught fire. I mean, we had celebrities like Woody Harrelson tweeting about it, millions of people thinking that this was the origin of the Coronavirus, people were burning down cell towers, pretty crazy stuff. But it's interesting because when I spoke to psychologists who study conspiracy theories, they really stressed the point that people who are buying into these ideas aren't crazy, that it's actually kind of a human tendency to want to create a story out of something when there are more questions than answers. That is just something that I think we need to be really thoughtful about and intentional about the way that we're perceiving the Coronavirus and the pandemic and all the messages around it, and the way that we're making decisions based on that.
Ali Pattillo: I think one of the best ways to do that is when you're feeling yourself jumping to worst-case scenario, feeling doomed, feeling hopeless, I think thinking rationally if you can, or talking to a friend about this, about, "Okay, what are the facts here? What's actually going on?" Trying to get information from multiple different sources, rather than take one headline or one story at face value. This is an ongoing process because telling someone who's freaking out just to be calm and be rational isn't really productive at all. But if you can have these grounding conversations in the midst of these really overwhelming emotions, then you can realize, "Okay, this is what's actually going on here, this is what I actually need to be worried about versus this is what everyone's telling me I need to be worried about."
Quinn: That seems right, I mean, employ the buddy system when going through reputable information, certainly. That's what's hard, our newsletter is weekly instead of daily for a reason which is to really be able to take a step back and say like, "Hey listen, this is the biggest shit that happened this week, and maybe you've already saw this headline." Because now versus when we started, for instance, climate change was on the front page of the New York Times today, it's rarely in other places, so maybe you did see these things, they're hard to miss at this point. But we're going to put them in there anyways, and yet, every day the news cycle completely changes and it's full of things that are important and reputable, and things that don't fit those buckets or that are going to change, again like we talked with science. So I empathize, it's really hard, they talk about doom scrolling, whether it's first thing in the morning, which is a bad idea, or the last thing you do at night, which is a bad idea.
Brian: Also bad, yeah.
Quinn: It's not helpful, there's wonderful science communicators out there that are doing their best, but holy hell is it a losing battle on social media every day, so find those things, and I love that idea of reaching out to a friend, whether it's scheduled or not and saying like, "Can we try to sort this out? What have you seen, what have I seen? What are people and places that we're going to decide are our places to get reputable information from?" That feels really practical.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, well and I think part of this conversation, I think it's really important, I mean, I obviously, want people to stay informed and be engaged in the news to their capacity because that's what I do and I want to help educate people, get everybody on the same page about some of these topics, help people learn something new every day. But I also think it's incredibly crucial to actually just disengage from the news and pay attention to how the news is making you feel because what we do know is that chronic stress makes you sick over time and contributes to various different diseases. It's really important, the news can set off your stress response and your fight or flight response because sometimes if you're watching a video, your brain doesn't realize that what you're watching in the video isn't actually happening to you.
Ali Pattillo: You might be experiencing some degree of that stress response if you're watching something traumatic, and over time, if you're scrolling the news every 30 minutes or every hour, which sometimes it can feel like you need to do that especially now because you're trying to figure out how to live your life, "Do I go to the grocery store? Do I go to this person's wedding? How do I make these very basic decisions in a way that's safe?" And the news can be a resource for that, but I think that it's also just really important for people to set boundaries on that and put down their phone, and go outside or have a meal without either talking about the news or having your phone next to you with news alerts. I think that in today's world, we get news updates on our phones all the time in a way that other generations just didn't.
Ali Pattillo: They read the newspaper in the morning, maybe they watched the nightly news, but they didn't have this information coming in constantly in a way that can just make people really panicked and fearful. So I think thinking intentionally about the way that you consume news is huge.
Quinn: Yeah, god, it seems to make a lot of sense. Again, you want an informed populace, again, with whatever, 50 days until the election or whatever it might be. But at the same time, I have this wonderful therapist who talks a lot about me doing too much because I have 12 jobs and three kids, and live on two coasts. But he talks a lot about this idea that your bandwidth, basically, there needs to be a buffer between how much you're doing and what your actual max bandwidth is. You can't go to 11 every day because it doesn't leave room for something really traumatic happening to you or someone you love, or a work thing, or a child or whatever it might be. It feels the same way with news engagement, or even taking action, you can't do it all day, every day, and especially because there's so, so little of it that you can actually control.
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Brian: It's hard to take a break, although it's necessary, I always find it so hard, maybe because of it being so constant that you're just getting hit with everything, it almost feels wrong or something if you put your phone away and you don't look at the news for half an hour.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, I mean, it is for me, in particular, working day in and day out in the media world, it's part of my job to stay informed to the utmost degree, and there's a lot I love about that. I think it feeds your curiosity, and I want to know what's going on in the world, but on a minute to minute basis, do I need to be scrolling to see what every news outlet is putting out every minute? I don't think so, and I also think that for me, it's been so crucial to develop sustainable habits just to even get through the day or get through the week and do this job. I think a lot of journalists feel that way as well because it can sometimes feel like you're wadding through a really tumultuous ocean of news and it's not possible to stay updated on everything. Especially in this environment, news is being produced much more rapidly, I don't know what the numbers are, but I would imagine it's much more rapid than other decades, and staying up to date on it just isn't possible.
Ali Pattillo: So you have to find a way to do it in a way that's sustainable and doesn't just hijack your brain because as you guys are talking about if you are constantly vigilant and constantly reading these headlines, and then talking to your friends about it or talking to your family about it, then going back to get the update, you are leaving very little time for you to reset, to heal your body, to sleep well. All the things that we know are good for your mental and physical health and you're just constantly in this state of fight or flight, and chronic stress which is just going to create so many problems down the line. But as you're saying, all this is easier said than done, we do need this information, and you want to know what's happening.
Quinn: Yeah, I've tried over the past since we started doing this a couple years ago, I've tried to develop better habits about shutting everything down at night and time in the morning, and not doing it on the weekends, and then it really felt validated when I read an interview with Rachel Maddow who basically leaves the studio on Friday, and drives four hours to her farm in rural Massachusetts, and essentially says like, "Oh the weekend, unless there is a piece of news that requires me to go onto my show in an emergency capacity, I am completely disconnected." And I was like, "Holy shit, if she does all that, then I can turn off my phone for 48 hours." It's not necessary, you know?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).
Quinn: I tried to really take something from that, and it's funny, it drives my family a little crazy because we're all busy during the week and then on the weekends somebody will bring something up and I'm like, "[inaudible 00:35:18], I'm not doing it, I can't."
Brian: Incredible. Ali, what am I, 36, Quinn? I don't know.
Quinn: Who can know?
Brian: And I feel younger sometimes, mostly older, I've got a weird back and leg thing that's happening, we work with these young activists all the time and learn from them, and look around and it's not hard to see and to get why they're suffering and boomers won't share the same future that these kids will. These kids are marching in the streets out of desperation, and then now some of them are considering suicide for the same reason, desperation. Do you have thoughts on how we can help bend the arc in the direction of action, of helping these young people specifically feel a sense of possibility?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, I think that's kind of the golden question right now because I think that what's happening is in the past, parents would look at their children and they would think, "I'm working so that this child has a better future than I did and a better life." And they've seen in different polls that this is the first generation where parents are saying, "I think their future might be worse, this might be a dimmer future than what I had." And that's a really scary thought. I think that honestly, I mean, my personal opinion is, I think growing up as Gen Z or even early Millennials, I think you're dealing with September 11th, you're dealing with a huge financial crisis, you're dealing with the climate crisis, and these things are just punctuating your life and permeating your life. It's impossible to separate these global events from your day-to-day existence, and you're kind of frustrated with the way that older generations are handling it.
Ali Pattillo: I think something that I've heard often when I've talked to older people about some of these issues is they'll say, "Oh, well, children are our future, they will solve these problems." And I appreciate that sentiment, that's a lot of pressure and it's also like, Well, why can't you, the older people who are in power, why can't you work on these problems now?" Sorry, I totally ... Yeah, go ahead?
Quinn: No, I was just going to say, that's like what Greta said at the UN in that incredible speech, she was like, "Thank you for saying the children are going to save the future, but if it isn't clear, I can't even fucking vote yet, much less be in office. Do your job, do your job."
Ali Pattillo: Exactly, exactly, it's incredibly frustrating and I think that young people just feel that pressure all the time, and I think that they've done an incredible job of actively and proactively using those emotions of frustration in a really positive way. I mean, you just look at the way that climate change activists, the way that police brutality activists are pushing the needle and really raising people's awareness in a way that we haven't seen before. Creating these sea changes, but the fact that they're having to do that at 12, at 14, at 16, it's a little bit unfair, I think it's amazing that that's happening, but it's a lot for them to bear. Then what we're seeing is that that generation, and all of us, we're mentally stressed, we're feeling this mental toll, we've seen these astronomically high rates of depression, of anxiety, of suicide. There's debate of are these things actually happening at a higher prevalence, or are we just talking about it more and diagnosing it more?
Ali Pattillo: I don't know the answer to that question, but it is true that these things are prevalent, just like we get sick physically, we get sick mentally, and these issues need to be addressed. I think that ultimately, the solutions are complex, there's no perfect magically cure for any of this, I think that as you mentioned, helping people feel like they're not alone in this is huge. Social connection is connected to longevity, and positive mental health outcomes, we have amazing medications to treat this, we have experimental treatments that are coming out that are showing enormous promise. But it's a lifelong, I don't know if I want to say struggle, but it's a lifelong issue, and staying mentally strong and mentally healthy is something that you work on every day. I think the best positive, and I think the thing that young people have done in the best way, is they're talking about it more than ever.
Ali Pattillo: They're not pushing it to the side because none of these things are new, older generations may have felt this way but just dealt with it on their own, sucked it up, and moved on.
Quinn: Right, right, like you said, it's not all to say that there haven't been crises before, certainly have, that's what World War II was all about, and World War I before that in a million different ways, or if you're black, for 400 years. There's the great funny, but incredibly dark quote from our friend Rhiana Gunn-Wright when she was being interviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson last year about, "When did your job become saving the apocalypse?" And Rihana Gunn-Wright said something to the effect of, "I'm black, which apocalypse are we talking about?" You know?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, absolutely.
