Gregory Pettigrew (etherial) wrote,
Gregory Pettigrew


Back in June, I was running errands in the evening and there was no good music on my radio presets, so I put it on shuffle and came across this spellbinding program on NPR.

The New Norm
It was about an ambitious deep sea drilling project that Shell had worked on and how, in order to succeed, they had to knowingly, deliberately, and fundamentally alter drilling rig culture. Now I'm not normally an NPR kinda guy. I find the spoken word difficult to listen to for prolonged periods of time. My mind tends to wander. I secretly avoid Bardic Circles at SCA events because I hear it's rude to snore. But this story was so thoughtful, so interesting, got so deep into the meat and guts of the human mind, that I couldn't put it down. They didn't simply ask tough questions, they sought the tough answers to the tough questions.

"The way Robin sees it, in the old way of doing things, men spent a lot of energy trying to preserve this hyper-masculine image of themselves. They were supposed to be physically tough, technically infallible, and emotionally detached. And that closedness? It actually got in the way of staying safe in an environment with thousands of moving parts.


And here's a question: Is the moral of this story that, in order to succeed in the 21st Century, it's better to choose an organizational structure that's girly? I mean, the norms these men learned, talking about their feelings, crying at work, eagerly admitting mistakes, these are behaviours that people associate with women, right?


That's a shorthand for the way people regard this change. It's not that the men are becoming more feminine. They're opening up and becoming more themselves."

I found myself sitting in my car in my parking space listening to this program. I'd never imagined an oil company could confront and successfully change in the face of this kind of toxic masculinity, or even the mainstream media picking up on it. And then the program ended and I turned off the car and went on with my life.

Time passed.

A couple weeks later, I was again running errands and again, unusually, there was no good music and again, unusually, I found myself listening to a program on NPR. It was spellbinding. And it was by the same people. This one was about mental health.

The Problem with the Solution

"Ellen spent seven days in the Augusta [Maine] State Hospital. She says no one there knew she was a fake, and she spent her time just watching to see if there were any useful therapies being practiced."

Now, this was the 70s, so it doesn't really surprise us enlightened 21st Century moderns that these people were badly neglected. "One could almost see the humanity of these people evaporating." And then one day, in the library, she stumbled across a reference to a little town in Belgium called Geel (pronounced CHeel). Geel had the dubious honor of being the place where the Patron Saint of the Insane was supposedly martyred and as a result it became a pilgrimage site for the mentally ill. And they decided to stay. And the people who grew up in the town took them in. They treated them with kindness. They treated them with respect.

In Geel, people volunteer to take in the mentally ill as boarders. The boarders meet with therapists, work on their issues, take medication, and live -- as much as possible -- normal lives, living with people who were not told what the diagnosis was. Their hosts are taught how to deal with people who were hallucinating, people who were violent, people with PTSD, people with control, attachment, and anxiety issues without complaint.

"None of it made any sense to her until she met The Buttons Guy. The Buttons Guy was a middle-aged man, a boarder, who every single day, would twist all the buttons off his shirt, sort of nervously twirl them off every single day. And so his host mom, she has to sew these buttons on every night...I was just really perplexed by that chore that she had to sew all these buttons on every day so I suggested that she used fishing line so that it wouldn't twirl off and she was almost offended. She says 'No, no, you don't understand...That's the worst thing you could do...No, I will never use fishing line because this man needs to twist the buttons off. It helps him to twist them off every day.'"

This reminded me of a post I had seen on tumblr about a highly successful woman whose life was crippled by her constant nagging feeling that she had left the hair dryer on, until one day, her therapist suggested she just take it with her to work. Rather than drive home several times a day in a panic that she had left it on, she could just keep it with her and see it and know that it was all ok. Many of this therapist's coworkers were horrified by the idea that the therapist could tolerate the idea that doing something so obviously crazy could be allowed to be part of the treatment program. "They had let go of the mission to cure...The solution to healing a person you love with mental illness was to not seek a solution."

There's a gut-wrenching ending to the story of Geel. "Have you noticed the catch in this seeming paradise? ...Toni's son Edo, when he was in his early 20s, was working construction and fell off a wall. He hit his head and suffered really serious brain damage...And so she tried to have him live with her among the young men she had so effortlessly boarded over the last couple decades...It didn't work out...Is closeness a curse? Are we somehow incapable of healing our own?"

"A British Sociologist, George Brown, made a very surprising observation: Male patients who were suffering from Chronic Schizophrenia did a lot better after they left the hospital when they went to live in lodgings, rather than going home to live with their wives or their parents...They were coming back into the hospital and their schizophrenia seemed less well controlled overall." There are 3 emotions in relatives that correlate most strongly with triggering relapses in relatives. To find out what they are, go listen to Invisibilia.

Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.

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