Dianne Hawker on Healing

November 15, 2020
8 min read

Dianne Hawker is a journalist and news editor whose investigative reporting has won awards. A seasoned reporter in established media houses, Hawker has also shepherded the development and launch of some of your favourite news entities, like PowerFM, the Times daily newspaper and 24-hour news channel Newzroom Afrika. She is also the co-founder of iNthatheli Media, and trains those who want to engage effectively with the media. The company also focuses on development-media.

Hawker has done all this while living with hypothyroidism, a deficiency of thyroid hormones that leads to fatigue and other symptoms. This year, Hawker also became one of the more than seven hundred thousand South Africans who contracted Covid-19.

As part of this month’s theme Healing, Hawker shares her insights on healing and recovery with The Thread.

What does healing mean to you?
It means taking time to find yourself, sometimes in silence without the intrusion of the outside world, along with relearning what you’re capable of. Healing can also mean doing less in the short term to be able to do more in the long term.

You contracted the coronavirus and had to isolate and heal alone. How did your community come through for you?
Yes I was lucky in that my sister, Lisa, lives with me and she helped me to recover. This was anything from chats at the window, to making me oats when I was too exhausted to move. My mom is a nurse and she was on the phone with me every day – giving me breathing exercises and checking my heart rate and oxygen levels. I bought a pulse oxymeter, so I would send her the readings daily.

And my close friends live within a 1 to 2km radius so they checked in on me from time to time. My friend Candice also got Covid so we when one of us had enough energy to cook, we put food in an Uber and sent it to each other.

There’s still so much we don’t know about Covid-19 and its effects, despite the high recovery rate. What has your experience been? 
Well I have found that the 14-days is a myth. A lot of the time you hear about recovery in 10 to 14 days and you think that’s the end of the road. But the truth is that I was only beginning to recover after 14 days. The coughing stops after the 2 weeks but you still feel horrible. Covid is like being hit by a truck – you’re wrecked. Your mind is foggy, and for some people that lasts a long while. You have fatigue that is similar to hypothyroidism where you basically feel tired even if you’ve slept.

I had body aches for a while and some headaches. I was very confused about this until I returned to my doctor, more than a month later, and my doctor said a viral infection can take up to 3 months to clear. I was like: 3 MONTHS! Why hasn’t anyone told us this? So this completely changed how I thought about this recovery process. I realised I need to be patient and just wait for things to return to normal. But I also realised that there probably won’t be a normal for me again. For example, I have had to use an asthma pump since starting to exercise again and I’ve never had this before.

I think our brains (and hearts) often just need time. Just a break from the constant management of life.

You’ve shared your experience of living with hypothyroidism. What is it like living with a condition that doesn’t have a clear healing point?
With hypothyroidism you just have to do what you can do, and let go of what you can’t control. I know that sounds silly but it’s really how I cope with it. What I can do: I pay attention to any strange feelings in my body such as exhaustion, muscle pain or dry skin. That’s usually an indication that I need to change my dose. I can go to see my doctor twice a year and we do blood tests to check levels.

I also had to let go of my thin self – which was probably the most difficult. Until about 2012, I was a size 32. Then I started picking up weight even though I wasn’t eating more. I exercised and nothing happened. Even after I started my treatment, the weight and the hair breakage hasn’t reversed. I have patchy hair growth, so what I can do is find hairstyles that work for that.

I can exercise for health without putting pressure on myself to be skinny. I can let go of ever being size 32 (or even size 34) again and just try to be healthy.

We rarely make the distinction between emotional and physical healing. How are these different, and similar for you? What can the emotional learn from the physical and vice-versa?
I think that we often realise that with physical healing we should give ourselves time. If you have an operation or illness, you take time off work. But there is no culture of taking mental health days just to heal your brain. And I think our brains (and hearts) often just need time. Just a break from the constant management of life.

I try hard to be that kind of support for other women who I work with by offering guidance formally and informally.

When we talk about healing, we often talk about the result rather than the process. What’s the hardest part of the process of healing?
Acknowledging that you’re not yet ok, when you feel like you should be is hard. So like with the 14-day thing – I assumed that I should be fine to return to work and jump back into life. But I had to go slowly. I had to give myself time and acknowledge that I’m not yet ok. Even today, months later, that I still feel like my body is not 100%. I can’t run as well as I used to due to my lungs, my legs still get aches from time to time.

As a journalist, you’ve covered numerous stories that show that South Africa still has a lot of healing to do. What do you think our biggest “wound” is and if you could, how would you heal it?
Wow this is a difficult one. I don’t know if I have the answer to this question. But what I can say is that South Africa has national PTSD. We see it in the violent flare-ups relating to race. But I think because of democracy and the idea of reconciliation, we have been expected to move on whereas many people are still hurt both by apartheid and some of the inequality that followed. So the lack of acknowledgment is a problem because how do we fix something that we’re being told is fine. We’ve got one of the best democracies in the world. We’ve got a working government. But in truth we have so many wounds that the constitution can’t fix.

The pandemic is the first time in a century that the world is having a shared experience of a protracted threat. What do you imagine healing from the pandemic and its socio-economic effects will look like? 
I think we have to make sure that some of the things that made the pandemic so horrible are dealt with before another threat arrives. The South African health system has been in dire straits for years and the pandemic put this in sharp focus. If we don’t use this experience to fix that, this experience will be a massive wasted opportunity. We also need a global rethink of public health. We cannot continue to have a situation where the ability to stay alive is dependent on how much money you have.

The Thread is building a digital community of women in work and life. How has your real-life and digital community supported your career and how can women build strong communities? 
I’ve been lucky to know many women who have supported me. For example my former Editor Charlotte Kilbane is someone who always believed in my work and worth, even when I doubted it. She always pushed me to do more and be more. My close friend Candice is also someone I can rely on for advice and guidance and also a bit of “kak praat” when the situation needs it. I try hard to be that kind of support for other women who I work with by offering guidance formally and informally.

I think building communities is constant work that involves supporting other women when you can. So if a friend has a business that I can help, I’ll do it. But also important is to find male allies where you can—and they exist. If they are true allies they will aid you without expecting anything in return.

What do you wish you could tell Dianne from a decade ago, starting out in journalism, and teenaged Dianne from two decades ago?
I would tell her to live more and enjoy her skinny body while it lasts! I would also tell her to be kinder to herself. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes I stress about things that I shouldn’t because they are not perfect, not because they are not good.

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