Quinn: So, I can say again, caveat all of this coming from my comfortable chair of white, middle-class, straight male who puts food on the table, it's incredibly, relatively easy for me to talk about these things, and even I, and Brian who claims to still be 36, won't have the same future as these kids as much as we try to identify with them. There's a reason Sunrise or whatever only works with people under 40 run for something it's because they're like, "These people have a unique vantage point that no one else has ever had and probably will ever have." So, it's just like-
Ali Pattillo: But on the flip side, I do think it's important to stress that the world that young people are facing might look somewhat apocalyptic and scary, but it also might be more inclusive and more connected than ever. I mean, I don't know, I have a lot of faith in both my generation, your generation, the ones coming after us of just tolerance and open-mindedness. I think that when it comes to social issues, we're making huge progress and that's something to be incredibly excited about and there are ways that we can still avoid worst-case scenario when it comes to the climate and even these mammoth issues like the police system and reforming the police system or the justice system. Those things are really overwhelming, and I think oftentimes thinking about them is incredibly paralyzing, but also, there are things that we can do. We're not helpless in this situation, and I think that young people realize that, and that's why they're able to be so proactive and imagine a different world.
Quinn: Well, and I try to think about the world possibility as opposed to the word hope because it feels a little more pragmatic now, and this is how I also feel personally, which is, and again, you're a journalist so I know you try to keep it to the straight and narrow, so I don't want to get too political on this specific conversation, but again, we ran a couple little Facebook ads and they got flagged as being political and I was like, "No, it's science and that shouldn't be." But my point is, as far as a sense of possibility and like you said because there are these incredible, inclusive things happening that aren't perfect but are so much better than they've ever been sociologically. I look at good god, if the people who are, and let me put it this way, the people who seem to be the most on the side of inclusivity and progress and a cleaner future, and a healthier future, and better jobs and all of these things, if they're able to actually be in power in this incredible transition moment, and this is what I try to tell people when they're like, "Oh, you run a side podcast about climate change."
Quinn: I'm like, "No, that's not it, the things that could be signed into law on January 5th or whatever it is will change the world forever." And that is the thing that keeps me going every day is being like, "There is a world that is within grasp that is mind-blowing and it could turn this ship around so fast." There's things that we can't reverse to be very clear, and we talk about that all the time, there's a lot of climate stuff that's baked in, clearly, the world's on fire. California will continue to burn if we turn off emissions tomorrow for a long time, but I mean, there is a possibility and a multitude of possibilities under the umbrella that are so close if we can do the thing. So I do agree with you, again, the most important question in marriage is, "How can I help?" And that's what we're trying to do to these young people is just be allies wherever we can like, "How can I help?"
Ali Pattillo: Right.
Quinn: Transitioning just a little bit, Ali, you wrote a piece back in January, which again, feels like a different lifetime, about how wildfire firefighters were burning out, which looking outside our windows in September feels just ironically brutal. Again, I want to be clear because we have a good portion of our listeners are abroad, these fires, what's happening are not specific isolated to California or the West Coast of America. Siberia and South America, just these massive fires in areas where they've traditionally always happened, but not where they live now. Now we're kind of fucked on a few of these things for a few reasons, so I wonder, eight months after you wrote that piece about them being burnt out, what still rings true to you about what you learned and what's new there, and I guess, what's the path forward to again, be allies to these people who are quite literally on the front lines of the future here?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, I mean, this story was probably one of my favorite and one of the most difficult stories I've ever written, and it came about because I was trained as an EMT probably four or five years ago now, and one of my friends was a Wildland Firefighter. I'm from Atlanta, Georgia, we don't really get many wildfires out here, but I was talking to him about his job and he was just telling me about these really horrific instances both in the landscape and when he was just responding to house calls, of things that are the worst, most traumatic events that are kind of beyond comprehension. This is a 21-year-old guy who's dealing with this on a bi-monthly basis with very limited support, they maybe said, "Okay, here's a hotline you can call." But there was rarely talk about how experiencing these acute traumatic events really can hijack your mental health in the way that lasts long after you get back from the fire.
Ali Pattillo: So I got interested in it because of him, and then I was able to talk with the most amazing first responders, and part of a community that honestly doesn't really like to talk about mental health, doesn't really like outsiders in the first place and hearing their stories was really amazing and really difficult. I mean, one of the fire chiefs was telling me about a car crash that he responded to, or sorry, not a car crash, but it was around a car on a highway. A father had lit his child on fire, a six-year-old, and the child had been burned all the way down to his socks. When the firefighters got there, this child was crying and crying out for help, and just asked to be picked up and held, but the firefighters, including this fire chief, knew that they couldn't hold him because it would contaminate his wounds. So they had to wrap him in a blanket and say, "It's going to be okay, we're going to get you help."
Ali Pattillo: This child ended up passing away just days later in the hospital, and that while is definitely not the typical call for a firefighter, these events happen and nearly every firefighter I spoke to had a dozen or so experiences similarly traumatic. But yet, these guys and these women are just expected to pack it in, to be strong, people-
Quinn: "It's the job you signed up for." Right?
Ali Pattillo: Exactly, exactly, there is not a culture of weakness and so yeah, so then they're dealing with all this turmoil in their mind, and then they're going out and responding to these fires that are getting bigger, more intense, more uncontrollable, every week. Honestly, I think that again, that all these issues with mental health, the path forward isn't necessarily clear but there is really positive movement and I think the first step of all of it is for people to realize that having these emotions, having trouble processing an event like that is incredibly human. The fact that you are a first responder doesn't make you immune to the mental health toll that seeing that will take, and I think starting those discussions and then incorporating therapists and different health professionals and counselors into these units so that people realize, "Okay, this is a normal thing in the way that if I was injured on a call, if I broke my ankle, I tore out my shoulder, I could go to the hospital and be treated. If I'm dealing with something that has similar damage to my mind, I can also be treated." And normalizing that experience.
