Recommitment (with Doctor Darien) | Crooked Media
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December 10, 2021
Unholier Than Thou
Recommitment (with Doctor Darien)

In This Episode




Phillip Picardi: Do you think I’m going to find God at Harvard?


Dr. Darien: No.


Phillip Picardi: OK. So maybe after.


Dr. Darien: I’m just kidding. You might. Finding God is not an isolated experience. It’s a journey.


Phillip Picardi: Yeah, that’s what I’m learning. And this journey is hard!


Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. OK y’all, just in time for the holiday season, this is the final episode of the second season of Unholier Than Thou. That’s right. As Jesus Christ enters stage right in his little manger, I am officially exiting stage left. And it is important that I exit stage left because I have about 75 pages of final papers to write. I want to thank you all, first and foremost, for coming along this journey with me this season. The podcast is so different than it was last season, and I’m really proud of the different kinds of conversations we were able to have this time around. And also just that I was able to share a little bit more of my personal story because I feel like that’s what this kind of podcast journey and spirituality journey has been all wrapped up in. But it hasn’t always been easy to talk about, you know, my own personal experiences and battles with religion. And I’ve been getting a lot of questions about, you know, where I’m going with all of this, what the whole point of it was. And I guess, you know, I wish I had like a neater answer for you guys, and of course, I still have a semester ahead of me at the divinity school but you know, for me, I think the biggest thing that I’ve kind of landed on when listeners ask me, you know, am I Christian, am I going to church again, am I going to find a new religious tradition to follow? I don’t have that answer. You know, the best answer that I can give is, people ask why I am going to divinity school, why I am invested in exploring religion, especially when religion has been, you know, a pretty fair source of trauma for me, as it has for, I’m sure, a lot of you listening to this podcast. And as I’ve been thinking a lot in these past few months—you know, it’s the anniversary of my dear cousin’s death, recently. My anniversary with Dr. Darien is also the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, who was the most important person in my life. And so I think a lot about how those women looked at the world and how those experiences and being raised by those women and being culturally informed by those women kind of informed my cosmology, like the way that I see the world, you know? And one thing I can’t seem to shake about my upbringing is that it was innately caught up in religion and kind of the the elements of Catholicism. And one thing that I’ve not I’ve not been able to let go of ever, even when I turned my back on the church, was this idea of wanting to see the world as an enchanted place. And I know that sounds a little bit like Harry Potter, you know—and, you know, minus the transphobia of J.K. Rowling—but what I’m trying to say is, I guess I’ve made a concerted choice in pursuing this path to continue to insist on seeing the world as more than just a series of coincidences or happenstance. And when you make that commitment to the world, when you make that commitment to yourself, when you choose to believe that there’s something out there, maybe you don’t know what it is or can’t describe it like I can or whatever, you start to pull together and you start to sort of choose to interact with the people you love and the things that happen to you as meaningful, meaningful on a deeper or spiritual level. And so the question about religion for me and why I’m pursuing religion is not so much a question of why, as it is a question of why not, right? What are the stakes of choosing to engage with the world as a place that is not necessarily hostile to us, but wants us to be better as humans, that wants us to be better to each other, and that wants us to promote peace in the world? And for me, you know, especially in these really hard times when our society seems to be shifting globally towards the right, towards authoritarianism and toward some really scary and violent stuff, holding on to this element of faith has been a crucial guiding principle for me. And I mentioned my cousin and my grandma because today’s episode is with Dr. Darian. So he comes back. He was the first episode of this podcast, and he has the final episode of this podcast. And I told you guys last season on the first episode that Dr. Darien is one of the biggest forces in my life for me to continue believing that there is something out there, because sometimes you know when you’re in love—and trust me our relationship is not all rainbows, OK, but you know—I think one thing about truly being in love is that it’s hard to be so head over heels in love with someone and feel such a profound sense of partnership with them and not feel grateful to whatever forces there are in this world that brought the two of us together. So seven years ago, almost to the day, on December 28th, I had kissed my grandmother goodbye. She was, the hospice workers were about to inject my grandmother with morphine to slow and kind of calm her transition into the next world that she was entering. She had been fighting a really gruesome and brutal battle with cancer. The cancer had spread to her bones and so moving, you know, standing up, walking, going to the bathroom, all of these things, like routine things, were just getting more and more painful for her. And the thing about my grandmother’s final days was, I remember spending that last holiday with her and she would look around the table at all of us and just feel this profound sense of loss—not for herself, it wasn’t like a kind of self-pity. She was upset because she didn’t want to miss out on what was coming next for all of us. And she also was worried about a lot of us. You know, she would kind of pull each of us aside and ask us about our plans for the future and tell us she was proud of us or tell us that she loved us. And for me, the conversation had a lot to do with not wanting me to be alone. I had just broken up with a guy, you know, a few months earlier, and in many ways, he fit the bill for what my grandmother would have wanted for me. He was an Italian-American kid from New Jersey and he was an accountant—so lord knows he’s a lot more responsible than I am with money—and my grandmother was just kind of hell-bent on wanting to pass on to the next world knowing that I had someone in my life who was taking care of me, knowing that I would be loved by someone. And she said to me, I really don’t want you to be alone. And it was this thing, we were holding each other’s hands, and I just remembered this moment so spectacularly—both because I was annoyed that this was one of the last conversations I would have with my grandmother, like she was making me feel guilty for breaking up with this Italian dude, but also just because there was kind of this special moment where I was talking to this person in my life who had helped to raise me, who was basically telling me that I needed to prioritize finding love. So December 28th, I kissed my grandmother goodbye and I had to get back on the train to New York. I had to work, of course, knowing full well that, you know, I would be back in just a few days for Grandma’s funeral. And I’m on the Amtrak home to New York and of course, I’m crying and I’m like having a moment or whatever, people are looking at me. And so I decide to just distract myself with anything I could and so, of course, I open every dating and euphemism for dating app on my phone, and I open this app called Hinge, which I never used before, never gone on a date before. And I had a bunch of matches and one of them was with a guy who called himself a dance machine. And despite this being a really terrible and spectacular red flag, I decided to, I decided to engage in conversation with this man because he was kind of cute. And so we start messaging and I start making fun of him and his profile, and he’s taking the jabs as well, which I always love, and he said that he would like to see me in the new year. And I said, Actually, how’s tonight? You know, I was feeling really ballsy. And he said, OK. So I told him to meet me as soon as I got off the train at a bar on the corner from my apartment. And that’s exactly what happened. And when I walked into the bar, that’s the first time that I met Dr. Darien. So the night that I said goodbye to my grandmother, the night that she sort of slips into this world of between this world and the next, is the same night that I would meet the man that I was going to marry. And you could say that that is a perfect coincidence. You could say that that is a certain timing that feels heaven sent or whatever. For me, I choose to believe that my grandmother had a direct hand in that meeting. And even now, seven years later, when I talk about my grandmother, you know, tell her stories to Darien, it feels like they’ve already met somehow. Because for me, I feel and I choose to believe—I do, it’s a conscious choice I make—I choose to believe that she sent him to me, that she put ourselves in each other’s paths. You know? And that’s just, that’s just a story that has become a foundational part of our relationship and also just a foundational part of how I choose to see love, our love as something that was meant to be, you know, in more ways than one. So anyways, I’m thinking a lot—I always think a lot about my grandmother, but I especially think about her a lot towards the end of the year, towards holiday timing. This is when I happen to miss her the most. And so spending the holidays with my fiancée is kind of like my own way of preserving her memory and honoring her memory because she kind of created my happy ending for me, you know, before she was even able to really move on to the next world. So it felt appropriate that Darien be the closing for Unholier Than Thou. And there’s a lot that we talk about, and most of it has to do, you know, with this kind of ever-evolving pandemic. We recorded this episode well before we knew Omicron had reached the world. And so some of the information here may seem a little bit outdated but in the sense of like, this episode is not about an Omicron update, it’s about how the pandemic spiritually is making people feel. And there is a big shift from how Darien first started feeling when he was treating this pandemic, versus now, right, and the fatigue and the moral, ethical and spiritual fatigue that is facing our frontline workers. And this, to me, is a crisis that needs a lot of attention because it is hard to provide care, especially to a public that is growing more and more hostile to science and to the people who want them to be safe. And it’s something that we need to pay more attention to, especially if you have frontline workers and health care workers in your lives, really good time to check in on them and make sure that they feel valued by you because it’s not always the case that they’re feeling valued by their immediate communities or the places where they work. So I thought this was a good place to end this season and this experiment, and I am grateful for all of you for coming on this journey with us. And of course, always grateful for your messages. I look forward to hearing more from you. If you guys want to stay in touch, you can always find me on Instagram or on Twitter. My DMs are open and I thank you so much. So without further ado, here is the final episode of Unholier Than Thou with Dr. Darien.


Phillip Picardi: So I’m really honored to bring on today’s guest. After much back and forth with his team at WME, we were finally able to book him and his very, very busy schedule of appearing on the television news. Please welcome and join me in welcoming for all the listeners of Unholier Than Thou: Dr. Darien.


Dr. Darien: You’re such an asshole.


Phillip Picardi: I’m just kidding, I only had to text Darien and put it on his calendar to get him on the show. I did not have to go through our agent for it. And thank God for that. But Darien, you were actually the first person I had on Season 1, Episode 1 of this podcast. So I thought it was only fitting that you be my final guest for the second season. Are you just honored?


Dr. Darien: I’m so honored. I am just ecstatic. I couldn’t sleep thinking about this moment, Phillip.


Phillip Picardi: [laughs] Now who’s the asshole? So for our listeners, and I guess you can’t see Dr. Darien, but he did just work a 12-hour shift, I think. Was at your fourth or fifth of the week?


Dr. Darien: Today is going to be my fourth, so I just finished my third. I am so tired. I’m happy to see you.


Phillip Picardi: I’m happy to see you too. And actually, your consolation prize for participating today is that tonight I land in Los Angeles, and so you’ll be able to see me. And this will be the first time I’ve been in L.A., in our home in L.A. for two months. What a gift to you I’m bringing.


Dr. Darien: What a gift. I get home tonight around 2 a.m. L.A. time, so I get to watch you sleep. I am so excited.


Phillip Picardi: [laughs] And you know, I will be out like a light after this plane ride. Oh my goodness.


Dr. Darien: In your fifth dream.


Phillip Picardi: In my fifth dream. I’m a very heavy sleeper and I always need to sleep eight hours and I always do get my eight hours no matter what. And let me tell you, dating a doctor has made me realize what a luxury that truly, truly is. But anyways, Darien, tell us what is going on in the ER right now. It’s Delta variant. There’s all sorts of other new variants that people are worried about, and obviously we’re fighting a whole lot of vaccine misinformation. What is your big focus right now in the ER, and then more broadly in public health?


Dr. Darien: Well, thankfully cases are starting to come down. As you know, here in California, I think that when they look at the tiers of risk level, when they try to gauge how risky it is in terms of case rates, hospitalizations of a state, California is doing quite well. So overall, my experience in the emergency room honestly is not that different, but I will say that I’m seeing less and less cases of COVID-19, so it’s reassuring. But with that being said, everything else in health care that has been slowed down comes back with a vengeance. So you have many patients who have missed a lot of their clinical follow-up for their chronic diseases that are having a lot of difficulty seeing their primary care doctors and often anything that fails in health care usually ends up in the emergency room. So trying to recover from that is quite difficult. And then on the same, in the same time, you know, we also have significant shortages of staff because people are exhausted and they feel overworked and underappreciated, especially our nursing staff. So it’s quite a task trying to trying to guide yourself through these post-surge episodes where you kind of have to pick up the pieces of everything that has fallen during the surge.


Phillip Picardi: And obviously the polarization of getting something like the vaccine, which can be helping us to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and the hospitalizations, has to be immensely frustrating. I know it’s been frustrating. And before we get more into that, I just want to lay out, just in case there’s anyone listening who may not have gotten the vaccine, is still weighing their options, can you explain it in your very best Dr. Darien way why it is important that everyone eligible should be getting vaccinated?


Dr. Darien: Yeah. So there’s a couple of reasons, and I think everyone has their own particular reason. So if someone is listening to this and trying to figure out how they can talk to someone about vaccine hesitancy or someone who is taking quite a long time to deliberate on whether or not they should get a vaccine, I always encourage them to stop and simply ask, what is the concern? Because you can spend a lot of time talking to a person and you may not even get to the subject that that person is concerned about. But there are many reasons why you should get vaccinated. Number one, obviously, COVID-19 is deadly. It has caused a pandemic that has killed over 600,000 people in the United States and millions around the world. And we have been grateful to have received by the success of science this vaccine that has reduced the risk of infection by five times, reduced the risk of hospitalization by 10 times, and reduced the risk of death by 10 times. Vaccines also help us, if they reduce the risk of infection, reduce the risk of transmission. As we’ve seen in states that have low vaccination rates, we’ve seen significantly higher rates of COVID-19 cases. And since the rollout of vaccines of COVID-19 is targeting those who are unvaccinated, and most recently, that has been children. Since we’ve seen the Delta variant, we saw a five-fold increase in the rate of pediatric presentations of COVID-19 to the hospital. And we do understand that kids are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 from those around them that are teens and adults. And we also know that masking works, for example, in schools. As we’ve seen in states, studies in Arizona, specifically Maricopa County, for example, we see in schools that have enforced mask mandates have had more than three times less rates of outbreaks. And so we understand how to stop this virus with mitigation efforts like distancing when possible, appropriate ventilation, masking, and then the most important treatment that we have gotten since the rollout ,since the development of this since—since this pandemic: is vaccines. And yes, I understand that medications do exist and we try our best in the hospital to treat patients and their illness, but there is nothing that can prevent, save you or protect you as much as a vaccine. It simply does not exist. So if you’re having a lot of hesitancy, just you have to weigh the risks and the benefits of your options, and you have to understand that when we have discussions of mandates and when we have discussions of quote unquote, “forcing” vaccines on people, it’s essentially a choice. And each choice comes with its own risks and consequences and the choice of getting vaccinated is the lowest risk, highest benefit option that anyone can choose.


Phillip Picardi: Mmm. I remember when we were first seeing a lot of misinformation about the vaccines, there was a tendency of folks to call people who were hesitant to get the vaccine or who maybe were deciding to err on the side of caution, those folks are being called anti-vaxxers. They were being called selfish, they were being called stupid. There was a kind of a large portrayal of anyone who wouldn’t get the vaccine as being a far-right Republican. So a lot of kind of monolithic statements that were being made about people who were unsure about this vaccine who may still not be vaccinated today. And I think that was for me at least watching you kind of process this information and I think the sentiment of what was happening on social media and in general conversation with like people were in community with, I saw you get really frustrated by that kind of, I guess, monolith-making, right? Like, there was a certain kind of reductive nature to the ways that people were speaking about folks who were scared of the vaccine. Can you talk a little bit about how even on your social media and in the ways that you talked to people who are your patients or people who do have concerns, how you’ve sort of complicated that notion and why that was important to you, even as a doctor?


Dr. Darien: I think it’s really important to take a step back and realize that everyone has their own mind when they’re making a decision. And sometimes when you try to, as you said, put people in a monolithic group, you can miss out on a lot of good opportunity for education. And you know better than I do because you actually read my group family texts more than I do, that there is clear hesitation of getting something like a vaccine, even with close proximity to someone like me who talks about vaccines every single day. And that hesitation is warranted. You know, as people of color, for example, we have clear past, and for some, present trauma with the medical health care system. And that mistrust is very well-earned. And so I know as a person of color who operates within the science of medicine that having someone try to make a decision with a clear, faulted history is something that you really have to acknowledge if you’re going to be a good physician. So I try my best to be a really patient person. And also, at the end of the day, each and every person becomes my patient, whether or not be like it or not. And so I want to make sure that regardless of that person’s decisions or their hesitancy, that they feel comfortable sharing with me whatever they want so that we can get to the goal of achieving the best health possible, because every single person deserves it, I think. Um, there was a second part of your question.


