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“How can we accommodate you?” The question we should all be asking

Trigger warning: this blog contains discussion of suicide ideation.

 

I've never spoken so publicly, let alone professionally about living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). What a difference a single job can make.

My name is Amy Daneel, I’ve been studying/working in the Cape Town, then London film industry for nearly two decades and joined the Irwin Mitchell campaign after responding to a call for disabled/differently-abled film crew.

For context, CPTSD, like PTSD, is a result of a traumatic event, but sustained repeatedly or over a long period of time. 

If you were to step into my edit-suite, I can imagine that I would present as well-dressed, personable and articulate. I would make eye contact, present a toothy-smile, deliver a firm-handshake, remember your name, and ask a few seemingly superficial questions about yourself whilst demonstrating genuine interest. I’d gauge your comfort and whether there was anything you needed. We’d sit down, briefly discuss the project and with a few keystrokes, I’d present your film to you.

At no point during this interaction would I strike you as someone who’d spent the entire previous day in bed, thinking of how I could kill myself in a way which would evoke the least suffering on myself or anyone who would have to find me. And yet, this is how I’ve been navigating my life since the age of 17. 

If I were to use a metaphor for what my inner-world consists of, it would be a Black Mirror episode where humans lose control of the artificial intelligence which have turned into adaptive and sophisticated killers from which there is no hiding. There are times of joy, peace & connection, but always with the knowledge that it is a matter of days or weeks before the inevitable returns.

We are at the embryonic stages of understanding and talking about mental health which is why many live and manage their symptoms privately. The taboos of suicide are still framed as “how could that person be so selfish?” rather than, “how much pain was that person in, in order for them to become willing to counteract their innate wiring for survival?” The taboos of depression are still framed as “why are they so lazy and apathetic?” rather than “what has caused that person to be incapable of brushing their teeth or maintaining a fulltime job?” The taboos of anxiety are still framed as “why is that person so sensitive?” rather than “what has that person survived to make basic tasks like driving and leaving the house so challenging?”

Nearly a million people a year are dying from suicide globally – if this behaviour was observed in animals, scientists would be studying it. Our perceptions of mental health are dangerous and further compound an issue that is not only costing us valuable and beautiful human lives, but also affecting the capacity of our workforce. If we are to survive and thrive as a society, it is very much in our interests to start having these uncomfortable conversations.

When I was given permission to take ownership of my hidden disability in a professional context through the Irwin Mitchell campaign, it provided a significant shift in consciousness as all the realities of my me-ness could coexist at once. It was also evident that I could be honest about limits, have them respected whilst meeting the project’s needs, delivering on time and within budget.

Have I tried this before? Of course, two decades is a long time.

But the range of responses has varied between “therapy never worked for me” (thanks, didn’t ask for your opinion, I just need to leave earlier today) to outright denial which landed me sitting in the rain for hours on a rooftop edge of one of the most renowned London advertising agencies, rocking back and forth, reminding myself that, “we don’t hurt ourselves.”

An unfortunate and well-known attitude of (not only) the entertainment industry is the belief that abuse and dehumanisation are character-building and self-sacrifice is necessary to attain any success. Some would say, “well I turned out fine,” which begs the question of why BECTU reported that 66% of Film, TV and Cinema freelancers have considered leaving the industry due to concerns over their mental health & wellbeing.

We are in fact, not fine, and not willing to admit it.

And though there is no rule book or easy-solve to the uncomfortable conversations around identity politics or accessibility, but there is certainly a motivation to bring disability to the forefront. According to wearepurple.org.uk “14 million disabled people in the UK who have a combined spending power of £274 billion.”

The potential to live in a world of inclusivity which meets people’s basic needs, as well as, our stakeholders profits doesn’t have to be a utopian fantasy. 

Perceptions

From conception we start absorbing information about our environments which ultimately dictates how we perceive the world, each other and ourselves. When we allow our unconscious-bias to dictate our views or how we do things (“because we’ve always done them this way”) we castrate the infinite potential for interesting and authentic connection, stories and content.

So, in the privacy of your own mind, where there’s no one to judge how awful we can be, I would encourage you to become curious of your answers to the questions;

  • What do you really think of someone who doesn’t have the same use of their body or speech the way you do? 
  • What do you really think of someone who becomes emotional at work? 
  • What do you really think about people getting “special treatment” in the work place? 

Now tell me, where did you learn this to be true? 

This investigation can provide a lot of insight into the world we see and why we see it that way. It could reveal our own sense of injustice which we instinctually want to protect by maintaining a certain culture which serves us.  

Working protocols 

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to reveal the truth about how many people detest the 9 to 5 office culture. The monoculture of working protocols is a nasty hangover from the industrial revolution that has us working the longest hours in human history, often in environments which aren’t physiologically appropriate. And with the stay-home culture that has arisen in the last two years, we know that it is in fact completely possible for companies to adapt which is something the disabled community has been begging for, for decades. 

If we want to extract the best from our workforce, why aren’t we asking them HOW? 

People with menstrual cycles have completely different energy cycles to those who only have circadian cycles. Why aren’t we utilising this energy wisely? 

Neuro-divergent people have different ways of accessing & processing information which could revolutionise the output of a project, why are we not harnessing that? 

Again, our perceptions of how things need to be “just because” are stagnating potential energy because why? 

Conclusion 

So why is she talking about the industrial revolution and menstrual cycles when we just asked her to write a blog about CPTSD? 

Because how and why we do things is the very characteristic that limits me most on a daily basis. Irwin Mitchell was the first job in a two-decade career where a client asked me “how can we accommodate you?” 

Culture is built upon our value systems and until we investigate why we uphold those values, we won’t be able to initiate a shift in behaviour.

Just like posting black squares on social media, did not solve the deeply problematic systemic racism that continues to exist; me telling you “I need varied working hours,” will not address systemic ableism. 

You might not relate to not wanting to be alive, but I have no doubt that you’ve experienced the conflict of putting your job before meeting your basic needs and from that place we are similar. 

A culture of inclusivity is a world that won’t leave anyone behind and can fulfil a potential we maybe can’t yet conceive of. It’s certainly one I continue to believe in when the current view becomes so unbearable.

Watch the full Irwin Mitchell film here: 

 

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