The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Michael Galinsky 'All the Rage'

John Carter
June 22, 2022
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Michael Galinsky 'All the Rage'

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Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and to help move the dial forward for organisations to become more human-centred in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems.

This is HCD is almost 5-years old. We’ve been creating content regularly for that period of time, and if you want to help us out - please leave a review for us wherever you are listening. Those lovely algorithms love reviews, as it helps us grow our community - every little helps. Even if you don’t review, you can go one better by telling people you work with about the podcast.

In this episode I speak with Michael Galinsky, a movie director, documentary maker and musician based in North Carolina in the states. For anyone that follows me on Twitter, they might have seen a thread a number of weeks ago where I spoke about back pain. Late last year, I woke with pain in my left hand side of my back, and contributed it to being a Dad, lifting little people, being out of shape, sitting down for larger periods of time etc. I went to my physio and had several sessions before Christmas and to little or no state change. Christmas was sore. I was more grumpy than usual and entered January and had a private MRI scan. That in itself was an interesting experience, and one for another episode, but my GP called me and said “one of your discs is protruding” and possibly on a nerve. I was shocked. I’d heard about herniated discs but now I had one! I actually got stiffer after for a few weeks.

Was this what my life was going to be like? Is this what middle age feels like? Sheesh - if it is, then this isn’t much fun.

Then I Tweeted.

What came back was a lot of support and advice. Emma Blomkamp, read something in a newsletter by Kai Brach several months prior and tagged Kai, and Kai mentioned a doctor called Dr John Sarno in the States. He encouraged me to Google and watch some stuff. Sarno’s work states that many people have herniated discs but what is the cause for lots of back pain is stress and hidden life traumas. I was instantly skeptical. But I spent 2 hours that night watching lectures of Sarno’s in NYU on YouTube. I was shocked. Last year was brutal. Running a business and balancing everything has been hard on me and hard on my own mental health. Maybe, just maybe there was something in this.

Then Michael tweeted to me. He’s created an awesome documentary called All the Rage several years ago and I bought it on iTunes and watched it. It explores the relationship between the mind and the body. Sarno encourages people to try exercise and ‘watch’ for the stressors. I did exactly this. I cut the grass. I went for a short walk with the kids. I gave them a piggy back and to my surprise, nothing.

Was this in my head?

In this episode, I speak with Michael about working directly with Dr Sarno in the creation of the documentary and explore deeper about the background to Michaels own journey - something that under pinned the narrative of the documentary.

This is a brilliant episode and one for all - even if you don’t suffer back pain. You will find this fascinating.

Let’s go...

Episode Transcript

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S1: Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer. Our goal is to conversations that inspire and help move the dial forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. This is eight CD is almost five years old. I can't believe it. We've been creating content regularly for that period of time. If you want to help us out, please leave a review for us wherever you are listening. Any of those Spotify or Google Apps, wherever you are using those lovely algorithms, really love reviews and it helps us grow our community and every little helps. But if you don't want to leave review completely understand that you can go one better by just telling people that you work with about the This Is Hate City podcast. In this episode, I speak with Michael Galinsky, a movie director, documentary maker and musician based in North Carolina in the United States. For anyone that follows me on Twitter, they might have seen a thread a number of weeks ago where I spoke about my own back pain, and late last year I woke up with pain on my left hand side of my back and contributed to, you know, being a tired, lifting little people and being out of shape, sitting down for large periods of time, etc., during the pandemic. And I went to my physio and had several sessions before Christmas. Too little or no away, no stay change. Anyway, Christmas was a pretty sore period for me. I was more grumpy than usual and entered January and I had a private MRI scan and that in itself was an interesting experience, folks, and one that I'll go go for in another episode. No talk about that, but my GP called me and said that one of my discs is protruding and it's probably sitting on a nerve. And I was really shocked. I'd heard about herniated discs over the years, but now I had one. I actually got stiffer after that for a few weeks and it didn't know what to do. I'd been to the physio and been to the doctors and the doctors to give me painkillers. So it was this is what life was going to be like for me. Is this what middle age feels like? And if it was, then this wasn't too much fun. I was at that point that I tweeted, okay, and what came back was a lot of support and advice. And AMA Blomkamp read this and I'd already read something in a newsletter by Kay Brock, someone I hold in the highest regard. He created a wonderful magazine off screen and that I was a subscriber to for a very long time. But anyway, Cobra came back to me and he'd written something several months prior in his newsletter and tagged Kay. And then Kay mentioned Doctor John Sano in the United States, and he encouraged me to Google talk to John Sarno and watch some of his stuff. Asanas Work states that many people have herniated disks, but what is the cause for lots of back pain is actually stress and hidden life traumas. Now I was instantly skeptical, but I spent 2 hours that night watching lectures on Sano in the New York University on YouTube, and I was shocked. Last year was actually quite brutal, running a business and balancing everything that's been quite hard on me and my mental health. And maybe this is there is something in this. Maybe there is something to do with Serrano's work and stress and the mind and the body connection. Then Michael tweeted to me and he'd created an awesome documentary called All the Rage several years ago, and I bought it on iTunes and watched it. In that documentary, it explores the relationship between the mind and the body, and Sano encourages people instantly to try an exercise and also trying to explore your own triggers for stress and really watch out for those stressors in your day to day life and try and manage them and just be present. And I did exactly this. I went out and I cut the grass, went for a short walk at the kids cave and piggybacks. And to my surprise, there was nothing the pain had somewhat just kind of disappeared. And I was kind of like left in this state of what's going on here? Was this in my head? I stopped all the medication and I've been pretty much fine not ever since. I still have to do lots of stretches and so forth, but I don't have a pain. In this episode. I speak with Michael about working directly with Dr. Sano in the creation of the documentary and explore deeper about the background to Michael's own journey with back pain, something that underpin the narrative of the documentary itself. Look, this is a brilliant episode. I know it's a little bit of an unusual one, but it's one for all. And even if you don't suffer from back pain, I think you'll find this fascinating. So let's go. Michael, a very warm welcome to bring in design closer. How are you?


S2: I am excellent.


S1: You're excellent. We've been chatting for for quite a while about the little about everything. But I'm maybe just start off and we'll we'll kick off and tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do.


S2: Well, I am a musician, photographer, filmmaker, artist. And, you know, it's interesting, as I say it, one of the things that we do, my wife and I especially, is we make a lot of movies together. But you know, the movie we're here to talk about is one about Dr. Sarno. And it starts with this mind that the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves shape our sense of who we are. And for a long time, part of my story was that I didn't believe I could be an artist because I didn't think I had the kind of explosive creativity that it took to be an artist. So I had this story in my head about what an artist was. And it took me probably 20 years. And so after college, I was in a band, I was a photographer, I worked crappy jobs, and then I started making movies. But even then, it took another 15 years before I could say I'm an artist without feeling like an imposter. And in fact, even as I just said it, I still feel a bit like an imposter. And so it's really interesting how, you know, these ideas that we form about how things are supposed to be, interact with our ideas about who we are and who we should be, and how those.


S1: That's kind of what we're going to be focusing on a little bit more in this conversation because yeah, how we've connected online was to a tweet that I put out a number of weeks ago about having back having back pain. Okay. It fluctuates from time to time, but it happened last December towards the end of a very punishing year. You know, we're in a pandemic and so forth. What you kindly tweeted about a documentary about Dr. John Sano. And I was somewhat cynical, you know, when I when I heard about, you know, Serrano's work. And then I just started to speak my curiosity. And, you know, I watched a couple of documentary are lectures actually in New York. And then you tweeted and I bought the documentary. And I can honestly say it's changed my life. And I referred to your documentary of people to it. You know, probably every couple of days I'm like, you need to buy this documentary. You need to buy this, this, this is amazing. This, this stuff. And I'm not just saying that because you're sitting in front of me here, but it's called all the rage. Okay. My first question for you is why the word rage in the title?


S2: Well, one of the things that's central to Dr. Sono, this idea of, you know, he calls a mind body problem, is that a lot of things that shape our our way of being in the world are formed when we're young, sometimes even before we're conscious of how that's happening. So if you have a lot of even minor traumas in childhood, like your needs are not met, I think, you know, a lot of this story is related to trauma. And when we hear the word trauma again, we tell a story about what that is. And so I think when we think of trauma, we think of being in war or being violently abused or being sexually abused. But in fact, when we're kind of really pre conscious, simply not having our most core needs met is traumatic, it's traumatizing, and it forces us to redirect our behaviors. So, for instance, if I, you know, you think about there's a guy named Kate Baum that who wrote a book called Yeah, When the Body Says No. And he now has a movie called The Wisdom of Trauma, and it's really having huge impact. But he talks about his own experience of coming to understand this really profound connection because he he says actually he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee one day, but then he went to visit his mother and he hid the fact that he was limping from her. And afterwards he was like, why did I do that? Oh, because he had to be so much more conscious of her needs than his own, because he grew up post-Holocaust with a mother who was completely traumatized and barely able to meet his needs. So in order to get his needs met, he couldn't cause any problems. And he came to understand how this affected who he was. And I would say that probably is a similar thing to me, like were wonderful people. Mm hmm. They they grew up in situations where they were not well parented and they didn't have it. Even though they wanted to be wonderful parents, they didn't have all the emotional skills that they probably needed. And so we were left wanting in many ways, or the expectations for us were way beyond the capacity of what we could deliver. So there's a lot of these things that shape our sense of who we are and affect us. And part of that is that we have to learn. We have to suppress our own powerful emotions, otherwise we get in trouble. And so all the rage refers to the fact that we all have kind of bottled up rage in us. And it's the repression of that rage which causes imbalances in our body. Right. Like, it's it's our brain trying to protect us. So it keeps us from expressing that rage. But we need to express that rage or we need to be able to express what we truly feel. Otherwise, that repression puts us in a in a space essentially of anxiety or panic, which then affects our physical body. And when that becomes so regular, that. We're not aware of it. Then it really has a major impact on us. And I know it kind of so all over the place. I'm sorry that it's a little confusing, but.


S1: No, no, no.