Phillip Picardi: No, that was a, that was a really solid answer, I think. And it hits on a lot of important things like, yeah, I do read your big family chat and I am too scared to leave it of the consequences from your aunt, so I will not leave it even though I have maybe wanted to on many an occasion, especially when I’m studying—I hope none of your answer listening to this. But yeah, you know, it’s a really good point. Like, how do you tell someone who has an earned distrust in the American medical industrial complex that now they need to trust what the doctors and the scientists are saying? Because as you’ve taught me, there have been many instances where doctors have said that to Black people in America throughout history, to disastrous and racist and nearly genocidal consequences. Right?


Dr. Darien: Absolutely. And obviously, I’m speaking at it from a perspective as a Black person, but there are many cultures and experiences that exist out there that people have chosen to use, to base their decisions on, and I respect it. I just think it’s really important that when we’re making decisions that we take in all the possible information available so that we can make the best decision for us. And that’s why I stand on these platforms and try my best to share the science, because I know it’s confusing, I know it’s scary, but I want to make sure that people can get it from a verified source who actually does the work and reads the studies as opposed to someone who is simply making a Google article, you know, to share misinformation.


Phillip Picardi: I sure do.


Dr. Darien: And I have to say—


Phillip Picardi: On their Facebook pages. Here we go, Facebook as just a hotbed.


Dr. Darien: Hotbed, hotbed in the comment section. And I have to say, as you know, it’s all about, like the idea of cognitive dissonance is very pervasive, and many people talk about cognitive dissonance because they think that they have a full understanding but I have to admit I was very naive to the understanding of cognitive dissonance until this pandemic started, and I started researching it and learning about it and understanding the human behavior of choice. And what I realized is that when we talk about cognitive dissonance, it’s that idea, like, for example, when you’re walking the dog and your dog poops on the ground and you realize that you don’t have any poop bags and you have this moment where you’re like, Oh my gosh, this is obviously wrong for society to leave this poop here, but I’m not going to physically pick this up with my hand. Let’s say it’s at nighttime. No one’s going to see you. So you quickly walk away and you leave it there, but you get home and mentally, you know it’s racking your brain. You’ve made a bad decision and you’re trying to make yourself feel comfortable. You know, maybe it will rain and the poop will go away. Maybe someone will pick it up out of the generosity of their heart while they’re picking up their other dog. Poop is biodegradable. You know what, I only did it once. You do all these things in your mind to make yourself feel comfortable with your decision because you’ve already made your decision but you’re dissonant with that decision because you know that is a bad behavior, and you try your best to make it feel right. Some people even grab a bag, can’t handle it, go outside and pick it up because they just can’t deal with that dissonance. But other people make themselves feel better. And I think it’s really interesting when, I’m using that example because I look at the group idea of decisions in terms of making decisions for vaccines, and unfortunately, when vaccines were rolled out, we were at a very contentious point in political history where many people were trying to figure out and pick sides. And unfortunately, science landed on a specific side, let’s say, for those of liberal mindset as opposed to those who conservative, and for some reason, science became this idea that it was only a one-sided option. And on the converse, on those who don’t believe in science or don’t want to trust science because it may not fall on the right political side, they’ve had to make themselves feel better. And what do you do when you’re dissonant? You either A, correct behavior and you go and fix it and you match that cognition with that behavior, or you B, convince yourself of something by looking up things that may not be correct to make yourself feel better, or C,—the option that I really get frustrated with—you invite other people into your dissonance. And by that, I mean, if you feel like you’ve made a bad decision, you sit there and you portray out to the audience and the world why you’ve made that decision in hopes that someone will join you in that decision. Because when more people join you in that decision that you initially know is not correct, you, it makes you feel better. And I think that’s what propels people to continue to share misinformation because they don’t feel good in their decision, and they want to make sure that they invite other people in to make themselves feel better. And unfortunately, sharing that misinformation is not as simple as talking about dog poop. It is life and death. And so I really feel like there are many people who are cognitively dissonant with their actions and they are seeing the information coming in, but they feel so uncomfortable that they need to match those two things. And that’s what leads to the prop—excuse me—that’s what leads to the pervasive nature of misinformation. It’s a lot of people who feel dissonant in their behaviors, and they want to correct it, and they don’t feel right about it so they’re going to invite more people in it. If that makes any sense. I don’t know how it went from dog poop to vaccines.


Phillip Picardi: I mean, it’s an absolutely foul extended metaphor. I think we should maybe workshop that offline.


Dr. Darien: But you understand what I’m trying to say.


Phillip Picardi: But yes. It did come around. No, it came around. It’s a really good philosophical point. I will, I will definitely hand it to you there.


Dr. Darien: Thank you.


Phillip Picardi: And I would add on top of that that it’s hard because you see, sometimes, when anti-vaxxers, especially people who have encouraged other people to not get vaccinated, when they end up hospitalized and oftentimes dying, right, due to their hospitalization, there is a chorus of people who are like, OK, well, what’s for dinner tonight? And look, I’m not here to tell anyone how to behave online, especially I, it’s your business, how, how you conduct yourself, and obviously what you hold is your beliefs. I think, however, one thing I notice is that the internet and how easy the internet makes it to create monoliths does sometimes remove the capacity for empathy and the nuance that is required to have empathy for fellow human beings. And a lot of people are dying right now due to misinformation, and not all of those people are bad people. And that, to me, is a real tragedy and it is a tragedy that does point to, and I hope it eventually points to a lot of the bad actors in this situation facing accountability for perpetuating this misinformation, specifically folks on talk news and television news who are willfully ignoring science and portraying bogus information as fact. I hope that those people do face accountability. But in the meantime, you know, I think it is on us as a people to make sure that we don’t necessarily make enemies out of everyone or make monoliths out of people who make, or who are having trouble making this decision. Because I do think it is more complex than that. We saw it when LeBron James, you know, recently got vaccinated, and he mentioned it took him a while to get there. You know, I was just on the side of like, I’m glad you’re here, you know, and I’m glad that you’re talking about getting here. Not that I want to talk about how you didn’t get vaccinated for a while. Like, it’s just, yeah, I wish it happened sooner, but who am I to judge you? I don’t walk in your shoes, you know what I mean? And I think that those are important things to keep in mind, for sure.


Dr. Darien: Absolutely. And I try to be that person. And, you know, I received those phone calls of people who haven’t gotten vaccinated and feel afraid and ashamed that they’re calling me and telling me that they’re about to get their first vaccine. And I greet it with—


Phillip Picardi: Many of those people calling you are my friends! Who I was shocked to hear, you know, when they texted me that they weren’t vaccinated. But yeah, they’re not just folks who we demonize, you know, it’s like, it’s lots more than that. It’s more complicated than that.


Dr. Darien: Absolutely.


Phillip Picardi: Yeah, it’s been, it’s been really interesting. But I think that, you know, the perspective that you’ve brought to it, I just, I’ve really admired. And you’ve had a lot of really good breakthroughs in your DMs, like a lot of people who typically would not find your page are now messaging you saying I got vaccinated because of the way you spoke about this empathetically and not like in a sanctimonious kind of way.


Dr. Darien: Yeah. And you know what? It keeps me going because I try to reframe my frustration on the creators and the spreaders of misinformation, rather than those who receive it. And I think I keep reminding myself that, because—


Phillip Picardi: It’s a good distinction.


Dr. Darien: It allows me not to be frustrated at that patient, and more of I’m so sad that this old woman who is sitting in front of me has read all the wrong articles and has been led astray that now she’s infected with COVID-19, she has low oxygen saturation, she might not live, and it’s all because she received the wrong information. And I get upset about the person who gave her that information, not the person who received it.


Phillip Picardi: That’s a really great distinction and that I think is really important to keep in mind for sure.


[ad break]


Phillip Picardi: I think this kind of ties into, you know, this is not an overtly spiritual conversation in the sense, but it is spiritual in the sense that like if religion and spirituality at their best are supposed to guide us towards better reacting to one another, our interconnectedness with one another, our reliance on one another as community, and obviously our reliance on the environment around us and how all of those decisions can create an effect that impacts the people who live around us or even far away from us, right, I think the pandemic has laid that in very stark relief. I feel like I’ve talked endlessly about the Arundhati Roy quote at the beginning of the pandemic that the pandemic is a portal and so we can either walk through this portal and leave behind the skeletons of our past that have oppressed and further marginalized people, or we can choose to just walk through this portal and uphold all of the same harmful systems that we created that made it possible for this pandemic to ravage the world in the ways that it has. And it’s funny because when you were on last season for the pilot, we talked about how you were able to find God even in the hospital, even in the midst of a pandemic, how you thought it was important for your work to be imbued with the sense of a higher purpose or a higher being, and seeing that higher purpose or higher being in your patients, especially as you were navigating really difficult medical traumas and emergency. Now I just wonder if after over a year of fighting this pandemic and fighting not just a virus, but also, I guess, this twin virus of misinformation, do you still feel as solid in your faith as you did a year and a half ago?


Dr. Darien: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yes, I definitely feel solid in my faith. I doubt my own strength. That’s what I began to doubt. Because faith can hold you up, but my human strength is getting weaker and weaker. If that makes any sense. I feel confident in the presence of God around me, and I feel confident in the presence of everything possible in terms of trying to help me push me forward to continue to make this, to continue to share this information and try my best to be the best human I can be. But personally, I am tired. I am exhausted. I am frustrated with being frustrated. I’m exhausted with being exhausted. I’m sad about constantly being sad. You know, I feel like there’s only so much my human spirit can do, and I’m trying to keep up but sometimes I really get down. And days like this where I have a lot of shifts in a row and I’m working hard, it feels as though you’re trying to save a sinking ship with a cup, you know? And I’m just like emptying out the water and I’m trying my best but the water is coming in from the ocean, and sometimes it’s just so much for a human to handle. And I’m trying to keep up, but my human spirit can sometimes get really tired.


Phillip Picardi: Yeah, no. I think that a lot of, I mean, what we’re reading about right now is a lot of medical professionals are facing that same level of burnout and exhaustion and just kind of like beyond exhaustion, just being fed up, like fed up with all of it. Right?


Dr. Darien: Yeah. It’s, you know, sometimes, often, I’ll be honest, I like sit and I’m like, What is the point of this? You know why, what if I, you know—I hear comments of people saying like just why, just let’s let it go? Just don’t get vaccinated. Just like, let’s let this virus do what it does, kill people, you know? And sometimes those thoughts enter my head in terms of being like, what is, how much of my effort is going to continue? Because the endurance of those who have the misinformation, the endurance of those who continue to spread fear of science sometimes is so powerful and strong that again, my human body cannot keep up and I’m trying my best. But maybe I’m just talking to myself that I need a break.


Phillip Picardi: I think a break has been well-earned. Well, it’s interesting, right, because—for me, first of all, yes, I hear you and I definitely validate that experience as being something that God has been well-earned and your frustration especially is deserved and warranted—but it is interesting to look back over the past year and a half and really what it’s meant for you specifically. Because I guess like for those who are listening and don’t necessarily know, or maybe you don’t know, Darien last winter, right, when all of the information about COVID was kind of coming out and there was a lot of misinformation spreading and also just like a general misunderstanding of how the virus works even in the mainstream media, like just like a lot of stuff getting it wrong or maybe sort of spreading fear that wasn’t entirely necessary, Darian would kind of respond to that, just like on his Instagram and go live and engage in conversations with other public health professionals. Or he would break down, you know, stuff on his Instagram Story for people to better understand stuff. And that led to ABC News booking him for a segment or two where he helped, like, explain the virus and the precautions we should be taking and what the E.R. was like. And that actually turned into Darien now being a regular medical correspondent for ABC News. And so you’ve been like, you basically went from—and I remember this very clearly—like the hazmat suit and the full PPE and us being scared of whether or not we could or should sleep in the same bed together, to you being a regular appearance on the nightly news and becoming, and emerging as a voice of reason for people who were reading so much information and getting so scared and needing someone to help them parse through the noise. And there was also that like full-page picture of you in The New York Times, do you remember, from the [unclear] campaign where they called you like a hero? Where because they were talking about frontline workers being heroes. I mean, it’s just been a lot that’s happened for you in the midst of so much tragedy. It’s like you have somehow managed to find and enhance your vocation in this world, your purpose in this world ,while fighting one of the most deadly viruses we’ve ever seen in human history.


Dr. Darien: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that, I feel when I’m working that sometimes I’m like, you know what, the amount of effort that I’m putting into this one clinical case, it can, you can feel burnt out really quickly. And I think that’s the reason why burnout exists, as physicians, as health care providers, we’re constantly sitting in those patient rooms and we feel like, OK, I’m going to try to help this person as much as possible. But then you walk out into the world and you realize that there is so much calamity and fear and misinformation and false information that that means that your next day when you go to work, there’s going to be a new patient sitting there and it feels, you feel defeated. And I think that’s one of the reasons why burnout exists. And so my tactic and my maneuver to get through that burnout, to break through that feeling of defeat was to figure out how I could share that information, not just with my one patient, but with all the patients around the United States, around the world who are listening and looking for information, trying to make themselves, trying to make a decision. And I feel as though every time I step on the platform of the news or on social media, people are listening more than just that one person. And it makes me feel like something is getting done. And so it’s my own kind of defense mechanism, but it’s almost self-sabotaging in a way because I’ve created more work for myself trying to make myself feel better. And so sometimes I’m like, Wait, you just, you’re just working more, how much can you do? But I do have, I have more moments of gratefulness and appreciation for the way that information can be felt and perceived, than I do of defeat. And so I just try when I’m sad in moments like this and tired, to remember that there are many people who are listening who are using this information to change the perceptions and fear of science and allow people to make the best decision for them. And I know that it’s working. I believe it’s working.


Phillip Picardi: That’s interesting because a lot of your clinical work is about healing, of course, like that’s what it means to be—or that’s what it should be, and I should say, to be a doctor—but you’ve also found that being a public educator is also healing, that this is another component of healing—


Dr. Darien: Exactly.


Phillip Picardi: —that is really important to your profession. And of course, I would extend that to any of our public educators, whether or not you are public health educators, but public school teachers, etc.—anyone who is doing the work of educating can be an agent for healing in society, which I think is really powerful. Does it feel at all, I guess, like bittersweet to have stepped into this new chapter of your life in the midst of a pandemic?


Dr. Darien: You know, I mean, before this pandemic, I was interning in the news and for me, people who know me know I love to share science and I love to explain science. And so like, for example, you know, creating a TikTok was my pastime, again, something that I do to distract myself from the atrocities around me is creating moments where people can learn something new because I enjoy that. And I bring it up because I don’t really talk about COVID in some social realms and media where I just talk about science, because I really do love helping people to understand it. I wish, I wish that more people were able to receive it because I think that if people were able to receive it from verified sources and people who have experienced and has spent, you know, more than a decade in school understanding a science like myself and people really look to sources who really did the work, then I think that we would have a very different world. And so I’m excited that people find me, find comfort in my words, but I’m sad that it’s even needed.


Phillip Picardi: But it’s always been needed, right? I mean, that’s the other thing that’s so interesting about this is that it’s helped us to put COVID into a much larger context of a sort of medical history. And it’s it’s funny to read about similar things happening with the flu vaccine or the smallpox vaccine, etc. It’s so funny that people don’t even consider those things vaccines anymore. They don’t question those vaccines, but they question COVID-19 or they won’t get the vaccine but they want an experimental drug treatment instead when they do get COVID. I mean, all of these things have been really interesting to show that even the public understanding of medicine itself is not as sophisticated and not as accessible as it should be. And I think that, again, speaks to, more about just the ways in which we gate-keep information and we we really need to be doing a better job of making it more accessible and easier to understand. And also fun. Like, I think that’s the other thing, it just, it doesn’t have to be boring. You know, like, I know it’s serious that it doesn’t mean it has to be boring.


Dr. Darien: Yeah, you have to be able to give out information. You know, I feel like education is kind of always, you know, education is kind of always behind the times. I feel like when you’re trying to teach someone something, you have to really understand what’s going on in the world around them to be able to get that information in as good as possible. And sometimes when I’m watching creators and content creators create educational resources I’m like, I can’t even pay attention to this, and I’m the person that has sat in school for, again, over a decade listening to professors lament over something really specific and small in science so that I can then take a test on it and try to remember everything that they said. And I do know that, yes, I did that because that was necessary, but that’s not how a common person learns about the world around them. So if you’re going to teach someone something, you have to make sure that the context is appropriate. You have to make sure that they’re, that they are engaged, and you have to make sure that they walk away receiving something and holding on to it. I think that that is the trick about edutainment, as sometimes I call it, education and entertainment, they have to be intertwined. You have to kind of keep up with the times.


Phillip Picardi: Indeed, indeed. OK, so you are not the only one who made major life moves during the pandemic. You also had a fiancée who moved with you to L.A., apparently.


Dr. Darien: Begrudgingly.


Phillip Picardi: And then less than a year later, found a way to apply to a program at Harvard Divinity School to promptly get himself back on the East Coast. So I think the people want to know, how are you feeling about me being at school?


Dr. Darien: I feel great. I love that you’re in school. I think it’s exciting. I would never choose that for myself in any way, shape or form, but I think it’s really cool that you’ve chosen that. Because again, I mean, we’re two separate people, but I love the fact that you have found something very specific that you’re interested in and you are exploring it. And you did that with such grace, and you also did that by choosing, I don’t know, the best school in the world. So I think it’s really cool.


Phillip Picardi: And how are you doing with the long distance?


Dr. Darien: I’m fine. Are you fine?


Phillip Picardi: I fine, I mean, I would be more fine if a Harvard University student housing wasn’t so abysmal.


Dr. Darien: I know I’m looking at this sad planet behind you. What the hell is that?


Phillip Picardi: Plants don’t grow like they should here. You know what I’m saying?


Dr. Darien: Yeah.


Phillip Picardi: It’s been, Yeah, and also the walls in here are like a yellow beige, so there’s definitely heterosexual people making the decisions of these student dorm rooms. I mean, they are just really something honey. I never thought, I mean, in so many ways it feels like I’m I traveled back in time. It’s like, this is kind of like the maybe like the alternate reality of myself at 22 or something. It’s funny, if I had just listened to my dad my entire life, I would have ended up at Divinity School. I would have ended up getting ordained to be a priest because obviously gay people can’t have sex or anything so you just joined the priesthood. I mean, that’s like literally what he told me when I was a kid. So I mean, this is just, it’s in more ways than one it is a full-circle experience. And also like a completely unexpected experience in that way. So I’m still getting my bearings here, but I am still figuring out how attached to this place, this soil, this city that I really want to be because I’m trying to figure out if I need to make myself happy here, or if I need to be happy enough to get back to New York and get back to home, and getting back to merging this part of my life with the path that I was on previously. If that makes, if that makes any sense. I feel like there’s I’m facing a fork in the road. One of those forks is like, you know, one of those paths is merging my interests now with my interests from what I call my previous life. And then the other path is potentially just diverging from everything that I ever thought for myself. So it’s all very, it’s all a lot to process. It’s a lot to process when my family is like, you know, 15, 20, 35 minutes away from me, it’s a lot to process, like, you know, while we’re reading about like the study of life and the study of belief, I mean, it’s a lot.


Dr. Darien: First off, I think it’s funny how you move across the country and you’re like: the walls! [laughs] But I do think that, I mean, your experiences is, I’m trying to be, I’m an optimistic person. I feel like we definitely had different views about how we look at things, but in your place, in your setting, you’re surrounded by some of the greatest minds in the world and you’re learning something that many people, I just think that many people haven’t taken the time to I understand. And so I think personally, it’s really cool. But of course, yes, I do agree. The apartment does look very bleak.


Phillip Picardi: It is bleak, baby. You know, there’s this like, there’s this mindset here that we must live in, like Spartan surroundings in order to be intellectuals and taken seriously. And I just think there’s always room for glamor. And I think there’s always room for beauty, and beauty can be however you define it for yourself. It doesn’t need to be my version of beauty. But anyways, let’s just say I sure hope they don’t charge me a hefty bill for what I’m about to do to this place because it’s getting a makeover. Whether they like it or not!


Dr. Darien: For those listening, Phill loves putting equity in things that he does not own. I don’t understand why you do this. I really don’t. But whatever. Whatever makes you happy, babe.


Phillip Picardi: As you sit in our gorgeous apartment that I decorated! From head to toe.


Dr. Darien: I know.


Phillip Picardi: It looks look so nice.


Dr. Darien: But you know that if it was me, it would be like a couch and one photo on the wall.


Phillip Picardi: And a plank of a plank of wood for a coffee table.


Dr. Darien: Yes! Yes.


Phillip Picardi: Yeah. Yeah. And Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage in the freezer. This is just not how I live my life.


Dr. Darien: Oh my gosh. That got recalled. I can’t eat that anymore.


Phillip Picardi: It was about time that that got recalled! OK? It was about, I tasted that when you made it for me, like you made breakfast, remember, when we first started dating and I had to eat the whole thing, and I called my sister afterwards and I was like, You won’t believe what he fed me!


