Unrest is Jennifer Brea’s story. She’s a victim of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). But it isn’t just Jennifer’s story. She finds a way to connect with other sufferers from around the globe and document their stories, too.
Jennifer Brea was a PhD student at Harvard when a high fever hit her at age 28. It left her bedridden with ME, a condition many doctors don’t consider real. They think it’s mental. Hysterical. A woman’s hysteria.
Jennifer and her husband Omar Wasow, also a Harvard PhD, basically dealt with her condition on their own. They went to many doctors, none of whom were much help. The sad fact is, doctors have no idea what to do about ME. They often consider it untreatable and incurable.
Jennifer began filming herself. She said, “People need to see this.” She used her computer to find others around the world with ME. She began filming them, too. She learned there were millions of people, mostly women, who were confined to their beds like she was.
She talked to doctors and immunologists. Neurologists. Doctors who thought in was all in her head.
She tried all the cures anyone suggested. Green drinks, mold avoidance, certain foods. Those ideas were no more permanent help than the baskets of drugs she had at her bedside.
As Jennifer talked to other ME victims and learned their stories, she realized that millions of people were languishing away in bedrooms, their lives unlived, their dreams unfulfilled. She termed them “missing.” People didn’t even know they existed because they never saw them. ME sufferers never get to do the things they want, go the places they want, be who they want to be.
Places like the CDC provided almost no funding for the study of the disease. In Denmark, people with ME were snatched from their homes and treated as mental patients, not allowed to see their families. The disease is not understood.
Jennifer was moved to try to do something to bring attention to ME, especially to the institutions that could provide funding and research into the condition. She organized a worldwide day of protest. Families, friends, and even some ME sufferers in wheelchairs and on cots gathered in strategic locations around the world. They created a display on the sidewalks of empty shoes. Each pair of shoes had a name attached to a tag that named what they were missing.
The displays were so moving. If you’ve ever seen the AIDS quilt display, you’ll get an idea of the emotion attached to those displays of empty shoes.
Jennifer is still fighting, still hopeful. But as the song that plays over the end credits says, “There is no end to this story.” Jennifer Brea and millions like her are still suffering from a disease that needs research and attention. I urge you and everyone you know to watch this documentary and use it to educate others, especially others in control of the funding to work toward an understanding of ME. Let this film help create change.
And to Jennifer Brea and anyone with ME, hang in there and keep your hopes up. We need you all.
Jennifer Brea and Kim Roberts wrote Unrest. Jennifer Brea directed it.