Our New World: light emerging from darkness
For those of you who read our Perspectives Posts regularly, you will know that I have been chronicling the pandemic since March 2020.
Since the beginning, it has impacted me very personally. As I said in the video interview, Creating the Future: Hope and Light, one of my high outcomes of 2020 arose from my lowest moment. When the first lockdown came in March, my world turned upside down. I was hit on all levels and found myself in solitary isolation and in a very dark wood. Everything was cancelled, personally and professionally, with no sense of when or if the lockdown would end. It was brutal and I reached a very low point. I am a very tactile, social human animal and before lockdown, like many in the big Metropolises, I had built a rich tapestry of a life: it brought in my emotional and psychological well-being, my happiness, and also my livelihood.
And yet. Out of that darkness came immense light. At my lowest point, I was forced to own and show my vulnerability and my need for others in a way I have never really done before. My identity had always been to be there for and to heal others. It took the extremity of isolation in lockdown for this proudly independent woman to understand the shadow consequences of a passionately fought for freedom. These last 20 months have fundamentally changed me and opened my heart to receive love and of course, once we do this, so much flows in.
And then, in August, the pandemic hit even deeper as COVID-19 took my mother. There has been immense darkness, yes, but also such unexpected light as my son, Louis Lunts, explains:
Four weeks ago, my grandma died of COVID-19. Thanks to the compassion, skill and tireless energy of the nurses, my mother and I were able to sit with her as she slipped away.
Those 48 hours in the ward tested me to my limit, so I can’t even begin to imagine the burden these past 18 months have put on frontline workers.
2 in 5 critical care staff now have PTSD because of the pandemic, and that’s just the ones we know about. According to King’s College London, that’s double the rate of PTSD found in veterans with recent combat experience. One crisis has caused another.
On 9th September, for Emergency Services Day, I was very proud to launch a major campaign with a wonderful charity called Frontline19, who provide free psychological support for NHS and frontline staff.
The campaign is called Hopeline19 - a free phone number for the nation to leave messages of support and love for frontline staff. Anyone can call to leave a message, and anyone who needs it can call to listen to a random series of those messages when that’s what they need to hear.
To get you in the mood, we made an incredible launch film. Warning: it hits you like a train. This has always been important. But thanks to grandma and the amazing people who cared for her, it’s never been more personal. Please get involved and share.
Frontline19 is one of Louis’s Pro Bono accounts at his work. He introduced me to Claire Goodwin-Fee, Founder and CEO of Frontline19, who very kindly agreed to be interviewed:
Hannah: What prompted you to create Frontline19?
Claire: My Dad was very sick back in February 2018 and was put into a coma and transferred to King’s College in London for specialist treatment. The care that he received from them was way above and beyond people doing a simple job and he is here now in no small part because of their care and dedication. When the pandemic hit, I knew that ITU would bear the brunt of the situation and they would be hardest hit. These people for me had names and faces and so I wanted to support them as they had my family.
Hannah: How has Frontline19 evolved since then?
Claire: I hoped to help 40-50 people but to date we have helped more than 7000 people and given over 75,000 support sessions.
Hannah: What are you most proud of in what you’ve created in Frontline19?
Claire: I am most proud of the volunteers and of how the therapeutic community has embraced those who are most in need. Our volunteers are simply amazing, and I am humbled by their compassion, dedication, and hard work in looking after the NHS et al in such traumatic times.
Hannah: What are the biggest challenges for Frontline19 right now?
Claire: As always funding and resources - we are facing an unprecedented demand for services but are also focussed on responsibly supporting as many people as we can. We had conversations with the Prime Minister and government regarding funding and although they agreed the service was needed, discussions stalled at their end and no funding was forthcoming. We currently rely on donations to continue to operate.
Hannah: How do you see Frontline19 evolving/going forwards?
Claire: I am passionate about creating a platform for these exhausted and burnt-out workers to be heard and that people bear witness to what they have gone through to be of service to the country. I believe that it is important for them and for us to understand what they have been through. I will continue to fight for them to not only receive the support that they deserve, but to also have adequate emotional support right from the start. This needs to be part of healthcare workers’ training and also on-going support services for the entirety of their careers.
To donate to Frontline19, go to www.frontline19.com
What has struck me forcibly, as a result of these intense 20 months, is how crucial it is that we take personal responsibility for our physical and psychological well-being. My brilliant nutritionist, Loren, is a nutritional therapist and educator, who supports people to transform their physical health – which often also transforms their mental health – through eating real food, learning to listen to their bodies and to regain trust in themselves to take care of their own well-being. I asked Loren to share with us her recent and ongoing work with the NHS:
This January saw the UK facing its third national lockdown, when many of us were already feeling depleted and despairing after nearly a year of the Covid epidemic. We were also going into it in the darkest and coldest time of the year when Spring and the return of light seemed at the other end of a long tunnel.
How could anyone begin a journey of transformation and hope in these grim circumstances? We all knew about the ‘lockdown stone’ – the extra weight gained over the epidemic - as well as the negative effects on mental well-being for many of us. There was a sense of helplessness – is it possible to find the energy and motivation to undo some of this damage, especially if you are isolated, outside your usual support and social networks and trying to recover from the after-effects of the virus?
Yet that is exactly what happened, against all the odds, over those three months with a group of 13 people I was working with. They were all struggling with Type 2 diabetes, excess weight and other health issues, on top of difficulties which the epidemic and lockdowns had brought, and yet they experienced dramatic transformations within weeks.
Like Hippocrates (500 BCE), the father of modern medicine, I believe that food should be our medicine, and our medicine our food. He is also thought to have said ‘all diseases begin in the gut’ and I haven’t found any reason to disagree.
This kind of approach – dealing with root causes - takes time, patience and attention and a trust that out of darkness will come light. Our health care systems are overwhelmed with the burden of chronic disease, and simply don’t have the time and resources to work like this. Primary care physicians dealing with Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which often go together, are forced to dispense medication which mostly tackles the symptoms, not the underlying cause. They then send patients on their way with advice to ‘eat less and move more’. If that advice ever worked, the epidemic of obesity would disappear.
So local doctors referred patients with Type 2 diabetes and overweight or obesity to my group, almost as a last resort, because they were losing hope of being able to help them. We all knew that tackling diabetes and obesity had become more urgent because it had become frighteningly clear over the past year that these conditions made people more vulnerable to Covid.
We focussed on hope, not fear. Trying to scare people into getting healthy doesn’t work. Offering hope and creating a positive vision of how life could be, is so much more powerful as an agent of change and making that change real.
I know this from my own experience, working with Hannah on a visioning exercise late last year when I was feeling low and stuck in my working life. The vision Hannah and I co-created – of being able to scale up my work, help larger numbers of people and enable real change in the health service – felt like an impossible dream. But the visioning forced me to spell out what this would look like, and how I would go about it. It looked great on paper but initially, part of me resisted – I told myself: ‘This won’t happen in my lifetime.’ And yet, just two months later, my first group was up and running, with funding from the local authority.
I had to proceed carefully because what I'm teaching people was contrary to what everyone’s been told for the last 50 years, particularly about dietary fat; even though I could reassure our group that thousands – probably millions by now – of people all over the world have regained their health this way. When participants realised that they could eat delicious food like butter and steak again and it wasn’t going to kill them, they rediscovered the joys of cooking and eating real food.
By the end of the 12 weeks, almost everyone lost weight – some as much as 40 lbs. One participant thought his scales were broken! He couldn’t believe how much weight it was telling him he had lost. Many people lost inches from their waist, reduced their blood sugar (the key measure of diabetes), lowered their blood pressure, and even reversed other conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. With improved mood and energy, they were motivated to do more exercise - a virtuous circle. And some people were able to stop their medications altogether. These results are undeniable and now, eight months later, resources are pouring into my work from the NHS to run more groups and to train healthcare staff.
Loren Grant, @lorengrant
What happened this summer was brutal and yet, beyond the private grief, there is so much to be thankful for. The Vaccine does work. Yes, it didn’t save my mother, but she had very ill health for a long time and had nothing in her to fight the virus. But my father tested positive at the same time and, at 86, he is fit and well and still with us. A great blessing.
And there is so much we can do: by taking personal responsibility to keep physically and psychologically healthy and also by going beyond our own concerns and connecting to and helping others. There is a wonderful concept in Jungian psychology called the ‘Wounded Healer’. It comes from the Greek myth of Chiron, the mentor to the Gods, who healed himself through healing others. By transforming our wounds into healthy action and compassion for others, we in turn find deep healing and inner peace. As I wrote in my first Perspectives Post on the pandemic, back in April 2020:
‘We will not come through this in isolation, by exclusively looking after our own self or tribe. We will only come through this, and with our humanity intact, if we connect to a higher vision that we are all in this together. It’s why, in countries around the world, we cry and bang our drums to the key workers risking their lives for us.’
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood