Jennifer Brea was an active, well-traveled Phd student at Harvard, about to marry her love, when she fell ill with a high fever. After the fever went, she realised that something was wrong. She’d started experiencing debilitating fatigue, pain, loss of muscle control, sometimes the inability to speak coherently and other symptoms.
Doctors couldn’t find what’s wrong, so Jennifer started a video diary, documenting her journey. In the throes of grief over what was being lost to the mysterious illness, Jennifer discovered that she wasn’t alone. There was a hidden community, all over the world, suffering in the same way that she was.
Jennifer was diagnosed with ME, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition which affects around 17 million people worldwide. Yet, stigma, and equal measures of under-funding and scepticism in the medical community have cast a heavy shadow over this community, leaving it in the dark.
On her journey, she met Jessica, a young British girl bedridden for eight years, and suffering from severe osteoporosis. “I stay sane because I can do lots of things with my mind, and I go to different places all over the world in my mind,” says Jessica.
There is a woman whose husband left after struggling to accept that his wife’s condition was real. And in Denmark, a young woman was forcibly taken from her family and kept against her will for three years in a medical facility because the state thought her family was keeping her ill with false notions. In Denmark, sadly, conditions like ME and fibromyalgia are still considered psychiatric.
In Unrest, we see Jennifer in her most vulnerable moments, flat on the floor, crawling up the stairs and unable to move herself without the support of her husband Omar.
Tears. Frustration, despair. Longing for distant dreams, and hopes.
But we also see the power of this community rallying together, coming out of the shadows.
“The only way anything is going to change is if people can see us,” says Jennifer.
Powerful, thought-provoking and deeply moving, Unrest shows the unseen life, struggles and pain of people living with ME. It shows the historic and ongoing struggles of people living with conditions unknown to the medical community; and how, even with the passing of time, so little has changed. It is an honest, raw and brave portrayal of how diagnoses like ME can shake up not just the lives of those living with it, but their loved ones too.
I was brought to tears as I saw parallels to my own journey with fibromyalgia. The constant fight in getting doctors and people in my life to believe what I suffer is real. But always, Unrest provides a constant reminder, that however hard it is, we are never alone.
Unrest isn’t just Jennifer’s story. It is the story of anyone diagnosed with an invisible condition, ME, lyme disease, fibromyalgia… fighting for their lives.
Gentle hugs x
In London, here are the next screenings of Unrest:
22 November – Ravensbourne University
30 November – Stratford East PictureHouse
9 December Barbican Centre
You can click here to find a screening of Unrest near you.