Following an illness that included a dangerously high fever, Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea began an even longer physically and emotionally draining battle. She would find herself suddenly exhausted to the point of paralysis. Light and sound were at time unbearable. Jennifer and her husband, Omar Wasow, went to countless doctors who couldn’t make heads or tails of what was wrong with her, although most physicians were quick to jump to psychological disorders as the culprit. Nothing got better until Brea got a chance to speak with one of only a handful of autoimmunologists studying the effects and causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitisa, a controversial disease that had been misdiagnosed thousands of times through human history, and a disease that some doctors still refuse to believe is a real thing.
There’s no doubt watching Brea’s personally impassioned documentary Unrest that CFS/ME is a real, painful thing to go through, and that more attention needs to be paid to it by the scientific community. Although she’s largely bedridden most days, Brea shares not only her own struggles with the disease, but interviews other men and women suffering with CFS around the world. She also documents in intimate detail her own search for anything that can help make life a bit more bearable while dealing with such an incurable, sometimes crippling disease.
Such a deeply personal approach leads to Unrest feeling like a vital, emotionally moving call to action and empathy, but also a scattershot final assembly that sometimes bounces around between topics that could have flowed and transitioned better into one another. Despite the choppy assembly, however, Brea’s film raises a lot of great points about how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been discriminated against around the world. It’s not a perfect film, but Brea’s intelligence and passion to help get understanding for her disease has the power to make Unrest deliver a wake-up call to all who see it.