Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Film Review - Unrest

This falls out my blog's usual remit, but I was asked if I would review an English documentary film a friend helped bring to Finland, so I've jumped at the chance.

Unrest is the story of Jennifer Brea, a young woman who becomes seriously incapacitated with a mysterious illness. At the beginning, she films her difficulties recovering from what started out as a bad fever as her doctors struggle to understand and sometimes to even believe why she is not recovering. After an initial diagnosis of a mental illness 'conversion disorder' - a nice term for hysteria - she is finally diagnosed with acute ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Then the film becomes more of a way to understand ME and to chronicle the lack of support it receives from so many angles.

This film intrigued me when my friend first mentioned it as I worked for a woman who developed ME while I was with her. Watching Jennifer, once a strong, active woman, slip into a world of pain and bed confinement brought back a lot of memories. An invisible illness until you get down to almost the cellular level, Chronic Fatigue is often seen as the patient making it up, a reaction to stress or even a mental disorder. I must admit I found it difficult at first to believe that walking downstairs and opening some post would leave my boss unable to rise from her bed for the next few days until I repeatedly saw how her body reacted to even the slightest effort. I was only involved on the periphery, but this award-winning film captures how frustrating, overwhelming and frightening it is for the person with ME and their carers.

The film is an excellent mix of Jennifer's clips of her own life and reactions as well as her online interviews with a few of the small group of researchers looking into the disease and with several other sufferers around the world, all bed-bound and struggling to be heard by doctors, family and friends. Even the government, as in the case of a Danish girl with ME who was taken from her home to be treated for a mental disorder because her doctors felt her parents were only making her worse by supporting her. 

The hardest scenes, I felt, were with Jennifer's husband Omar. Their raw emotion as they struggle to get through the day and find some methods to help Jennifer while maintaining a relationship was touching and often overwhelming. 

The film culminates with the Millions Missing campaign's global protest to raise awareness of ME. Thousands of ME patients, some who couldn't stand or even sit up, came together in cities around the world to speak about their difficulties and to encourage more support and research. They continue to hold global action days, the next being 12 May 2018. Check the website for further details and how to get involved.

Finland has its own CFS/ME support group - CFS-Yhdistys. Unfortunately, the website is all in Finnish, but I'm sure if you contact them, they could help with more information. 

Unrest is a candid, eye-opening film which takes the viewer into the lives of those struggling with ME. I hope it manages to raise awareness and gain some support for funding and research for the illness. 

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