S2: It's it's a society of communication. But our first title for the film was The Story of Pain. Because Everybody's Pain has a story, right? Like, if you if you really think about your back pain, what's the story behind that pain? Well, like you said, it was a brutal year. Right. So what what about that brutal year led to this position where all of a sudden that rage was being internalized and you were you had no no way to deal with it. You maybe had to get out of a relationship or you had to escape from something and you couldn't. And so it goes inwards. But we found that the story of pain was a very it's a negative story, but all the rage is both positive and negative. Right? All the rage means something. Yeah. Popular. And so it's kind of a porn on that. Yeah.


S1: It's funny though, but the word rage is all the rage. It's amazing. Like it's very popular at the moment, but the word rage for me is associated with anger. And it's, you know, if someone has rage, they're in a in a fit of anger, like it's a really an explosive emotion. Right. But what I'm seeing is and reading an awful lot of which makes it scary. Exactly. But an awful lot of people kind of like they would deny that the rage persists in their life and they kind of like they they shirk away from it and they hide and they they don't acknowledge its presence. Whereas what I'm seeing in a lot of Sana's, the readings that I'm going through at the moment, it doesn't have to be what we would consider typically rage. It can be bubbling frustrations that kind of aren't dealt with over over a period of time. And that can lead itself to a disconnect between the mind and the body. And the bit that I'm going to ask you next is so the the the historical story of medicine and the development of penicillin, you articulated that really nicely. And where we're currently at in the in the kind of the medical evolution of how a pill solved the problem, tell me a little bit more around how you see, you know, from the development of penicillin to, you know, Freud and and that narrative. Maybe we'll play that for for the listeners if you can.


S2: Or I mean, I think a lot of this goes back to Descartes and there was a period of time where the church said, listen, you can have the body, but we're having the mind. And if you want to talk about the mind, we'll take your head. And so because he was he was trying to kind of bridge that gap and had to stop. And so for a really long time, there was this kind of separation about the mind and the spiritual matters. Freud brought that back into vogue, and then it became kind of a good mixture of being aware of what was going on, emotionally understanding the kind of idea of somatic issues where stresses would have physical manifestations. And there was John Salyer, who was also dealing with a lot of that. And what happened was there was a lot of good cross-pollination. The psychiatrist, psychologists were dealing with medical people and they were finding ways of, oh, this makes sense. But then with the kind of after World War Two, there was a hyper scientific approach to medicine. And what they did is said, we're going to do these randomized controlled trials. But it kind of did what the church did. Right. In the randomized controlled trials. Anything emotional was confusing because people were going to bring their own different confusing emotions to it. So it made your data unclear. So what they said is essentially we're just going to ignore emotional factors because they confuse the data. And then that just became accepted as a way to look at data. And so all of the emotional factors that was, you know, it's messy. How do you control for, you know, someone's mood one day? How do you control for this? How do you control for their upbringing? We just have to look at large data populations and see what a drug does for them. But that's kind of like saying, you know, I'm going to work on a car and I'm only going to work on the engine systems, but not the fluid system, because the fluid systems are complex. And I you know, I just can't deal with that. But if you don't have the fluid systems, the engine doesn't work. And it's the same if you're looking at the mind and the body as just a physical being and not understand the impact that the emotions have on the body, even though we have clear evidence like you blush. Right. It's a physical and emotional interaction. Right. We know that. Yeah. But yeah, you know, we get sweaty palms if we're nervous. Physical things happen. Yet we've ignored that impact because we're saying, Oh, that's temporary. But in fact, when those things become semi-permanent, like a good example, is understanding that the amygdala, which is your fighter flight part of the brain, doesn't always connect to the intellectual part of the brain. Right. So it acts automatically, but it will check in with the brain. And this is where we have a lot more power than we realize. So say you step off a curb and almost get hit by a bus. Your fighter flight will kick in and throw you back on the curb at that point. Thinking brain, your frontal cortex doesn't say to your amygdala. Boy, I was stupid. I wasn't paying attention. That's what I need to pay attention to. Your amygdala sees a bus and says, Those motherfuckers are scary. We need to be aware of them. So now every time you see a bus, your body is trying to protect you without you even being conscious of it. And you get flooded with stress hormones and you don't even know why. So a lot of times anxiety, you're like, I feel anxious and I don't even know why. And I remember being in college and waking up almost every morning feeling really anxious, but not even actually having the word anxiety, not even having a way to frame it. And that would think what's going on, what's bothering me, and be like, Oh, I have this test. You know, I started to think about all these fears, like not physical, but these structural things that were going on in my life that I had to worry about. Otherwise I might miss them. But that process actually made me so disconnected that I was more likely to miss them because I was less grounded. And so you get into this feedback loop of feeling anxious, trying to address it, rather than addressing that, you don't actually have to be anxious. Right. So you get further and further into it. So anxiety is in a way, a kind of form of rage, if you think about it, like rage at having to be responsible for all of these absurdities.


S1: Yeah.


S2: You have to.