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, again, it's not dissimilar, truly what these guys are facing on trauma, and life-threatening wise as the military, which is yes, they signed up for it, but that doesn't excuse us from taking care of them in any way. I'm in Virginia right now, I'm in Williamsburg, which is 30 minutes from Fort Eustis, an hour from the largest naval base on the planet, all these things. So my class, half of them in elementary school would turn over every two years because people would get shipped one way or people would come in, and one of my best friends is a submarine captain and all of these things, and you look at the issues with the VA, and it's like the whole make America great again thing, it's being like, "Those people shouldn't just be getting the VA back to neutral, it is mind-boggling to me they don't have sci-fi level healthcare." You know?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah.
Quinn: And the same with these firefighters going like, the things that we are tasking them to do and asking them to do, it is incomprehensible to me that we aren't giving them literally the greatest support we could imagine so that they continue doing it, but also for the sunk cost of what they've done. It just seems imperative on society to do that.
Ali Pattillo: No, absolutely, but it's interesting because something that I came across when I was doing this reporting was that it's very comforting to people and just the public, to imagine that there are these invincible superheroes out there who are able to take all of these things on physically and mentally, and never take a break. Never experience the awful side effects that can come with it, and we want to imagine that person exists, but that person doesn't exist. We are all human and any person put in this position is going to feel the weight of it, and like you, I was shocked to find that, and obviously, it varies fire department to fire department, but generally speaking, across the Wildland fire community, the resources just aren't there. There's limited funding, and people are scared to talk about it, but what we're seeing is that suicide rates, rates of PTSD, rates of substance abuse are astronomical within that community in a way that some of which is preventable and we should be freaking out and trying to help these people as fast as we can.
Ali Pattillo: But it's also a problem because a lot of people just don't realize that it's even going on in the first place, and that was kind of what I hoped to do with this article, was start that conversation and even make people who are living in New York City understand what it's like to fight fire in Oregon.
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, again, if the entire East Coast was on fire, the news cycle would be very different, I mean, thanks to the New York Times for putting it on the front page today, and I don't have a West Coast bias, I've lived there for 11 years, there's pros and cons to both. But it's crazy, it's the same way, again, we've forgotten about what happened to Louisiana again, it's I don't know, it's complicated, but these people on the front lines, like you said, they're not some specific breed of human can weather this better. I mean, I think on just microcosm level, my sister-in-law, for 10 years, she's a social worker and she did hospice care and that was her life every day and I was like, "How do you do that? How do you know that that's what your day is going to be and not just drink heavily when you're done at the end of every day." And it wasn't that she's a better person, I mean, she's a much better person than I am, but that's a different discussion.
Quinn: But it doesn't mean it doesn't affect her, but at the same time, we have to support that apparatus that's so necessary in our society, just vastly more than we do.
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Brian: Also, listen, I've read comic books, I've watched a lot of shows and movies, superheroes also take breaks, so if [crosstalk 00:54:20], everybody needs to chill sometimes.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah.
Brian: So, Ali, we'll get into some everyday actions that people can be taking for sure here, but let's talk a little bit about what's coming down the line, I would like to talk about magic mushrooms. Maybe we could start by could just tell people what psilocybin is and why it's sort of, I don't know, suddenly seeming to get so much play?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, so psilocybin is the active-
Brian: Psilocybin, sorry.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, no worries. Psilocybin is the active psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, and it kind of comes along with this who renaissance around psychedelic research, if you've read Michael Pollan's book How To Change Your Mind, you might have heard about it, but there-
Quinn: So good.
Ali Pattillo: So good, yeah. There's been just this recent upswell in studying psychedelics like LSD, like MDMA, like psilocybin for mental health, for alcohol use disorder, for depression, for a lot of different issues that are really pressing and oftentimes don't have great existing treatments, and all this comes because in the '60s and '70s there was a lot of psychedelic research and really promising findings that showed a single treatment with a licensed therapist could help relieve these mental health symptoms. But then when the War on Drugs happened, these drugs were classified as illegal schedule one drugs, which took them out of the realm of clinical research, they were widely stigmatized, there were a lot of urban legends like if you were to take one of these drugs, you would go insane, you would lose your mind, you would have these uncontrollable experiences. Some of those legends are rooted in reality, these are powerful drugs, I think no researchers or doctor I've ever spoken to has ever said, "Okay, yeah, we recommend people to go out and try it on their own."
Ali Pattillo: That is not something they're saying because it can induce serious feelings of anxiety, and in people who have a history of psychosis, it can also trigger some of those symptoms. So it's not a risk-free drug, but in the past 15 years, there have been these amazing researchers who have worked so hard at an uphill battle to try and see if these psychedelics can have meaningful effects on our mental health, and they've shown some pretty incredible results. I specifically wrote about how psilocybin is helping cancer patients, and this is interesting because I mean, I'm sure you guys have had loved ones or friends who've dealt with cancer, that is one of the most feared diagnoses in medicine that just can put you into a pit of depression and anxiety, feeling hopeless about the future, feeling like you're dead already.
Ali Pattillo: Cancer patients deal with a huge amount of mental stress on top of the physical symptoms that they deal with from the cancer and then from the treatment, but anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication doesn't work well for this patient population. So they're kind of just left in the lurch, and they don't have many ways to alleviate these feelings, so these researchers primarily at UCLA, NYU Langone, and Johns Hopkins, they have been testing psilocybin with this patient population and found that in a very controlled, careful setting when it's paired the psychotherapy, it's actually an incredibly fast-acting, long-lasting treatment for the mental health effects of cancer. What they've seen in the longest study to date is that the positive effects, so making anxiety and depression essentially go away, that's lasted for five years after a single dose treatment. So we do need to take this with a grain of salt because we haven't done these larger-scale phase three trials.
Ali Pattillo: There have been early preliminary studies, but what the researchers say is that this signal is incredibly strong and that psychedelics are going to transform the way that we treat so many mental health conditions and really be a massive game-changer in the field.
Brian: Just the most interesting thing ever to me, I'm so curious about it.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah.
Quinn: Yeah, this thing that is so, so, so prevalent because everyone now lives in such a combustible, conflicted, tormented world in a lot of ways, and especially again, these front line people, or like you said, people who have PTSD or people who get a cancer diagnosis, seemingly again, there's still so much research to be done, but it seems like we may have been, this entire time, playing this game of helping them with one hand tied behind our back. Again, it requires tons and tons, and tons more research, at this point, again, everyone's an epidemiologist, everyone knows what phrase three trials means, they're very important right now, and guess what? Those apply to all of science, not just the vaccine that you're hoping to give your kid so you can go back to school, it's everything and getting to phase three, by the way, doesn't happen for most things that are trying to be rolled out, whether it's a vaccine, or a treatment or something like that. Most things fail along the way, they're looking for them to fail, it's process of elimination, what doesn't work, and getting to phase three is much wider and is very important.
Quinn: But it's going to require massive restructuring from the government and the FDA and places like that, and again, one of those things that should certain elections go certain ways, there is a possibility to really light a fire under these things. Also, and we will say this again, folks, don't run out and just do these things, first of all, one, they are classified at level one, you'll go to fucking jail, and second of all, I mean, there's places all over the world that you can do it, but don't. But also, they really, really, really, really require supervision from people who know what they're doing with this. But it is incredible-
Brian: All right, fine.
Quinn: Put it away, Brian.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: But it is amazing, and like you said, I mean, for cancer, I mean, yeah, we've all had things like that, my best friend died of cancer 10 years ago, I can't imagine, I remember the day he got diagnosed and three months later he was gone, and I remember about a week before he died, when his new wife emailed my brother and I and said, "Hey, guys, deep breath, we're going to go home." And what something like this could have helped him for that week as he faced what was then inevitable, and there's people every day. One of my favorite places to work with in the whole world is Alex's Lemonade Stand, which is an incredible foundation supporting pediatric cancer research, and travel funds for families that are facing cancer in one way or another. It's run by Liz and Jay Scott, their daughter Alex died when she was eight or nine years old 20 years ago now, and it's just an incredible foundation and again you just think like, look, not to say anybody deserved it, but my dad had skin cancer because he was a Jersey lifeguard and didn't wear sunscreen for 15 years.
Quinn: Or smokers, one plus one equals two sometimes, but a lot of these people and especially kids, do not deserve this and got it from some terrible environmental thing we've done or who knows what, but even the adults, what something like this could do for them. Again, coming back to hospice care, how that could help them and free them, it seems just silly and so shortsighted that we wouldn't explore these. Maybe they don't work out, but why wouldn't we explore the science of these things as much as we can?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, well, and I think you noted something really important, which is that for this particular group, these are people with advanced cancer, some of them are terminally ill, death is imminent, and for those people, the risk calculation is a bit different, at least according to the doctors and the researchers doing this. They don't have many options, maybe they've tried anti-depressants, they've gone to therapy, they've done everything, but they're literally staring death in the face and if you can have this treatment or this therapy that shows tremendous, tremendous safety, number one, they've seen very limited adverse events when it's done in this very controlled setting. Also, just amazing, almost instantaneous transformations, I mean, I spoke with cancer patients who had gone through some of the clinical trials, and they described literally seeing their fear related to their cancer as a black mass and then yelling at it and saying, "Why the fuck are you here? Get out of my body." And the fear dissipated and never returned.
Ali Pattillo: Obviously, that's not going to be the case for every patient, that was that particular patient's experience, but they've seen just really stunning effects. One psychologist put it to me that in psychiatry and psychology, people work with their therapists for years to make some of these breakthroughs, these are the breakthroughs that counselors wish for and hope for their patients, and this kind of treatment can speed that up and you can have those breakthroughs in a single day that you might work on for years. So it's really promising, I think it should give people a lot of hope, again, this all needs to be tempered with we need the large scale data to say for sure that this works. This isn't for everybody, this isn't for everyone who's dealing with anxiety or depression, it might be for particular groups, but it is really hopeful and it's really amazing that science is moving so rapidly to address these issues that just are really overwhelming and taxing.
Ali Pattillo: Also, for the cancer patients, it makes them have worsened outcomes from the cancer, and heightened risk of suicide and all of that, this is a particular patient population that the researchers say is perfect for this treatment. But they're just going to have to wait until these trials are completed, which could take years, if not a decade.
Quinn: And that's the story of science, I mean, the biggest difference between World War I and World War II is penicillin, it's the things that could have been that could have helped people and I think back to my friend and the uncertain but very promising strides we're making with things like immunology, would that have helped my friend 10 years ago? Maybe, or maybe not at all based on how it's going, but the point is, there's always this sense of what could have been and it's very hard to tell people now that have cancer, there's terminal people today, "Hey, listen, these things, they might be regulated better in two years, or five years, or 10 years, or not at all." And they can't wait for it, but at the same time, we have to keep pushing on from that because we are going to need an exponential number of extreme tools like this, as we push forward, on top of all the amazing day-to-day things that we'll talk about here in one sec. But we're just going to need more of these, and we need every tool we can possibly get our hands on.
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and psychedelics are not the only thing scientist are working on, they're making breakthroughs around this every day and so while science, I think, can move ... I remember, I interviewed Wim Hof, he's almost like a guru, he's the founder of the Wim Hof method and he was talking to me about how he was really frustrated that science wasn't moving faster to prove the benefits of his purported therapy and he was saying, "Science is as fast as a slow turtle." And he's right in a lot of ways, and there are reasons for that. If we're having a drug on the market, if doctors are advising patients with a certain treatment, we want to know it works and we want to know it's safe, and that it's helpful and that we're not just throwing out shots in the dark. That's a reason we have a really rigorous drug approval process and that's a wonderful thing.
Ali Pattillo: I think everyone should feel really thankful and comforted by that, but then there are certain things science can move really fast, and what we've discovered in the past two decades about the brain and brain function and neuroscience is incredible. So it's kind of this push-pull, but I think that's the best part of my job is I get to hear from scientists who are moving at an incredible pace to solve some of these intractable problems that seem impossible and bringing them into reality possibly faster than people can even imagine.
Quinn: Yeah, and I urge folks as much as possible, again there's some incredible futuristic things coming down the pipe, some rough stuff and some truly amazing stuff, the things that some of these cancer researchers tell us they're doing with zebrafish, I have yet to begin to understand how this works. But it's going to be fucking awesome, but as with all of these vaccines and everyone refreshing the New York Times vaccine counter and this and that, I urge you to understand that science is very, very, very hard. Whether we're shooting rockets to space or we're trying to help out kids or find some sort of treatment for COVID, it's very difficult and the smartest people on the entire planet are all working together on these things, and they're doing the best we can. So look out for those things, find it from reputable places, but also, as we're going to get into in a sec, and Brian will lead us into, there's some really wonderful things you can be doing today to take care of yourself and your loves ones, and all these people on the front lines. So, Brian, carry us forward.
Brian: Hey, let's get into that, yeah. Yeah, we always like to get action steps involved here because that's the whole point of this thing, and usually, we ask our listeners to talk about using their voice, and their vote, and their dollar. But maybe today we can pivot so that they can focus on themselves first. So, Ali, where do you feel like people can start to find some help, knowing that they can only control so much outside of their own headspace?
Ali Pattillo: yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it's great to hear about these amazing future developments, but there's a lot you can do while we wait and those things are not miracle cures, as we talked about, there's no magic bullet when it comes to health for your mind or your body. But I think there are some great habits people can put into place every day, and I think the first, especially now, is just giving yourself a break. I think we put so much pressure on ourselves, especially when we're dealing with overwhelming emotions, whether it's anger, whether it's depression. Those feelings make us uncomfortable and a lot of times, we just push them down, we try to move on, we try to distract ourselves, but I think that-
Brian: Yes, that's me.
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, I think giving yourself a break to feel that and to let it wash over you is really a great way to move forward because I think obviously, we know emotions don't last forever, every emotion is momentary and it will eventually pass. That's all to say, there are very real mental health issues that are lasting and they can feel like they're never going to end, and that's where checking in with friends, staying connected with loved ones, going to see a therapist if that's possible for you, those things can be really helpful. I think something I focus on a lot is the relationship between the body and mind, and the way that exercise and working out and sweating on a regular basis obviously, is helpful as we age to stay healthy, to stave off illness, but it is absolutely helpful in protecting our mental health-
Quinn: You've written about that.
Ali Pattillo: I've written about it a lot-
Quinn: It's science.
Ali Pattillo: It is science, yeah. I mean, exercise actually can improve the brain's resilience to stress, it can help you deal with depression, it can help you deal with anxiety and even from just if you're feeling totally overwhelmed and you want to get outside, go for a run, that can help you shake off those worries. But it also can help modulate your brain function, increase blood flow, do all these great things so I think keeping that in mind on a day-to-day basis is crucial. I think, as we talked about, intentionally consuming the news, giving yourself a break from that and from your phone, practicing gratitude and some people love journaling, I've never been, even though I write every day, journaling is not my thing. Meditation is hugely helpful, just giving your brain the chance to reset and heal itself because when you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off every day, you don't get that chance to reset, and eventually you'll crash.
Ali Pattillo: So, what you want to do is create these sustainable habits every day to give yourself a break and to move forward in a way that helps you feel strong, and positive about your life, and healthy.
Quinn: I love that.
Brian: Love that, needed to hear that.
Quinn: Check, thank you, how much do I owe you for the session? Talk to me about what friends and loved ones can do for one another because sometimes, as someone who's been on both sides of this, it can be hard to hear those things. What's the best way to put it? Maybe not hard to hear them, but it's very easy to give the response and again, having been on both side, to give the response and get the response of, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, yeah, I'm going to do it, I know, I've been thinking about it. Yeah, I'll do that-"
Brian: That's what I say.
Quinn: ... and it doesn't happen, Brian, you literally said that half an hour ago.
Quinn: What do you feel like are some effective ways that, again, everyone's dealing with so many different things on so many different levels, there are some things that unite all of us these days, but things that you feel like translate to give help?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I think that's really difficult and I think we often forget how hard it is to watch a loved one dealing with mental health issues, it can make you feel totally helpless and like we mentioned before, telling that person to just think positive, or calm down, or rationalize your way out of those feelings, it doesn't work and it's not necessarily the best way to support that person according to psychologists. I think part of what I've seen effective, both in some of the research that I've covered and also in my own life is connecting the person who's struggling with the fact that you are dealing with your own stuff too. That you're not coming from a place of pity or that you think what they're going through is so troubling, or so pressing, but that these are normal human emotions that we all feel at different degrees.
Ali Pattillo: So I think sharing your personal experience and what helps you I think helps everyone, so you can maybe offer to go on a walk with this person and say like, "Yeah, I've started playing tennis, I started learning a new hobby, that's really helped me shake off this funk." Or even if it's someone who's dealing with more severe pressure on their mental health, sharing, "Oh, well I went to a therapist and it was really helpful for me." I think it's important to remember there's no formula for any of this and all of the solutions and tools, and strategies that we can employ, they're all personal. I think a lot of times, it's just trying them out and seeing how you feel doing them, and what's going to be right for one person is not going to be right for another. But sharing the options out there, maybe even offering to go do that activity or go see that therapist, take them to the therapist, offer that support, I think is really helpful.
Ali Pattillo: I think that across the board, and this is just a basic human need, is that we don't want to feel alone when we're navigating life, and especially when you're dealing with some of these issues, it can feel really stigmatizing and you can feel like something's wrong with you as an individual, or that you're the only person on the planet feeling this way. We know that that's not true, that we all go through these periods in life, so kind of cultivating that empathy and connection, and showing that person like, "I'm here with you every step of the way." Is hugely helpful for people.
Quinn: You might just be the best human we know, Ali.
Ali Pattillo: I appreciate that, I think that's nice of you to say.
Quinn: You are the one woman avengers of objective helping people to live better lives and make this a better place, so thanks, this has been really tremendous. Brian, take us home.
Brian: Yeah, we've, wow, really kept you here, hope that you're doing all right over there, Ali.
Ali Pattillo: That's all right, no, this has been great.
Brian: Thank you, thank you. Yeah, so seriously, thank you so much for this, this is incredible, truly and we just have a little lightning round to wrap things up, if that's all right?
Quinn: It's not a lightning round.
Brian: Lightning round.
Ali Pattillo: Sound good.
Quinn: To be clear, this is episode 99 and we haven't figured out how exactly to frame this one, anyways, Ali, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Ali Pattillo: Oh my gosh, don't know that I can pin down the first time because my brain is mush right now, but I think a time in recent memory where I really felt like I was able to make some kind of difference and had some power to move the needle was actually when the story about Wildland Firefighters was published. I remember I was so nervous to put this out because these amazing first responders had given me just a ton of time and they'd been so vulnerable about things that had happened to them that they had never really shared with anyone and I was about to put it out into the world. I remember that morning, I started getting messages from some of the people I had interviewed and they were just honestly blown away, it started conversations within that community. They were talking about some of the things they were dealing with and ways to make it better, and now there's been policy changes and programmatic changes that have spurred from that.
Ali Pattillo: So suddenly I was like, "Okay, I wrote this story, and sometimes you send these things out into the ether and you have no idea what's going to come of them." But hearing that people reading suddenly they were able to empathize and understand what these people were going through was massively validating, and it just pushed me to do more work like that.
Brian: That's incredible.
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, it moved the needle, and anything that moves the needle these days is necessary and has just got to feel redeeming. I recently set up a ... This is not that, this is the most ridiculous side story ever, but I have this ridiculous powerful to-do list system that makes me very productive, but also can make it feel like I have 10,000 things to do. But I finally, per my therapist's recommendation, set up a little perspective that with a click of a button actually shows me what I've done today, and that is really helpful to looking back and going like, "Oh no, I did things that hopefully helped the world and moved the needle today. This is what I accomplished." Not just, "These are the 30 things I didn't get to." And that's a terrible way to relate to your incredible story about the humanity-
Brian: No, but that's your thing, that's actually super important for you, so that's awesome.
Quinn: That's very kind and sarcastic of you Brian, I appreciate it.
Brian: No, no, you have the largest to-do list I've ever seen, and yeah, do you ever look at your done list? That's so great, your therapist is smart.
Quinn: He's good. Ali, you can be done with us very soon, I promise, who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Ali Pattillo: I would have to say my editor, Sarah, she is someone who is incredibly supportive, will be there with you in the middle of a breakdown, and on your highest day, and she has extremely high expectations, she's extremely detail-oriented, she's always making stories better. But she's also always trying to get to the heart of the story and the people who are affected, and I think that's the best part about this job. I'm not here to spin facts into something that is not real, or the whole point of my job is to amplify people's experiences that might be overlooked and Sarah helps me put that at the center of everything I do and every single story and never lose sight of that. Because it can be hard when you're dealing with three-hour deadlines, or you're covering some breaking news and you're just trying to get the story out, but she always reminds me, "Okay, who is this story for, and who does this story affect?"
Quinn: Oh, those are such great questions.
Brian: Yeah, wow.
Quinn: Man, that's really great. That's awesome, that's awesome.
Brian: Love that.
Quinn: And you said her name was Sarah, is that right?
Ali Pattillo: Sarah Sloat, Mind and Body Editor at Inverse.
Quinn: Well, thank you, Sarah, editors are undervalued on this planet.
Brian: Ali, you've given us and our listeners a lot of options as things they can do to take care of themselves and practice self-care in these overwhelming times, what do you specifically do to practice self-care?
Ali Pattillo: Yeah, it's a good question, I think I'm still learning.
Brian: Oh yeah, aren't we all?
Ali Pattillo: I love to run, so oftentimes, honestly, when I'm just feeling totally at my wit's end, just fraying at the edges, I go on a long run and that just helps me. I think it's something about grounding in your body, getting out of your head, that's something that's really, really helpful because I think that, I'm sure you guys feel this too, it's easy to always be thinking and overthinking, and predicting the future and figuring out what you're going to do tomorrow. Sometimes you just don't need to think at all, and I think that working out hard can help you do that, so I try and do that, but it's also difficult because when you're feeling really overwhelmed, the last thing you want to do is work out. So, it's kind of like muscling yourself through that and making yourself do it even when you don't want to.
Brian: Yeah, big time, I want to eat donuts when I'm stressed out.
Quinn: Brian, yeah, I was going to say why does everything Ali say feel so grounded and like it makes sense where you and I, we're like, "I don't know, let's go eat the ice cream flight at the ice cream store, maybe that'll make us feel better." It doesn't, it's science, but we do it anyways.
Ali Pattillo: No, I mean, you can do that too sometimes too. Yeah, whatever makes you feel better and feel good, that's what you should do.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: Yeah, true. All right, Brian-
Brian: Yeah, Ali, we used to ask this really specific final question, we used to ask if you could send one book to Donald Trump, what would it be and we've gotten some awesome answers from all of our past guests and they're all on Bookshop, we can all look them up and even send them to him if we want. But maybe we can start moving on from that framing today because I don't think he's getting the message, so maybe instead, what's a book that you've read this year or so that has opened your mind to a new topic maybe that you hadn't considered before, or that's changed your thinking in some way?
Ali Pattillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I recently read Yvon Chouinard's book Let My People Go Surfing.
Brian: Oh, so good.
Ali Pattillo: Which I know we hold up, it's so good, but we hold up Patagonia as this pinnacle of corporate social responsibility, and I think initially, honestly, when I opened the book I was a little skeptical, I was like, "Is this too good to be true?" And I think that obviously, no company is perfect by any means, but I really appreciated the level of intention and thoughtfulness that Patagonia has implemented in every part of their supply chain. It was really fascinating to know that a huge company like that doesn't have to be the bad guy, doesn't have to leave behind this trail of horrific environmental waste and irrevocable damage, there is a better way. I think that he laid out just in incredible detail, sometimes a little boring, but most of the time really riveting, that there is a different way to conduct business.
Ali Pattillo: Also, I'm not in the business world, I found it so interesting and I also changed my own consumption patterns about what kind of companies do I want to support? What kind of clothing do I want to buy? And the long trail behind that is going to really shape the future. How we consume things is so crucial and thinking more intentionally about that is such a helpful exercise for everybody.
Quinn: I love that one.
Quinn: That's a really great recommendation, and yeah, it's just rare, and again, no one's perfect, but it's rare from when that book was written, to today to the things they're doing and they've done, especially as a company in capitalism, to continue to hold up that standard. Yvon's not even in charge anymore, and then to keep pushing it forward, God, it feels good and thank God, and it's redeeming, but it's also a great standard to measure your own actions and self by, to go, "Boy, that can't be easy because clearly nobody else really does it, but I can sure as help start measuring myself and my work in a way that is similar." Great one, great one for sure. Ali, where can our listeners follow you on the interest?
Ali Pattillo: They can find me on Twitter @alipattillo, they can find me at Inverse under Ali Pattillo, find me on Instagram under Ali Pattillo, and I also have a website that is alexandrapattillo.com that has highlights of my work so far that if people want to check out some interesting, I hope, stories, they can go there.
Quinn: Awesome, and yeah, we're going to link to all the articles that you wrote about and we talked about today and all those things, and studies and all that, so definitely dig into the show notes, folks. Ali, I mean, all in, this has been four hours of your life, so I can't-
Ali Pattillo: No, it's been great talking to you guys, thank you so much for having me.
Quinn: No, of course, thank you for all your work, be safe, travel safe, and yeah, we'll talk to you soon, I'm excited about this fun little collaboration. Thank you to Inverse and Abstract, and Sarah for loaning us Ali, this has been truly fantastic.
Ali Pattillo: Thanks, guys, talk to you soon.
Brian: Really great, really needed, thank you so much.
Quinn: All right, take care, Ali.
Ali Pattillo: Bye.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in, we hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com, it is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.
Quinn: Just so weird.
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Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks, guys.