‘Trust Me, I’m Sick’ is a short documentary series directed by Sarah Stewart, which portrays different aspects of living with a chronic illness by following five Los Angeles residents throughout their daily lives. The film’s director teamed up with the non-profit organization ‘Suffering the Silence’ and represented people from the HIV, lupus, diabetes, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), and kidney disease communities; therefore, showing a wide variety of health challenges.
In every episode, the main contributors Henriette, Cassandra, Matt, Ezra, and Giuliani open up about one specific challenge related to living with a chronic and often invisible condition, and all single stories are cleverly interwoven with one another. The episode’s titles critically reflect on typical comments chronically ill people have to deal with.
Episode 1 is titled “Get well soon” and thematizes how the healthy people around the chronically ill person often offer their good wishes without understanding that chronically ill people will most likely not feel better any time soon. “Strangers often ask me online, they’ll find my Instagram profile, they’ll be like ‘What’s wrong with you? This doesn’t happen, people just don’t get sick and don’t get better,’” Ezra, who lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder, explains their past experience that most people in the community can relate to.
Episode 2 focuses on the emotional impact chronic illness has on a partnership. In “Too much to ask,” we get to know Henrietta, who lives with chronic kidney disease, and her husband, Kevin, very closely. After almost dying from a kidney rejection, the couple finds out that Kevin is the perfect kidney donation match for Henrietta, which seems to be fate but puts a lot of pressure on their relationship as well.
In episode 3 named “Just try harder,” the filmmakers’ interest centers around how chronic illness influences the contributors’ ability to work or study. It’s especially tough for Matt. He lives with diabetes, for which he has to follow a strict lifestyle, preventing him from many job opportunities. “After losing my job in November, by February/March, I was out of supplies. There haven’t been any doctors visits in 8 months,” Matt explains the consequences of losing a job as a chronically ill person. “I’d got no means to go and do all of those things because I wasn’t covered.”
“But you look great!” is the title of episode 4, which focusses on the misconceptions surrounding invisibly disabled and ill people. It also portrays the insecurities of healthy people when talking to someone with a chronic condition, like Giuliani, who is HIV positive and undetectable. “I don’t really want them [my parents] to know, I don’t really want to talk to them in the first place if they’re going to keep assuming these negative things about my sexual identity,” they says.
Episode 5 concludes the series and summarizes the mental impact any physical illness has on the person. For Cassandra, the contributor who lives with lupus, an autoimmune disorder that affects the whole body, her diagnosis means “an anxiety that never goes away.” She says that she sometimes awakes at night, scared of something she cannot define until she realizes that it’s because of her chronic condition that worries her.
‘Trust Me, I’m Sick’ has been produced by people with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities for chronically ill and disabled people, which is apparent as only because their whole team consisted of people with a lived experience of illness and disability, they were able to capture the true nature of each contributor’s life without fueling any stereotypes or producing ‘inspiration porn.’
From the perspective of a disabled journalist and new filmmaker, it’s specifically noteworthy how much time and effort was put into finding diverse contributors, often belonging to more than one minority community. According to the director, more than 40 people were interviewed before starting to produce the five episodes.
Additionally, it seems as if particular attention was paid towards underlining every contributor with music fitting not only their story but also their character. It’s also worth mentioning that all episodes are fully captioned to be more inclusive and descriptive audio will hopefully follow soon.
Director Sarah Stewart and her all-female crew gave great insight into many of the challenges people with chronic illnesses have to face all the time, and by including such a diverse variety of chronically ill people with different health conditions as well as from different walks of life, they showed that those challenges aren’t unique to a specific chronic illness; they are rather universal and unite all chronically ill people.
Even for a non-disabled, not chronically ill audience, the following statement by the filmmakers should highlight the efforts the whole team put into this project quite well: “‘Trust me, I’m sick was made while in the midst of a clinical trial, edited from infusion chairs in the hospital and developed while wearing heating pads in bed.” Because this is how far chronically ill people go in order to raise awareness and to represent a neglected community in a truthful way – as it should have always been.
All episodes are available at no cost on YouTube. Watch: Trust Me I’m Sick
Reviewed by Karina Sturm.
Karina Sturm is a former research associate from Germany who lives in San Francisco, CA, now. She just finished her MA thesis with the title “How to improve reporting on disability”, and works as a freelance journalist and filmmaker whose work focuses on medicine and science, and the accurate representation of people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Karina lives with several chronic illnesses, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, herself.