Dr. Darien: It’s so good! Anyway, back to the main topic, this podcast.


Phillip Picardi: So if you had to sum up, what do you think this experience is revealing to you about our relationship? Be careful now.


Dr. Darien: How much patience we have for each other. I think that, I think we’ve been together for quite a long time. I think that we have a tremendous amount of patience for each other. And, you know, I don’t know many people—


Phillip Picardi: You have more patience than I do! [laughs]


Dr. Darien: Yeah. Maybe I do. But many people, when you see couples like us, I guess, move around the world and operate in the way that they do, I just think that people who may not have experienced anything like this may not understand, but there’s no question of the strength of our relationship, even when we’re on opposite sides of the country. I think that really what the test is is just how simply patient we are. And I’ve found that we really are patient with each other and I appreciate that. And by that I mean, not just patient in the direct concept where you’re having a conversation and maybe one person is upset about one thing or another, just patience in someone else’s time. And also how we respect each other’s individuality. You know, it’s really rare for you to see us doing something like this together. I’m honored to be here. But I really enjoy how we each have grown together. If you look back and think about how much we’ve come through and I really have grown to love, and have loved the person that you have become. And so I look at photos from like eight years ago, and I know that that is a different Phill and I know that that is a different Dairen.


Phillip Picardi: I had a 29 inch waist!


Dr. Darien: Did you? When?


Phillip Picardi: I did—OK. Wow.


Dr. Darien: [laughs] I’m just kidding. But when we, when I look at time through the years, I don’t know, I just really like seeing how I’ve been really lucky enough to not only grow in this relationship, but also love the person that you’ve grown to be as well.


Phillip Picardi: That’s very sweet, and I reciprocate that. And I would add too, that if there ever is a perception that we are always happy and that things are always going well, that is a false perception and that, this this shit takes a lot of work. Love is a lot of work. Love is, love requires discipline to keep it afloat. And it is not always the sponsored content campaigns that you see on Instagram, and we don’t often look the way that we do on our Instagram.


Dr. Darien: Speak for yourself.


Phillip Picardi: It take a lot of work to get me there! OK? But it’s not just about how it looks, it’s about what happens behind the scenes and I, you know, have never felt before like I had something or I had a relationship in my life that was so worth fighting for. And it would have been a lot easier to make a decision like this and strike out on my own. And in many ways, it would have been simpler and also more cost effective, but ultimately, you know, I feel like this experience has really, has really solidified the foundation of our relationship, which is that as long as we are both pursuing what makes us happy individually, when we come back together, it only enriches the soil that we’ve planted our relationship in to begin with. And so it has been a really interesting experience. It’s also, by the way, it’s nice to miss you after waking up next to you every single day without fail for over an entire year of the pandemic, and having you constantly annoy me in a very small home that we lived in. So that’s also been, it’s been a little nice. I’ll be honest.


Dr. Darien: I love how you call this this home, small. I love your concept of just reality sometimes.


Phillip Picardi: Oh no, not you calling out my privilege.


Dr. Darien: Your, your concept of real estate—you have real estate privilege.


Phillip Picardi: I have more than real estate privilege, unfortunately. I’m working through all of it. As my professor Diane Moore would say, I am working through my situated-ness. We all have to work through our situated-ness, where we are situated and what our cultural biases are and how we participate in cultural violence. Thank you to Diane Moore for that. OK, I’m not going to torture you anymore. I’m going to go let you take a nap before you start your shift.


Dr. Darien: I to go on the news, actually.


Phillip Picardi: Oh! Mr. Celebrity over here. I do just want to close by saying that I know it’s been a tough transition, it’s been a tough year, but I could not be here, especially here, if I did not have a foundation of love to stand on. And I’m so grateful for you supporting me and for you really being in a lot of ways the first person who pushed me to rethink how I believe in God. Because I don’t know how I can be in love and not believe in some way that there’s something bigger out there for all of us. So thank you. I love you.


Dr. Darien: I love you too. And that was really beautiful and kind. I’m going to keep that because I really enjoy when I do these things with you, because you’re super nice on these platforms. But I will respond to that in saying that I may have made you understand the beauty of God, but you have made me understand the beauty of this world and how to interpret it. And I could not be more grateful than to have someone like you sitting next to me doing that.


Phillip Picardi: Oh, that’s really sweet. Do you think I’m going to find God at Harvard?


Dr. Darien: No. I’m just kidding. You might. [laughs]


Phillip Picardi: OK. So maybe after.


Dr. Darien: Finding out is not an isolated experience. It’s a journey.


Phillip Picardi: Yeah. That’s what I’m learning. And this journey is hard. I don’t know why I’m reading so much. I thought this was so cute, I thought it could be Elle Woods wearing all Prada to my classes, looking all cute. I’m like rolling out of bed in a sweatshirt like, what the hell are we talking about today? Anyways, speaking of, you better go on the news, I better go to class. I love you. I’ll talk to you later. I’ll see you tonight!


Dr. Darien: See you tonight. Bye babe.


Phillip Picardi: Bye!


Phillip Picardi: OK, that’s all we have for our show today. I hope you enjoyed it, and make sure you tune in next week, same time, same place for more Unholy goodness. Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is me, Phillip Picardi. Our producer is Lesley Martin and Brian Semel is our associate producer. Our editors are Karem [unclear], David Greenbaum and Sara Gibble-Laska. The theme music is by Taka Yasuzawa.