Tuesday, April 30, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Other Two

I usually watch a TV show on my own at lunchtime on weekdays, but sometimes I don't have time for a full hour show and just want a brief respite of comedy in 30 minutes (or less). My favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, mentioned a new show on Comedy Central, The Other Two, so I gave it a try and am really enjoying it. It's a fun comedy that also is also insightful, very clever, and full of heart.

The premise is that an adorable thirteen-year old boy made a music video that went viral and now the whole world is going crazy over ChaseDreams ala Justin Bieber. But the show isn't about Chase. The title refers to his two older siblings, Brooke (played by Heléne York), a former dancer, and Carey (played by Drew Tarver), an aspiring actor and current waiter, and the effects of their little brother's newfound fame on them. Molly Shannon, of Saturday Night Live fame, plays their mother who is a bit ditzy but really cares about her kids and is getting swept up in Chase's fame. Ken Marino plays a goofy, inexperienced manager with dollar signs in his eyes, and in later episodes, Wanda Sykes is added to the cast as a hilarious publicity manager. Each 30-minute episode is titled about a different milestone in Chase's career, while the action really focuses on his two kind but hapless older siblings. For instance, when ChaseDreams releases a sweet new music video with the lines, "My brother is gay, and that's OK" (cleverly titled Chase Gets the Gays), Cary's life is suddenly thrust unwillingly into the spotlight. A few episodes in, Brooke becomes Chase's personal assistant.

I am loving this show! It is funny but also very clever in its portrayal of our fame-hungry, social media-driven society. It's not played just for laughs, though. With each episode and each new set of challenges, both Brooke and Cary begin to grow a bit, learning to respect themselves more, and, as young adults, trying to figure out what they really want out of life. As you can imagine, Molly Shannon is great in her role as the mom, as she, too, comes out of her shell and starts to find herself, as her young son's career skyrockets. It's a warm, fun, intelligent show about coming of age in our crazy world today, in the shadow of a sibling's spotlight.

NOTE: As with most Comedy Central shows, this one can sometimes be explicit in terms of language and sexuality.

I've watched eight of the ten episodes in season 1 so far and want more! I've been watching it On Demand, where all episodes are still available. It is also available on Comedy Central's website, though only the first episode is free to all - you can see the other nine by signing in with your cable, TV, or satellite provider. You can also stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the season (or for the same prices on YouTube).

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Helping Others Makes Us Happier

Sorry for the hiatus here on the blog - I had three exhausting trips within a two-week period and am getting ready for two more! It's just been a hectic, tiring time for me. But I am trying to keep up the blog and my work with our online support groups as much as possible...which brings me to the topic of today's Weekly Inspiration - Helping Others.

The title if this new TED Talk caught my eye: Helping Others Makes Us Happier But It Matters How We Do It. It's an interesting, fun, and inspiring  talk (and under 15 minutes long!) by social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, who studies giving and happiness. Check it out:

So, you may be thinking that this talk isn't relevant to you. After all, few of us are able to help renovate a home for a refugee family or serve meals to the homeless. But Dunn's talk - and her research - struck a chord with me because it's something I have learned as well through the past 17 years with chronic illness, that helping others is very rewarding and increases my own happiness. I started this blog more than 12 years ago, not thinking about helping others but just needing to tell our story and hoping to find a few others out there in the wide world who could relate and understood our challenges. Of course, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine back then that there were many thousands of people just like me - and parents with sick kids like us - that I would connect with. Gradually, as we found treatments that helped to improve our lives, I also realized that I could not only connect with other patients but maybe help them, too.

The blog led to forming a local support group of parents (which has grown to about 40 families with both sick kids and sick adults) which led to forming several online support groups. In each case, I found that the ability to help others - from my couch! - not only made all my time and effort worth it but also seemed to make our own struggles with chronic illness worthwhile. Being able to use our experiences to help others gave us purpose...and yes, increased happiness. I can't describe how immensely proud and happy I was when I heard my son, at one of our local gatherings, explaining to an older man with ME/CFS, many decades his senior and who had taught at his school, all about Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) and how to treat it. It's a powerful feeling to be able to help others.

