Earlier this week, a screening of the film Unrest was held for students and faculty in occupational therapy education programs. The film, a documentary by Jennifer Brea, tells the story of several individuals diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, which is often referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The film has won awards at Sundance and other film festivals.
I first learned about Unrest about a year ago through conversations on Twitter, and I reached out through the film's website to inquire about hosting a screening on campus. A few months ago, I got an email from a member of the screening team with whom I corresponded to work out the details leading up to the screening event.
In addition to the occupational therapy students on the campus where I teach, an invitation to attend the screening was also extended to occupational therapy assistant students at another institution in the area, and several of those students attended the event as well.
After the film was shown, I asked the students to consider sharing what their big take-away was, if anything had surprised or really struck them from the film, and how what they saw might have impacted their ideas as a future OT practitioner. Several students made comments about how disheartening and frustrating is it that the stigma surrounding conditions like ME serves as such a huge barrier in our society, both for the individuals diagnosed and their caregivers. The resiliency of the people in the film impacted the viewing audience at the screening, as did their apparent drive for purpose and meaningful connection, both of which are intertwined with occupations and the philosophy of OT.
We agreed that there were a number of memorable quotes in the film, including the comment Jen made about there being such a difference between being alive and living - again, another point that really resonates with occupational engagement. One student noticed that there was a line in the movie about spoons, a concept that relates back to The Spoon Theory, which we discussed in a course the students took last spring. Finally, the comment was made that it isn't just those diagnosed with ME that may feel disconnected, stressed, or depleted: Caregivers are also likely to experience these things and many other emotions, and this is an area in which there seems to be a place for occupational therapy to play a role.
A couple of images from the documentary that students said will stick with them as they continue to work towards entering the field of occupational therapy come from the scene in which Omar is struggling to get Jen back into their house after the rally and the footage of the shoes from the protest.
... one of the things that I've learned ... is how resilient humans are, and that, when we face challenges that we think will break us, we can find within ourselves resources that we didn't know we had." ~Jen Brea
That [pre-illness] life is gone, but here I have this new one, and I have to fight for it." ~Jen Brea, in Unrest
In conclusion, the OT students and faculty enjoyed learning about ME and related topics through the viewing of this documentary, and we recommend that all healthcare practitioners and students watch the film.
Stephanie Lancaster, MS, OTR/L, ATP, CAPS is an occupational therapist with 25+ years of clinical experience. As an assistant professor, Stephanie trumpets the value of teaching and practicing in the field of OT in an "out loud" manner.