S1: And I think in the world. No, no, it's brilliant. Like, I'm. I'm enjoying everything. I think the world that we find ourselves in at the moments where most people are kind of either working, you know, from home or and there's all these extra anxieties that are persisting in the world. You know, people are much more stressed. I could probably speculate and say here that back pain is probably on the increase. But typically, whenever I went to my my doctor and I went to my physiotherapist and then they they encouraged me to get an MRI scan, which I'd never done before, which is quite scary, a nerve racking for, you know, a 42 year old man. And they come back and they go, Oh, yeah, there is a it looks like there's a herniated disc and it's sitting on the nerve. And I was like, No way. I've got a herniated disk. I couldn't believe it. I was like, okay, cool. Yet I was able to wake up in the morning and I felt completely free of pain. And I was like, Hang on a second. Something's not stacking up here towards three, four or 5:00 at the end of every day, I was getting sore. And, you know, that's the bit that can kind of made me curious about something else that could possibly be causing this. And when I saw the the statistic that Sano did in the seventies, where he did a study of MRI scans with maybe, I don't know, maybe 150 people, and he saw that only 20% of people had what would be considered normal spine configuration and they did it again. I'm probably get in the facts figures wrong here, so feel free to correct me. But they did it again. No. They saw there was 11%.


S2: Yeah, well, but I don't know if he was running. The studies were pointing to them, but they're I mean, there is this whole series, right when we started making the movie in 2000 for a woman named Gina KOLATA wrote an article about, oh, there's this big study of MRI's, and there's actually no real strong resemblance between what people see on the on the MRI and the back pain. So they would they'd put 3000 people in a in an MRI, and they gave it to the radiologists and said, tell us who have pain. And. And so if you if you think about that, what it goes to is another story that we tell ourselves. If we see something, we believe it, but nobody ever done a study like that. So there's such a strong correlation between seeing something and saying, I have the answer. So we have this MRI, we look at it, we go, Oh, you have pain there, and that must be the cause of your pain. But they didn't do MRI's on people who didn't have pain to see if that was the case as well. And it was. So you have this equal number of people who have terrible looking MRI's and no pain as people who have beautiful MRI's and profound pain. So what we know from a scientific perspective is that we now know there's no causal correlation between what we see on the MRI and the back pain. Now, what she wrote in 2004, you know, she said, oh, so now they're going to change process 26. She wrote another one, a bigger study, still not changing process 28 Same thing. The studies are being done dun dun dun. And instead of it affecting the care, MRI's are becoming more used, more expensive and more impactful. It hasn't changed practice. So we're talking about medicine is this very scientific process. But if things come up that don't fit within the systemic approach or idea, it's just completely ignored, which is absurd. Yeah.


S1: They just can't us. So in that instance where I, I mean, again, I'm we my story in your story together here because we have a similar story where you were lucky enough to get to meet Dr. John and work with him and look like from the documentary build up a very good relationship with the man and we'll get to that in a second. But what blew me away was his prescription wasn't a pill, it was knowledge. And I want to ask you more what it was like when you went into Doctor John Sarno for the first time. And he said that you probably knew because I know your dad had gone through Sarno before.


S2: Right. And so my dad was young first. He almost had he almost died of an ulcer when I was in like second grade. And shortly after that, he got whiplash in a car accident that we were all in. That was like literally five miles an hour. And it persisted for years and years and years. But my dad was a psychiatry psychologist and a friend of his in the early eighties. This is years of him being in pain gave him the book and immediately as a psychologist he got it and he got better. And and my dad was about the cheapest person you could ever meet. I mean, he grew up in the Depression with a lot of trauma. And even though he, you know, got to had a comfortable life, he was like, we were never allowed to have a soda growing up at a restaurant, not because they were bad for you, but no way am I paying a dollar for something that cost them 10 seconds. $0.10? No way. It's not going to happen, you know, $0.10 of soda. So, you know, that's just how firm he was. Yet he bought a case of the book and gave it out to everybody who ever complained of pain like it was just so profound to him that he had to address it. And so when a few years later, my brother had terrible hand pain and almost had to drop out of college and was told he had to have surgery to carve away bone in his neck, to free up his collar bone to to free the nerves in his neck. My dad said, listen, I'm not going to talk to you again unless you go see Dr. Sarno. And this had gone on for four years with my brother. He went and saw him. Three weeks later he called me and said, I want my car back. He couldn't drive, so he'd given me his car completely better. So I read the book at that point and my back would go out two or three times a year for a day or two. Yeah, it wasn't like a persistent problem. But, you know, I'd have I read the book, I didn't didn't have it for ten years. It totally made sense. I saw myself on every page, but then I had a house that was trying to fix up and a second house and doing a movie and tons of stress. And it just crushed me. I just overwhelmed myself. And I went and I had my MRI and I was told all these terrible things. And even when it was getting bad, I was reading the book. Reading the book, I was just too disconnected emotionally to get there. And that's when I, my wife, literally carried me into his office. And, you know, I was broke. I was like, I can't afford him. My brother said, I'll pay for it. So I went to see him and it wasn't miraculous, but it put me on the path because I understood it. But his absolute clarity in in what it was helped me to to slowly do the work. And I got 80% better than it happened. And that's when we started making a documentary about him. Now getting to the idea of being close to him. I got to know him a little bit. But the truth is, one of the reasons we ended up making a very personal documentary is we made documentaries that were people about people who were fighting something, but he wasn't really willing to publicly fight. He had a book come out. He didn't do any public events. There was nothing for us to film. He wouldn't introduce us to patients. We didn't know how to make it, and that's what stopped it. So when I hit the floor the second time, I literally screamed, Grab the fucking camera because I realized this is the way we were going to make it, that I would have to be in it as your narrative. I had to. I had to make that story a part of it because I understood in order to connect emotionally to the story, I had to be emotional in it, and he wasn't going to be that person. So that was part of the problem. He had a very compelling story. He wouldn't let it really be his story. You know, I think.


