“Jennifer Brea is an active Harvard PhD student about to marry the love of her life when suddenly her body starts failing her. Hoping to shed light on her strange symptoms, Jennifer grabs a camera and films the darkest moments unfolding before her eyes as she is derailed by [ME/CFS], a mysterious illness some still believe is ‘all in your head,’” (https://www.unrest.film).
JAX ME/CFS CRC collaborators and lab members held a private viewing of Unrest, a world-premiered documentary by Jennifer Brea from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Attendees hoped to better familiarize themselves with what ME/CFS symptoms actually look like, and how patients cope with them on a day-to-day basis. Brea’s portrayal of her own ME/CFS illness serves as striking evidence to the damage that this disease can cause, both to the patient as well as to their family.
Brea and her husband Omar Wasow are both Harvard Ph.D. graduates, and Wasow had a prominent role at the forefront of the digital media age in the 90’s. Omar describes the intense struggle that he and Jen constantly face, as well as his realization of just how abnormal their day-to-day lives have become when he sees how their lives are viewed from the outside. The stories of patients from several other families are also eye-opening, as they allow the viewer to contemplate the nearly inescapable despair and hopelessness that arises when one is suddenly stricken with a debilitating illness and is without help or answers.
Brea emphasized the trend seen in medicine to account symptoms to a psychological failing when a disease is invisible from the outside and has no clear biological basis. This has been commonly seen throughout history, with similar diseases being viewed by the medical community as Conversion Disorder or Hysteria before the biological basis was ultimately discovered. Due to the unknown biology behind this disease, there is a frustrating stigma that surrounds ME/CFS, and patients suffering from it are sometimes told by their physicians that it’s all in their head.
Unrest was a poignant glance into the world of the ME/CFS patient, and managed to be both heartbreaking and inspirational. JAX CRC members felt extreme gratitude towards Jen Brea and her production team for creating such an honest and eye-opening account of ME/CFS, and hope that we can contribute in the battle to make the millions missing visible.