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5 Things I've Learned In The Last 12 Months

Shannon Harvey

It’s been one year since my film The Connection was released, a project that has taken my heart and soul to bring to the world, and a project that has changed my life forever. As regular readers of this blog will know, I decided to make The Connection after I discovered the wealth of scientific evidence showing there was far more I could be doing for my chronic illness than my doctors were aware of and I wanted to share this information with others. Given that I was recently reading a research paper about the health benefits of reflection, I thought I’d take this twelve-month mile stone as an opportunity to contemplate the highs and lows of the project so far.      

1) We’re all in this together 

In an age where more than one in two people will be diagnosed with a chronic illness, I have lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people who are ‘refugees’ from the healthcare system. People who have been bounced from one doctor to another, people who have turned to alternative medicine and are still unwell despite spending thousands of dollars, people who feel hopeless and helpless when it comes to finding credible, evidence based solutions. In the past I’ve often felt lonely with my illness and that there isn’t anyone who really understands my frustrations. But as I hear more and more stories from others, I realise we’re all in this together. Hearing of these experiences fuels the fire I have burning inside me and compels me to keep researching and sharing this information. There is real hope of recovery and it’s grounded in science.     

2) Healthcare providers are on our side

I was so disillusioned by my experiences with doctors that before I released the movie, I admit to having a ‘them’ and ‘me’ attitude. I thought of myself as being on an opposing side to mainstream medicine. But after spending the last year travelling around talking to people on the frontline of healthcare, I have a far greater insight into the challenges they face. They are struggling to keep up with the tsunami of chronic illness and as a result, their own health is at risk. One recent study found that our doctors are at great risk of burnout. I’ve learned that our healthcare providers need to be given this information about the role of stress, the need for rest and the importance of social support, just as much as their patients do. I also find that I now have far more compassion for the doctor who doesn’t remember my case history or who cancels my appointment and reads my test results to me over the phone.      

3) Medicine is interested in mind body science

The biggest surprise since the film’s release is that mainstream medicine supports the message. I had thought the project would get cast away into the ‘quackery’ category, never to be accepted by respectable medicine, but this has been far from the case. In fact hospitals, medical centres and healthcare groups have hosted their own screening of the film, doctors are handing copies to their patients and screening it in their waiting rooms, and I’ve even had a tap on the shoulder from health insurers wanting to know more. One of the most important things to me when I was making the film was verifying the academic credibility of the experts and the scientific information in the film and because of this, mainstream medicine has given it the thumbs up. This is encouraging news. As the science becomes more and more robust, all indications are that healthcare will eventually catch on.

4) There is a lot of quackery out there 

I’m currently in the process of researching and writing a book to follow up the film. I’m reading every book written by trustworthy experts that I can get my hands on and using their scientific references as my starting point. I’m then reading research papers (often regretting that I don’t have a degree in biology as I grapple with technical language until I understand it). From there I’m writing drafts to try and make it all easy to understand for regular non-scientific folk, and following up with interviews with the scientists who performed the studies. All this I hope will result in a compelling book that anyone and everyone can use as a guide to staying healthy in the modern world. But what this process has revealed to me is just how much misinformation is out there. In this fast moving, content hungry, mass media era where the take home messages of scientific findings can easily be lost in translation during the transition from academic paper to media sound bite or headline; we the audience can often be led astray. My calling as a journalist is to seek the truth and I hope that by producing this thoroughly researched information; I’ll be able to contribute a body of work that people can trust.      

5) There are a lot of people doing a lot of good 

By far the best part of my work has been the opportunity to meet people who are doing amazing things. I recently met an integrative doctor who told me of her lifetime of work helping people in sexual health (a topic not often discussed despite the fact it affects so many people’s lives). Hearing about the work she’s doing, often feeling as though she’s swimming against the tide, but keeping on swimming none the less, was awe-inspiring. People like her are going out on a limb and changing lives. And it’s not just people with the title ‘Dr’ before their name who are making a difference. One group of psychologists were inspired by the film and reached out to Dr. Ali Domar, one of the film’s experts, in order to bring her mind body infertility program to Australia. I’ve heard from people who have seen the film and made a decision to change careers and start working in integrative health. In the last year I’ve met meditation teachers, carers, yoga instructors, health coaches and palliative care nurses; I’ve met administrators pulling together retreats and conferences so that people can come together to discuss ways to innovate; I’ve met HR managers striving to make work places healthier; event organisers bringing communities together to talk about health; and visionaries behind local and global initiatives encouraging us to strive for better mental and physical health. These people who I’ve been lucky enough to meet since I released the film are my constant source of inspiration and provide my greatest hope for the future. To those people I’d like to say…

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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