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  • Conor Twyford

This time we're in

Perhaps the truest thing about this lockdown that we are all in together, but separately, is that everyone is experiencing it differently. 5 weeks into my own lockdown, the only people I have seen in person during this time are my two teenage boys, the neighbours I see on my morning walks, and the wonderful supermarket workers who, like so many other essential workers, have stood on the frontlines to support us all through this.

It could feel lonely, and for many it is. This is something that is on the minds of so many of us. For many, it is downright dangerous, and/or traumatic. Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP, the agency I manage, has worked throughout the lockdown to support survivors of sexual abuse, and we’ll continue to do so.

Some people are preferring to use the term rāhui to describe what we’re in. A quick glance at Wikipedia will tell you that:

a rāhui is a form of tapu restricting access to, or use of, an area or resource by the kaitiakitanga of the area.

Rāhui may be imposed for many reasons, including a need to conserve food or resources, or because the area concerned is in a state of tapu. For me it is a more useful term than lockdown, because all of us (overwhelmingly so, in Aotearoa New Zealand – something we are all proud about) have been respecting the restrictions we are under. We do this for the greater good, and to protect the vulnerable.

In that sense, for me it has felt like a sacred time.

This is also a time of great uncertainty, however. Pamela McLean, in her book Self as Coach, Self as Leader, uses the acronym VUCA to describe the times we’re in: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Never have things been more VUCA. And yet if we stop to think, we were already in it. The pandemic has given me pause to reflect on that.

For agencies like HELP, this is also nothing new. As Steve Zimmerman writes, in the not-for-profit sector, the fragility of life is always very present. And for not-for-profit leaders, the fragility of our organisations is also always present.

But none of us expected this sudden, and complete, disruption.

In times like these it calls upon us all to draw on our strengths and lived experience to get ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues and our organisations through. For some people that live with anxiety or depression, this has sometimes been more straightforward, since they may already have developed tools for coping that others are now having to develop.

At HELP our job, our mission, is essentially to ‘hold’ people; to support individuals, whānau and communities to find their own tools and techniques to move from surviving to thriving. So in many ways we have been ideally placed to move into pandemic mode, since so much of it relies on doing just this – for clients, and for each other as colleagues. Every day I have been connecting with our wonderful team, and as we have met over a million Zooms, it is sense of shared purpose that has shone through on our faces, and in our work. Our response to COVID has been shaped by our kaupapa – our absolute concerns for clients and staff – and this is what has kept us strong.

This is not to say that it has not been hard. Crises affect people in different ways. As Brené Brown has talked about in her excellent pandemic podcasts, some of us go into overdrive; while others under-function. For everyone, the guiding rule has to be, to be kind on ourselves, because lockdown is utterly exhausting.

What I’d really like to retain from this period is the more contemplative self I’ve developed during these last 5 weeks. I think we all suspect there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ – that VUCA is gong to be with us for good now. So, the new habit I’ve developed – my own mindfulness practice of rising earlier, walking and reading before emerging gently into the busy-ness of the day and those million Zooms – I’m going to need to keep that, so that I can continue to lead HELP, and care well for our staff, so that they in turn can care for and support our amazing clients.

As Pamela McLean writes, there’s a correlation between empathy for others and empathy for self. Taking time for self-care is not just good for you, it’s essential if you are to effectively lead people through such challenging times.

“Be gracious with yourself during this time …with your body and your mind, as it deals with both physical and mental tolls which are a direct symptom of the current crisis that is taking place.” – Gillian Sisley

Kia kaha everyone, from all of us at HELP.

Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP supports survivors of sexual abuse, their families and whānau, throughout the Wellington region. For more information of if you need help, contact 04801 6655 – dial 0 for support. Or see our website:

National SafetoTalk helpline: or 0800 044 334



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