S1: There were times in the documentary.


S2: Where difficult and dangerous thing. Yeah.


S1: But there was definitely times in the documentary where I, I sense to us he could have been emotional at times, especially when he was leaving his office. And he was he was resigned. Someone gave him the gift. I think he really probably deeply realized how much his work meant to so many people. Oh, yeah. Did he ever do. Did he ever discuss like, you know what? I know I think it was wife discussed that a bit more like the sense of being discredited or not being listened to from from his community, his peers. Did you ever get a sense of like what impact that had on his life?


S2: Oh, it was very hard, I'm sure. And in fact, you know, just like my father when he left his job, he really I mean, I think it was weeks later he was in the hospital for a very long time. You know, when you lose that sense of who you are. And so he at least had that. And then when that's taken away from you, it's very difficult. I mean, I think about that a lot right now. Like I want to live my life differently than my father. I want to continue to do this work and to go deeper into it because I feel like, you know, that's my job and it's my job for my children. Like, you know, when you heal yourself, you heal your children. And it's very hard to heal ourselves, you know? But when you give them that example of of moving further or not being perfect and recognizing that and working on that and owning that, that's helpful.


S1: Yeah. And I'm sorry. And it's it's something that I could see carrying through in the movie. Like, you know, if you're okay with it. Like, I'd like to talk a bit more around healing yourself. Okay. So in terms of the methods that are used, because I believe a lot of people will listen to the podcast, they might see some sort of symmetry in in what we're talking about here. They may see themselves in our story here as well. What does that look like for you? Because I know both of us at the moment have got intermittent pain. And it's it's usually for me at the end of a hard week. How do you manage this?


S2: You know, I recognize that one of the so what Dr. Sano talked a lot about was this idea of the patients that he saw. He realized that they were perfectionist. They were good as they really. So constantly and consistently tried to do for others and had this kind of drive to be good, caretaking people. And when he realized that some of that was out of balance, sometimes we crush our own needs for trauma. I saw something the other day is like, are you really easygoing or is this you just never had your needs met? And that's the trauma response. And that was that really hit me because I was like, Oh, yeah, you know, as much as I do that work to recognize what's going on in myself and learn to take care of what I need, it's deeply embedded that that's not the way to live, right? That you're you have to deal with other people's needs and take care of them in a way that like, you know, my parents had their own issues and so there was a lot of screaming. They fought a lot. And a lot of times we just had to kind of just, you know, recognize that they couldn't be there for us. And so we had to be there for them in some ways. And that's not it. Wouldn't it be this, like, clear automaton in a way? But these things get deeply embedded in who we are. And so I found myself in relationships a lot where I'm doing way too much and the relationships are out of balance. And so I'm learning how to kind of not confront it, but address it. And sometimes you just have to let relationships go. If they really something too much is being asked of you and you realize, okay, this is out of balance and you're not willing to work with me to bring it into balance. I'm going to have to leave that. And it's interesting. I'm working on this project now about a baseball team. And one of the coaches, you know, kept saying to me, always be 7 seconds from walking away from any relationship. And what he meant not was not, not don't commit, but recognize when there's a breach and that breach isn't curable and be ready to go, because if not, you're going to stay and you're going to keep trying to make it work, but you're only going to find yourself further into it and. It's really good advice. It doesn't mean to be thoughtless. It means be thoughtful of what the situation is.


S1: Just going back to your parents, you know, being 7 seconds. We'll come back to that in a second. But with your parents scenario, you mentioned there that your mother was a social worker and your father was a psychologist. So there's probably a large amount of trauma trauma awareness, I guess, amongst the two parents. What did they teach you about trauma as you were growing up?


S2: I think we ever talked about trauma, but I discussed it. They they taught me to be thoughtful of what other people need. Now, at the same time, they may be weren't as thoughtful of what we needed. And so there was a lot of confusion there. And so, for instance, like, I think a lot of people who go into psychology or go into social work do so because they have that deep need to take care of others, which is also oftentimes out of balance. Right. It comes from growing up in a place of trauma and wanting to help others heal. But a lot of times, psychiatrists or psychologist I found aren't really dealing with their own stuff. And in fact, it kind of protects them from having to deal with it because they understand what's going on and they can help others, but they often don't look inward. And so the hard work, the hardest work is to actually deal with your own stuff, because then you're really much more capable of helping other people work through theirs. And so that's kind of the work that, you know, is really is the most difficult and it's ongoing. And, you know, as much as, you know, like one of the first questions I get asked at almost every screening is, well, how's your back now? And, you know, are you cured? And I and I often respond, you know, I've got this terrible disease. It's called being alive and there's no cure for it. And eventually it's going to catch up to us. And yeah, and it is, you know, being alive is both a gift and a burden. And so how do you how do you embrace the gifts of it and put down the burden as much as possible while still being conscious of everybody's needs around you, but also your own and finding that balanced place? It's very difficult, and we often find ourselves falling back into those same patterns. And as I was just telling you, you know, I was just on a really, really arduous and gruesome shoot for six months. And, you know, it's not that I so much fell back into those patterns, but there were times where I just had to in order to keep the project alive. I got through this work beyond my capacity and it caught up with me, but I also made sure I was taking care of myself. So it didn't crush me. But it was, you know, I'm still recovering from it.


S1: Was there any sort of recommendations from Sano as regards exploring psychology and exploring remedial fitness to help with the body? I didn't understand the connection in the documentary if that was suggested. I know there was times where you, you know, opened up because of it. You know, you spoke about your trauma with your dad passing, but is that something that Sano would have actively encouraged you to explore?


S2: Yeah, I think he one of the first things he said is start journaling, start writing, because then things come up and just, you know, it's not easy. A lot of people sit down and they have nothing to write. But over time, you just start writing. You start writing whatever comes to your mind. Even if it's like, I have to walk the dog, I have to walk, whatever it is. You just start writing and you start to connect with what you're feeling and thinking and you know, like you were we were talking earlier, you said a lot of people are like, well, I don't have any rage. Well, you know, as Dr. Mattie would say, that the people who feel like they had a perfect childhood are the people who absolutely didn't, because nobody had a perfect childhood. And if you feel like you had a perfect childhood, that meant there was probably a profound amount of repression there. Maybe there wasn't a lot of screaming and yelling, but there was a lot of not dealing with stuff that's that's clear. And so when we when we try to think, okay, my, my childhood was perfect, then we really probably are not being honest with ourselves. Now, it's fine to honor the fact that your parents worked really hard and they did really well and they were really sweet and they really supported you. There's stuff going on and if you don't explore it, you're not going to understand it. So he definitely I think that's a really good. So I don't know. But he he prescribed looking inward and, you know, early on he said only, you know, five or 10% of people need therapy. He he definitely pushed that upwards. You know, we all are going to benefit from having someone to talk to, to work through things. Do we all absolutely need it to be able to survive day to day? No. Will it help all of us if we're open to it? Absolutely. There's no way that not having someone to talk to won't help us. But are we also taught that we're weak if we need it? Yes. That's a problem. You know, we're told that. Yeah. If we if we if our emotions overwhelm us, can we get a sick day if we can't get out of bed because our back hurts? Yes. Can we get a sick day? If we say I feel a little depressed. No, we can't. So where to? Where. Where do we place our value? So our thoughts are, okay, it's safe to have a bad back. It's not safe to be an emotional wreck. And so safety becomes a big part of this. And so just understanding these things gives us agency. It doesn't solve the problem immediately. But as soon as we can open up to the agency of it, we have more possibility of healing ourselves.


S1: It's it's a really nice way to start bringing the conversation down towards an end. And it's something that I've started to re explore. I explored that before I became a father. I was like, okay, well, I want to make sure that I deal with some of the stuff that was probably in my past before I started to look at how that might cascade intergenerationally. So it's been fascinating speaking to you about this stuff we mentioned there about another project that I want to try and weave the conversation into Mike beforehand. You're working on what just blew my mind. This story before we start recording. Tell us a little bit more ends, the documentary you're working on at the moment?


S2: Well, I've been working as long as I've been working on the sono film, really. But when I had children, you know, this idea of nature versus nurture, I thought it was all nurture because we grew up in a time when everything was nurture, which was also really confusing, right? Because I grew up in that era of nurture and my parents weren't the best nurturers, even though there were a psychologist, a social worker, I think they cared deeply about us and wanted us to have a wonderful life. But maybe they weren't so responsible about their own behaviours and often expressed a lot of rage and screamed at us and stuff like that without understanding how traumatizing that can be. But as I was thinking about all of that stuff, I had two children and they came out. They were extremely different. And, you know, I want to go back to that idea. When my child was young, I kept a journal for her. My first child, she was very difficult and I wrote about a lot of those difficulties so that later she could go back and have some understanding of how that might have affected who she kept, who she became, because she had a lot of difficulties in daycare. She was always extreme in her way of being, and so I wanted her to be able to connect. But in any case, when I had the second one as nice a woman, I'm in the in the hair salon on the corner said to me, you know, you got to go for your boy, because I two girls and I was like, oh, hell no, I am done because I was overwhelmed at the moment and then went, Oh my God, I might have a boy because I had been a sperm donor and I hadn't really thought about it. And when I did it, I was only thinking it's nurture, nurture, nurture. I didn't really think I would be feel any connection. It was just some genetic material. I grew up in an era where there were a lot of stories about people looking for their adoptive mother. You never saw an after school special about looking for an A, you know, a father, because this idea of the nurturing that took place when you are growing the child creates that connection. But in fact, the genes are so profound, you know, you later discover how profound. Anyway, I started working on a documentary about that idea. And then about 12 or 13 years later, well after finishing, the doctor saw a movie. I got a text from my cousin saying while I was in the emergency room with my mom, who I thought was going to pass, saying, I just got off the phone with your daughter. Do you remember you were a sperm donor? And I did. And I, you know, immediately texted my daughter and said, I would love to speak with you, but now is not a good time. And one thing to know is I'd spent so long on this, I understood that what I needed in that moment or my desire to know her had to be not even the back seat. It wasn't even in the car. I understood I had a responsibility to her to make space for her to enter that relationship in the way that she needed. I was there to give her what she needed, but I had no expectations. I wasn't allowed to have any expectations because I was I was the responsible party. And so that allowed us to slowly. Create a really profound relationship. You know, it took a year and we talked a lot. We got to know each other. But I really had to be like as much as I wanted her to meet my mom because it was her grandmother. I knew I couldn't push into that space and she wasn't ready for that yet. She she didn't miss that opportunity. So. But. Yeah, go ahead.


S1: Yeah. How old is your daughter now?


S2: She's 29. 29. She grew up in a family where nobody went to college. But when I met her, she was getting her Ph.D. and both of my parents did so well. Having that connection to that story and knowing more about her was so profound and so grounding. Because when we're not connected, you know, like there's a lot of times, you know, this is one of the major problems with the donor conception is oftentimes kids weren't even told. And it's the same with adoption. Sometimes kids aren't even told. But there's a knowing, you know, who you're connected to. And if you're kind of been gaslit and told, no, no, this is your dad, you it's really distant, it's disconcerting. It makes you just feel lost in the world. And so a lot of times it's really honesty. It's about connection and it's about making space and giving some agency to people. And we knew this was so this is the one the main problems with donor conception. We knew this from adoption. All adoption, by the time they were doing donor conception was we knew that it had to be known because to keep the secrets were terrible. And yet we just, you know, as a business, didn't do that with these children.


S1: So in the the sort of the broader scheme of where you're at with the documentary, where are you at with that? Because it's it's it sounds like it's a great story. It's a very personal story as well, I'm sure for Holly.


S2: Yeah it's a research from you know is so much footage, there's so much story and you know, what we really need to do is put together a really good trailer and be able to sell. We can't spend. Yeah, I don't have the resources to spend two years on it, which is what it'll take you to find someone who will help us finish it. And yeah, we can. We just need to do it. But at one point I was trying to merge the two documentaries because they're so connected. They're both nature versus nurture. And the fact is, what happens with systems is we're constantly going in and out of balance. And it's the same with financial systems as well. One of the most interesting things we noticed when we looked at the documentary, it was you start making this documentary is the first time they started looking at back pain. The cost was like $56 billion and that was in the mid eighties. That's when they first like measured the cost of back pain, right. It's also when there was a real regressive tax issue that happened under Reagan in America. And I think it happened in, you know, around the world. And it's where we started to see a huge rise in the wealth gap. And so if you look at the wealth gap on a chart with the rise in back pain, they rose exponentially together. So in 85 it was $56 billion right in back pain and the wealth gap was fairly low. You know, it was like, you know, there was a 10% gap or whatever. If you put it on a chart, by the time when they read, when they crunched those numbers in 2011, it was 200 billion. And in 2016, it was 500 billion. You know, so you look at the numbers, what's the gap parabolic and and if you look at that, you know, if you tell the story of it, right, in America from the fifties, there was this increasing level of a rising middle class. Right. But when that started to shift, that's when the back pain really started to take off. And you think about people who there was this expectation, the stories we're going to do better than our parents, but that actually became impossible for most people. So there's this sense that you're not doing well enough. So you may have what you need to eat. You may have a car, but it's not enough because you're not doing better. You feel like you're failing. And if you feel like you're failing, you've got this pressure. Yeah, it's rage inducing. And and it's stressful, it's systemic.


S1: And it actually perpetuates an awful lot of the stuff that Sano talks about creates an additional stress and anxiety and where we're kind of going around in circles, which is great, but.


S2: It's also which is which.


S1: Is fascinating.


S2: Yeah. Systems out of balance, right? So at a certain point there was a kind of an understanding of the mind body, which is where we're getting to, where we're moving very rapidly to in the mind, the body interaction to that, it's very likely that will go out of balance the other way and we'll dismiss science. You know, that's what's going on. So the problem is not that science can't figure this out, but the randomized controlled trial that doesn't accept the emotions or doesn't deal with them isn't going to do it. And that's changing. There's trials that are being done that are including emotional aspects and they're they're having profound results. There was you can look it up on The Washington Post, but there was a recent study that was done by people who followed Dr. Saunders work. And they used they. Did work, they did the process, but they also used an fMRI machine to statistically look about what was going on in the brain and you see brain changes. So that starts to convince people that this emotional awareness work actually affects the physical brain. And so now they're accepting it. But if they don't see it, they call it. Whoa! Right. It's whew. It's unscientific if you can't prove it. But if you're not asking the questions, they're doing the science to prove it and then calling it all, whew. Frankly, you're an asshole. And unfortunately, if you just say it's not true and it can't be true because the science has been done and the science shouldn't be done because it's will like shut up. Right? Like, it's fine for you not to be because you haven't seen it. But one of the things that happened we're making the movie is there is a lot of science to support these ideas, but we would put a lot of the science in the movie. And what we found was all the skeptics said, Yeah, well, I need more science. I need more science. Because they were so preternaturally resistant to facts. Yeah. Were counterintuitive to what they knew to be true. It just made them more skeptical. So that's when we end up having to take all of that out. And that made some people more skeptical of the film, but we weren't going to actually reach them anyway. So you stop talking to the people you're not going to reach. 7 seconds from walking away.