And it's not just about sharing effective treatments and new research - emotional support is just as important, if not more so. Every time you reach out to another patient, even online, you let them know there is someone out there who understands what they are going through and who cares. When you are isolated and housebound with chronic illness, that simple message of connection and compassion means so much, and as we discovered and Dunn explains, the rewards you get back from reaching out to others are immense. You benefit from that connection, too, as well as the satisfaction of helping a fellow human being. It's powerful.

So, while it is definitely worthy to donate money to ME/CFS charities (especially when you read abut the amazing research breakthroughs being made every day), as Dunn points out, you get far more benefit from actually being involved and seeing the effects of your help first-hand...and it doesn't cost a thing!

There are all kinds of discussion forums and online support groups out there for ME/CFS and related diseases. AMMES has a list and a search engine for both in-person and online groups and Phoenix Rising has a popular discussion forum anyone can join. Here are more tips for finding others locally, from my article Birds of a Feather: The Joys of Community.

There are hundreds of ME/CFS patient groups on Facebook - if you're not on Facebook and don't want to mingle with friends and family there, you can set up an account using a pseudonym - some people use their first and middle names only or create something entirely new - and use Facebook solely to participate in groups. Here are some to consider:
And you can reach out to other patients right here on this blog (and many others), just by leaving a comment - same with Twitter or other forms of social media.
The bottom line is to connect - online, in-person, however you can manage it! You will feel the rewards of reaching out to help others, and you will also benefit yourself from the friendship and camaraderie of others connecting with you.

First time our local group gathered, in 2010 - all good friends now!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Enemy Within

I'm back! My husband and I have been off on two trips this past week - a few days of camping in Virginia (very relaxing) and a long weekend in Oklahoma for a family funeral, culminating in an 18-hour trip home through 4 airports, on 3 flights, finally getting home at 2 am last night! And we leave again in 3 days for Easter with my family. Just trying to catch up and catch our breath in between!

So, I haven't been on the blog for a while and wanted to tell you about a new TV show we are loving, The Enemy Within - we even watched it on my laptop in our hotel room this weekend.

Jennifer Carpenter, of Dexter fame, stars as Erica Shepherd, a woman who is viewed as public enemy #1 and a traitor after she gave the names of fellow CIA operatives to a notorious terrorist who then killed them. Now, that terrorist, Tal, has set off multiple bombs, killing numerous people, including FBI agents. FBI agent Will Keaton, played by Morris Chestnut (who we enjoyed on Goliath and also starred on Rosewood), decides the only way to finally catch Tal is to bring Erica out of prison to help. One of the agents that Erica helped Tal to kill was Will's girlfriend, so he doesn't trust Erica, but he needs her. His colleagues, including Daniel, played by Raza Jaffrey, and Kate, played by Kelli Garner, are against this plan and consider Erica to be a terrorist herself, but Will soon finds out from Erica that there is far more to her story than was reported in the news. She shares her secret with Will but insists he keep it quiet for personal reasons. Besides wanting to catch Tal, who used to be her main target in the CIA and whom she knows better than anyone, she is desperate to see her teen daughter, Hannah, played by Sophia Gennusa, again. Erica and Will begin working together to find Tal, despite the protestations of the rest of the FBI team, while Erica is now imprisoned in a cell at the FBI. Each episode provides another piece to the puzzle of this violent terrorist.

We loved Carpenter as Dexter's sister, Debra, on Dexter and are thrilled to see her back on the screen in such an excellent thriller series. She is just as good here as Erica, as is Morris Chestnut as Will, as the two slowly begin to trust each other. Each episode is suspenseful and action-packed but also thoughtful, slowly digging deeper into Erica and Will's backgrounds as the two start to understand each other better. Erica is a brilliant CIA operative and analyst, and she slowly begins to prove her worth to the resentful FBI team, as they catch various Tal operatives, though the man himself remains tantalizingly out of reach. We've watched six episodes so far and are totally hooked. In fact, this is my favorite of the new batch of early-spring shows, and I can't wait to see each new episode. Both Erica and Will are complex and interesting characters, and I am eager to see what happens next in their joint mission to catch this notorious terrorist.

The Enemy Within is currently airing at 9 pm on Mondays on NBC (ooh, that means there should be a new episode On Demand today!). We are watching it On Demand, and also watched an episode on the NBC website while we were traveling. There are eight episodes currently available of the 13-episode season. It also seems to be available on Hulu or you can stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

HAPPENING TODAY: ME/CFS Conference & Contact Your Congress Reps

I've been snowed under this week, preparing for three trips in the next two weeks (wish me luck!), so I am a bit late on this, but there is still plenty of time for you to participate in these two events happening today and tomorrow:

NIH Conference: Accelerating Research on ME/CFS
This much-anticipated conference is going on today and tomorrow (Friday), through 6 pm, so there is still plenty of time to watch it on Livestream. The speakers are all a Who's Who of top ME/CFS researchers, presenting the latest research findings, and tomorrow morning there is a Clinician Panel Discussion featuring treatment advice on different topics from five of our favorite top ME/CFS experts, who have helped so many patients (including my son and I!) - Dr.'s Bateman, Levine, Montoya, Peterson, and Rowe.

You can read the agenda for the 2-day meeting here.

And you can join the Livestream here now and/or watch the recorded sessions later here. I'm going to have to settle for watching the recorded sessions later, so please let me know if you see anything interesting that I shouldn't miss!

Solve ME/CFAS and #MEAction Advocacy Week
Hundreds of patients and their families and friends have gathered in Washington, DC, this week to lobby their Congressional representatives in person for additional funding for ME/CFS, as well as other needed actions. But there is still time for you to help, right from your couch or bed!

This page provides all the details. From that page, you can send a letter to your Senators for an upcoming appropriations bill, call your Congressional representatives, and share these actions on social media.

Here's a quick link to send a message to your Senators, asking them to sign two ME/CFS-related appropriations letters currently being circulated (April 9 is the deadline). I just did this, and it took less than 5 minutes! All you have to do if fill in your contact info and add a personal message, if you want to - the specifics of what you are asking them to do are already detailed in the letter for you.

Sorry again for the lateness of this post...but there is still plenty of time to participate in both of these events, right from your home.

We need all the help we can get, so add your voice to this important call-out. It only takes a few minutes!

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

TV Tuesday: Manifest

Way back in September last year, in my Fall TV Preview, I mentioned that one of the shows I was most looking forward to was a new NBC show called Manifest. My instincts were right, and my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed every episode in the first season of this twisty, suspenseful, mysterious show.

In the first episode, an ordinary American family is returning from a vacation in Jamaica: brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone, played by Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh, their parents, and Ben's wife, Grace, and their twins, Olive and Cal. They are happy and relaxed, waiting in the lounge area for their flight home to NYC, when the airline announces (as they so often do) that they are overbooked and looking for volunteers to give up their seats and travel on a later flight. So, Mom, Dad, Grace, and Olive head home as planned, while Ben, Cal, and Michaela wait for the later flight. On that second flight, though, they hit some terrible turbulence, worse than anything anyone has ever experienced before. Finally, they get through it and continue to New York, where they land safely, though their plane is immediately surrounded by police and other emergency vehicles. After disembarking, they discover that they have been missing and declared dead for over five years. It's impossible, but there they are, all 191 people on that plane, back from a 3-hour flight. All of their friends and family have aged five years. Olive is now five years older than her twin brother, Cal. Worse, many people at home have moved onto different lives or new relationships.

There are so many intriguing pieces to this complicated puzzle.  The show is a family drama, about people readjusting to each other after a five-year absence and all the complexities that result. It's a mystery: what happened to that plane? How is this even possible? And then it takes even more of a supernatural turn, as both Ben and Michaela begin to hear voices in their heads, often telling them to do something, after returning home. It's an intriguing, convoluted, compelling story with twists and surprises - both personal and universal - in every episode. We absolutely loved it, with some of the bizarre things that happened reminding us somewhat of Lost (though perhaps with a bit more focus and purpose!). The acting is all very good, and we especially enjoyed the main characters. Jack Messina, who plays young Cal, plays a growing role as the season continues, and is excellent. All in all, we enjoyed every episode and can't wait for season two!

All episodes are still available free On Demand, if you have cable. Some of them are also free on the NBC website (looks like #1 and #12-16), while the rest need a login from your cable provider to unlock. The first season is also available on Hulu, and it looks like Amazon is trying to get it for streaming (I would check back again).  Youtube has it available for $1.99 an episode. It is available on DVD, for purchase or to borrow through your library.

2023 UPDATE: Manifest was cancelled by NBC after its third season but was immediately picked up by Netflix, with great enthusiasm from its many fans! On June 2, 2023, the fourth and final season begins on Netflix.