The Connection: Mind Your Body

“It wasn’t until I got sick that I realised I needed to get better”

Living Well Magazine Summer 2015

We sat down with filmmaker Shannon Harvey just back from the international premieres of her eye-opening new film ‘The Connection’, which is creating waves of inspiration across the globe.

When Shannon was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder which was slowly stealing her life away from her, she set out on a motivated quest for healing. On her journey to wellness she created an important film on the mind-body connection and the mind’s role in healing the body.

What was the turning point that changed this journey from a personal quest for healing to a major project, creating a film to share with others? 

It was more like an evolution. My starting point was coming across a document written for medical students by Dr. Craig Hassed providing a comprehensive summary of the latest scientific research in mind-body medicine. I knew it was a turning point for my own journey because I suddenly had science to back up what I had already thought was true for myself. As a journalist, I innately ask questions and when I find compelling answers, I have a need to share that with other people. So in some ways, I was always going to tell people about it. In some ways making the film was part of my healing journey, rather than something I did after it.

The Gawler Foundation features in the film. What led you to The Foundation?

I was looking for people with remarkable stories of recovering from a chronic illness against the odds and came across the story of Scott Stephens on The Gawler Foundation’s website. Scott had participated in a program and come back from the brink. Doctors had told him that chemotherapy only had a 5-10% change of helping him survive stage 4 melanoma. He’s now been cancer free for 8 years. It was an incredible story. I then started looking at the history of the Foundation and discovered that Scott’s story wasn’t unusual. Thousands of people’s lives have changed for the better. I also learned that for many of those people it’s not necessarily about living longer, but living better.

What was the most surprising thing you learnt during the making of the film?

I started with prescription medication and when that couldn’t cure me, I turned to alternative therapy. I also tried ‘revolutions’ where I’d do juice cleanses or ’40 day challenges.’ And while those things would sometimes see immediate benefits, I would inevitably return to my old ways within a few months.  I was always looking for something outside of myself to cure me. I didn’t look internally. What I discovered is that when it comes to chronic illness, there is no quick fix. This has to be an evolution not a revolution.

How do you think you personally have grown during the making of the film?

I am a completely different person from when I first got sick. When I got sick I was an ambitious ABC journalist working on hourly deadlines. I was living away from my family and friends and I used exercise as a way to stay slim rather than a way to stay healthy. The way I connected with my loved ones was through emails and text messages. Today, meditation and yoga are part of my regular life. I prioritise my family and friends above all else without hesitation. And as I say in the film, in a strange way I am grateful for the illness because it wasn’t until I got sick that I realised I needed to get better.

How did you look after yourself through the physically and emotionally demanding process of creating the film?

Making this film has been by far the greatest challenge I’ve faced in my professional life. Not only has there been the financial pressure of making an independent film, there’s also been enormous difficulty in finding a work life balance. I became a mother half way through the production process and had to juggle the film, the regular work providing an income as well as being a mother and wife. Usually after stressful periods, my autoimmune symptoms would flare up. I’d be chronically fatigued and inflamed with arthritis. But I am really well. I’m not on any medication and I haven’t seen a doctor for my autoimmune disease for years. The only way all this has been possible is because of the effort I put into balancing my mind and body. I now realise that things like meditation, yoga, being with my community, writing to help balance my emotions and taking great care to practice mindfulness every day are non-negotiable if I want to stay well.

If you could ensure that 5 people anywhere in the world saw this film who would they  be and why?

Good question!

We had the CEO of Massachusetts General Hospital,  Dr. Eric Dixon on our panel discussion after the US premiere. His reaction to the film was that he would ensure medical students had to watch the film. If a couple more people like him with influence in the mainstream medical community could see the film, it would be amazing!

At the Boston screening I met a man and wife who had been silently going through the pain of infertility. They saw the film and a whole new world of possibility opened up to them. This is something that has happened after all of the screenings so far. It’s been seen by thousands of people in the last month and some people’s lives have already started to change for the better. If this keeps up… that’s more than I could have ever hoped for. It’s people just like this whom I wish to see the film.

I’d also like for a politician with the power to influence healthcare to see this film and of course some huge celebrity- they seem to be able to get the word out faster than most of us.

What is your ultimate goal with this film? 

I hope that the film reaches those who need to see it. As I say at the beginning of the film, this is the film I wanted to see when I got sick. I hope it helps others realise there’s so much more we can do for ourselves that some of our doctors don’t even realise. From the amazing feedback I’ve receive already I know that people are watching and their lives are changing for the better as a result.

What made you decide to donate the proceeds from the Australian film premieres to The Gawler Foundation? 

It was always something I wanted to do. I am so inspired by the ongoing work of The Gawler Foundation. This is just the beginning.

What is your ultimate goal with this film? 

I hope that the film reaches those who need to see it. As I say at the beginning of the film, this is the film I wanted to see when I got sick. I hope it helps others realise there’s so much more we can do for ourselves that some of our doctors don’t even realise. From the amazing feedback I’ve receive already I know that people are watching and their lives are changing for the better as a result.

What made you decide to donate the proceeds from the Australian film premieres to The Gawler Foundation? 

It was always something I wanted to do. I am so inspired by the ongoing work of The Gawler Foundation. This is just the beginning.