Unrest is a documentary by Jennifer Brea, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which she contracted after she married. It is now termed ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) or still more recently, systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID). In the past, it was categorized as conversion disorder or hysteria, but lately, evidence is surfacing that it might be a function of a viral infection that affects the autoimmune system. For example, at one point a whole team of female basketball players came down with the disorder. It includes symptoms like fever, repeated infections, speech disorders, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and movement problems.
Jennifer filmed her experience of the illness from the beginning of its appearance. After several years without improvement, she says that, “it was like I had died and had to watch as the world moved on.” In addition to her own chronicle, Jennifer contacted other patients so they could tell their story on film. She says there are at least 17 million people around the world with ME, one-fourth of whom are homebound and bedridden. There is a high rate of suicidal thought and actions as people experience a keen sense of loss—not only for the past and present, but for the future as well.
Not surprisingly, the illness—especially among mothers (85% of patients are female)—has drastic effects on the family. In many cases, children have been abruptly removed from their homes after the parents are suspected of abuse. It puts a severe strain on marriages too, of course. Jennifer is fortunate that her husband of 14+ years, Omar Wasow, has stuck by her and devoted his life to caring for her. In the film, we also hear about one husband who left his wife, thinking that if he did, she would get better. When she didn’t, and their daughter developed the same disorder, to his credit he realized his mistake and returned to the family.
The difficulty is that unless their immune system is checked, doctors tend to find nothing wrong with them, and conclude the issue is psychiatric. But Dr. Nancy Klimas, a clinical immunologist at Nova Southeastern University, has conducted 25 work-ups of people suspected of having CFS, and finds a natural killer cell deficiency in their systems. All of the affected families are frustrated because federal agencies refuse to fund grant requests, even before they’re peer-reviewed. As a consequence, there is a plethora of home remedies that Jennifer herself has tried: magnesium injections, eating bone marrow, injecting hookworms followed by an anti-hookworm whippet, and avoidance of mold. Only an anti-viral drug seems to have had any positive effect at all.
Families have begun protesting governments and health care agencies ignoring them as if they don’t exist, and have formed a movement called Millions Missing, that conducts protests around the world, with the hope that more attention to research in identifying the physical problems and their derivation.
The film covers the disorder very well from an experiential perspective as well as medical and social-psychological points of view. From my point of view, I think the film could have profited from more descriptions of the small amount of research into the illness that has been done.
A moving account of an illness largely misdiagnosed and ignored by the medical establishment.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland