A Girl Behind Dark Glasses
Being a teenager is difficult. It’s a lot more difficult when you’re suddenly saddled with a debilitating illness.
For those of you who’ve seen Jennifer Brea’s award-winning documentary “Unrest,” “A Girl Behind Dark Glasses” is the story of Jess, the English ME sufferer featured in the film. It chronicles her earlier active childhood, her descent into serious illness, and her attempts to pull herself out.
Like most stories about ME and its brethren, this is not the triumphant narrative most “illness” books promote. Jessica is not cured by the end of the book, and she’s still not cured today. Her triumph consists of escaping from abusive care situations and finally returning home to the care of her family.
Jessica’s writing style is simple and straightforward, and while the story is harrowing, much of her actual writing is the kind of hopeful fare you would expect from a teenage girl. She had wanted to be a writer before she got ill, and the thought of writing about her experiences was the thing that pulled her through some of the worst things that happened to her. Unable to write herself in a normal way, some of the sections are journal entries she painstakingly dictated to her parents, using the code they had devised since she was too ill to speak normally.
The story focuses on the initial onset of the illness and then the four years Jessica spent in various hospitals, where she was dismissed and mistreated by doctors, and sexually abused by a male nurse (why do they have male nurses helping teenage girls dress and care for themselves, anyway?). The story of Jessica’s sexual abuse is particularly horrifying, as she is literally trapped, unable to get out of bed or even tell her story to others around her, and when she finally does communicate what is happening, she is–surprise, surprise!–blamed for the abuse and the trouble her allegations cause.
Consequently, although the writing style is simple, the story is not an easy read, and sensitive readers may find themselves tearing up in places–and rightly so. An honest and brave narrative of a tragic situation, that still manages to find hope despite the lack of a stereotypical “happy ending.”