S1: Well, Michael Severns, I was going to say 7 seconds walk away, but it's it's a fantastic documentary. And I'm not here to blow smoke. Everyone I've I've met who asks me like, how's your bike? And I'm like, Well, do you know us? It's 80% or 90% better than it was in January. And I put it down to initially finding the lectures and the books, but also it's it's your movie that I find really accessible and for people to get and to watch. So if you do know anyone out there who's got back pain, folks, all the rage, what's the URL for us?


S2: Michael All the rage dotcom and that has links to all the different ways you can watch it. I do want to address really briefly the one thing you just said that this is a really you know, this is the most important aspect of the movie is that, you know, this is a story about connecting with our emotions, right? So you can see the lecture, but it doesn't connect you with your emotions. Maybe you see the lecture and some people talk about their own experience that starts to connect you with your emotions. But the reason I ended up having to be in it and feeling responsible in some in some way, the same way that I felt with my daughters, I had to be emotionally responsible and emotionally present and essentially emotionally naked in order to help people to connect to their own emotions. And it's interesting, like so many times after the movie, when I would present it live, people would come up to me and I could literally feel the emotion had come up. It was in their chest and they would they would want to talk and I would just interrupt them. And they were kind of asking questions that would say, you know, I'm aware of that feeling that you have in your chest. Are you aware of it? And it would move up and then they would either cry or they would sigh. But it it it was so uncomfortable and they didn't know what to do with it, but just acknowledging it helped them to just let it go. Yeah. And so the whole point of the film was to kind of help people to, to feel it. So the film, if you watch it, it's not going to prove shit to you. It's not going to tell you how to solve this problem, but it's going to help you go, Oh, yeah, those emotions are there. That's that was the main goal of it.


S1: I just identify them. Yeah. And acknowledge them. And being present enough to, to, to be aware is probably what I took away from us. So kudos to you. I'll put a link to the documentary in the show notes of the podcast. Michael, if people want to reach out to you, if people want to follow you online, what's the best way for people to do that?


S2: Well, I'm online as myself on Facebook. I'm on Twitter as myself, but also as at story of pain. At the story of pain. There's also humor. And we have a Facebook page for the movie which has tons of stuff on. There is is a real good source of information also for people who are interested. There's a bunch of TMS groups online that are really helpful to people to get in a community of people who understand what this is and be able to kind of steer people in the right direction. And there's also the TMS, which has links to a lot of people who do this work, like there's people in the UK, there's a lot of groups and there's a lot of, you know, therapists who are embracing this idea. And I think really what it is, is just recognizing that that all therapy should be kind of mind body focused. What's going on in your body?


S1: Absolutely.


S2: We want to recognize we want to be aware of what's going on schematically in order to be able to connect it, what's going on intellectually and emotionally.


S1: Well, thank you so much for your giving your time, your energy, your story. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you today.


S2: Yeah, thank you. I've enjoyed it, too. And you know, lastly, you brought up something because. All these ideas connect. But I think one of the ways that medicine has been practiced for a long time is the doctor is the god. Right. And, you know, it is almost colonial in its way of being like, I'm going to come in is this pro from outside and be able to put you on the right path. But I think that the way we get closer to truth is, is we take away that godlike status and understand that we're all our own gods and we need to listen to each other and listen to ourselves. People with knowledge need to be less be more human in order to be able to actually be able to see what else is going on so that they they open up to the possibilities themselves. And it comes back to this idea of design, right? So if you come at design from, oh, I know what design is and how it should be, it's a less of a listening approach and really observing and maybe we observe, but we also have to ask questions, right? Like, Oh, why did you go that way? Like, what made you feel that way? And you know, everyone's going to bring different things to it. And so it's really interesting to think if we can open up to emotional issues in every aspect, from design to teaching to to medicine, you know, we're just going to have to find more balance in our lives.


S1: Absolutely. Michael, lots of fantastic way to interrupt the episode and I put all those links to those things in the show notes as well. Thanks so much for your time again. So there you have it. That's all for this episode of Bringing Design Closer. If you like this episode, feel free to visit this excited e-com where you can access our back catalog of over a hundred episodes with episodes related to service design, product management, design, research, and much, much more. If you're interested in design and innovation training, feel free to check out our business. This is doing e-comm where you can join online classrooms and learn from the world's best design and innovation leaders. Join that. This is eight city newsletter where you receive updates from the network and also if you're interested in apply to join the Slack community and this is AECOM. Stay safe and until next time, take care.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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