Sunday, May 24, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: 2 Uplifting, Supportive Podcasts

Hi, all! I'm still here! The blog has been so quiet lately, with just a few posts this past month (though some good TV recommendations!), because I have been pretty badly crashed and unable to muster the energy for longer or more frequent posts. I've been worse than usual for months, but it got really bad the last 2-3 weeks. It feels to me like what we call a virally-triggered crash, which has become pretty rare for my son and I in recent years, thanks to immune system treatments. My ME/CFS specialist agreed to test me for a few viruses, including an antibody test for COVID-19 to see if exposure to that triggered this downturn and tests for EBV and HHV-6, two latent infections that most of us have that sometimes get reactivated and need antiviral treatment to calm down again. I should hear back on those test results next week. In the meantime, I've had a few good days at the end of this week, so I am cautiously hopeful (and still taking it very easy). By the way, you can also follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page for this blog--those both take far less energy, so I can interact and post there even when feeling poorly.

Anyway, today, I am bringing you two podcasts that I recently discovered and have been enjoying/binging! One is focused on ME/CFS, and the other is about the coronavirus pandemic, from the perspective of someone with an immune disorder.

It's Not All About ME
Paddy, in Ireland, hosts this podcast focused on ME/CFS. Here's his own description of the show:
"A guy with ME and a mic. Chat and frequent guests sharing experience of chronic illnesses such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."
He alternates between interviews with guests--mostly other people who have ME/CFS--and solo podcasts, with an easy-going, relaxed style that is comforting and fun to listen to. He's an excellent interviewer and quickly builds a rapport with the people he's talking to, bringing listeners into the circle. There is a special kind of comfort and support that comes from hearing other people describe your own experiences and realizing you are not alone.

I've listened to three episodes recently (one solo and two interviews) and enjoyed them all. And guess who one of his upcoming guests will be? Me! He's enjoying my new book and has invited me to be interviewed for the show--possibly for multiple episodes. I can't wait to talk to this interesting, intelligent, and engaging man. I couldn't find a separate website for the podcast, but you can find episodes of the podcast both at Soundcloud and on Apple Podcasts.

Staying in with Emily and Kumail
Emily and Kumail are Hollywood writers (and Kumail is also an actor) who live a life that has some similarities to most of us. You already know their story if you've seen the hit movie The Big Sick, which they co-wrote. The movie tells the story about how the couple met and began dating just as Emily became extremely sick and was hospitalized and ended up in a coma. Obviously, they end up together, but it's a different kind of rom-com that deals with chronic illness. So, switching back to the real world...Emily and Kumail are married and living in L.A. (Kumail stars in a new movie, just released this weekend, The Lovebirds--we enjoyed it last night, so watch for a review here soon!), and Emily still has a serious immune disorder. She seems to be mostly symptom-free with monthly infusions, but the coronavirus hit, with strict stay-at-home orders coming early to California. They are being extra-careful because of Emily's condition.

The podcast is the two of them recording from home. They talk very openly and honestly about the challenges of isolation, stress, and fear during this time (which they call The Weirds). They have a regular feature called "What weird thing made you cry this week?" If that sounds depressing, it's just the opposite! They are both very, very funny (he started as a stand-up comic and they both write comedy) and even funnier together. They often go off on crazy tangents that get me laughing out loud so that my husband gives me strange looks! On one show, Emily said the new Charmin commercial with the family of bears gathered around the TV made her cry (I could relate), and they went off on a discussion of why Charmin uses bears to sell toilet paper, whether bears poop while hibernating, and more. They talk about what they're eating during the pandemic (including a regular feature on "what weird things have you been eating while at home?" - sensing a theme here?), and how they're coping. They also have lots of great recommendations for TV and movies to watch (since they're in the industry) and video games they're enjoying. I love every episode for its comfort and kindness ... and also that they always make me laugh hysterically and forget whatever I'm upset about that day. They feel like good friends by now!

This article about Staying In includes links to all the different ways to listen to it.

Hope you enjoy these two podcasts. Watch for my own interviews on It's Not All About ME, probably coming up in a month or two. I'll let you know what they are scheduled.

What podcasts or other media are lifting you up and providing comfort these days?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

TV Tuesday: Dublin Murders

When I saw that our cable company was doing a Watchathon week, offering the usual-for-pay channels Starz, Showtime, Hulu, and Peacock for free, I knew immediately what I wanted to binge in that one week: Dublin Murders. This new BBC TV show, which aired on Starz in November 2019, is based on the first two books of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series: In the Woods and The Likeness. My husband and I are both huge fans of the author and the book series, and we both enjoyed those first two books. In fact, I just read the second book, The Likeness, last fall and was blown away by its unique plot with its unexpected twists. We watched the 8-episode series last week and both loved it. I will write the show description assuming you have not yet read the books.

When a young girl is found murdered in the woods outside of Dublin, with her body arranged on a rock altar, two detectives in the Dublin Murder Squad are assigned to the case. Cassie Maddox, played by Sarah Greene, is a recent addition to the Murder Squad. Her partner, Rob Reilly, played by Killian Scott, is a relatively new detective, but the two of them work well together. They answer the initial call to the scene of the crime, but we soon find out that Rob is hiding an enormous secret. Back in 1985, in these exact same woods, Rob was a young boy named Adam and the sole survivor of three friends who went into those woods and were never seen again. The experience was so traumatic and the other parents and neighbors so cruel to young Adam that his parents shipped him off to boarding school in England, where he changed his name and started a new life. Rob remembers nothing of the crucial 90 minutes between when he and his friends went into the woods and when he was found, alone and screaming with blood in his shoes but unhurt, by the police. Cassie knows Rob's secret and insists they pass the case to other detectives, but Rob soon gets caught up in it and refuses to give it up. Cassie reluctantly agrees. As the case moves forward, past and present mingle, and Rob becomes obsessed, not only with solving the present murder but with finding out what happened to him and his two friends 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, a second case crops up that personally involves Cassie. A young woman is found murdered who not only looks like Cassie's twin but is carrying ID that identifies her as Lexie Mangan, an undercover alias that Cassie created and used in a drug case, pretending to be a student at the nearby university. This new Lexie is a grad student at the university, living with four other grad students in a big, old house in town. Believing the fake Lexie's murder must be connected to their old drug case, Cassie's prior boss in undercover work convinces her to resume her Lexie alias. They tell the housemates that Lexie barely survived her knife wound, and Cassie moves into the house, pretending to be Lexie, in order to find out who actually murdered Lexie, now a Jane Doe. What could go wrong?

Readers of the books will immediately recognize that the TV show combines the timelines for both books 1 and 2 into a single timeframe and TV season. This was a bit disorienting to us at first ("hey, why is Lexie showing up already?"), but we soon adjusted. The cast and crew have done a great job of recreating these outstanding novels. The show has a sinister tone with a constant undercurrent of tension. Both Rob and Cassie have dark histories that interfere with their jobs, though both of them are completely committed to solving these crimes, whatever it takes. The mysteries of both past and present are slowly revealed, with plenty of twists and unexpected turns along the way, creating fabulous suspense that will keep you watching to find out what happens next. As in the books, not every question is neatly answered, and both Cassie and Rob are further damaged by their dark secrets and compulsion to solve their cases, no matter what the cost. Given our 1-week timeframe (more like 6 days when we realized it was temporarily free), we eagerly watched all eight episodes last week and absolutely loved the ride it took us on. Whether you have read the books or not, this is an excellent mystery/suspense series to sink your teeth into.

As of May 1, the show had been neither cancelled nor approved for a second season yet, but we are hoping they continue the show. I am about to read the third book in Tana French's series, The Faithful Place, so I will be ready if the show comes back next year!

Dublin Murders is currently available on Starz and Hulu, with a subscription (or do as we did and check your cable company for a free week promotion). It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode (8 episodes total) or you can sign up for a free Starz trial through Amazon at the link.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

TV Tuesday: The Good Fight

My husband and I have recently been enjoying some new-to-us streaming TV shows, including The Good Fight. This spin-off of The Good Wife is a legal drama that tackles timely issues but is also hilariously funny, with an outstanding female-centered cast.

Christine Baranski stars as Diane Lockhart, a character from The Good Wife. In the first episode here, Diane has announced her retirement from her law firm when she discovers that she no longer has a retirement fund, thanks to a Ponzi scheme run by her financial advisors, the Rindells, who also happen to be good friends of hers. In fact, Diane is the godmother to their only daughter, Maia (played by Rose Leslie), who has recently started at the firm as a new associate. Diane asks to be reinstated as partner, but since her firm is run by the ruthless David Lee (infamous from The Good Wife), she is forced to find a new job. She hires on with an all-black firm run by her good friend, Adrian Boseman, played with great style by Delroy Lindo. Diane asks if Maia, who is suffering from her parents' wrong-doing, can come with her, and Adrian agrees. Several other lawyers at the firm are familiar from The Good Wife, including Julius Cain (played by Michael Boatman), the only Republican in the left-leaning firm, and Lucca Quinn (played Cush Jumbo). One of our favorite characters is back, too: Marissa Gold, played by Sarah Steele, the sassy, go-getting, intelligent assistant/investigator, who also comes along to the new firm with Diane. In later episodes, Audra McDonald joins the cast as Liz Reddick-Lawrence, Adrian's ex-wife and a top-notch lawyer in her own right. Adrian's firm is very different from David Lee's cut-throat one that Diane is used to, with a focus on social justice and doing the right thing (though they are still a very high-level and successful law firm).

We both loved The Good Wife but weren't so sure about trying The Good Fight--it just wouldn't be the same without Alicia Florrick--but this show is just so much fun! Its creators have captured a kind of magic formula with the excellent cast, the outstanding writing, and the interesting, twisty plots. Each episode usually revolves around a new legal case, but there are plenty of continuing storylines about the main characters, including Diane's now-shaky marriage to conservative firearm forensics expert, Kurt McVeigh (played by Gary Cole); Maia's ongoing problems with her parents' ruinous financial scheme; and Lucca's steamy affair with the Assistant DA, which makes for some awkward courtroom moments. Familiar faces from the original show--like judges and other lawyers--keep popping up to our delight, though you absolutely do not have to have watched The Good Wife to enjoy The Good Fight--it stands on its own. Every single episode is interesting, gripping, and usually hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny. We often watch some sort of darker mystery/thriller show first in the evening, but I love to end our TV session with a humor-filled episode of The Good Fight. We are into season 2 now, and it just keeps getting better and better!

The Good Fight is a CBS All Access (CBS' streaming service) original show, so it is available there, as well as through Amazon (where you can also sign up for CBS All Access). Though we resisted signing up for new streaming services, we did sign up for CBS All Access this winter, for just $5 a month, so my son and I could watch NCIS, but we are finding that their original shows, like this one and their Star Trek shows, are excellent and well worth the price.

The trailer outlines the premise of the show but doesn't capture its humor:

What YOU Can Do for ME/CFS (and Lyme) Awareness Day/Month!

May 12 is International ME/CFS Awareness Day, and the entire month of May is ME/CFS Awareness Month (and also Lyme Disease Awareness Month). You can do a number of easy things from home to help raise awareness all month long.

There are lots of easy ways for you to help spread the word, including:

  • Check out the #MEAction website for their virtual #MillionsMissing2020, with links to different ways that you can help to build awareness, from home, by posting on social media, joining virtual events online, downloading graphics, and more. Check out all the options at the link.
  • Post a personal message on social media (or e-mail it) to your friends and family to help them better understand what ME/CFS is and how it affects you (see mine, below).
  • Edit your profile pics on social media with a frame or a #millionsmissing filter. I am changing my Facebook profile to this one below, with an explanation of the things I am missing due to ME/CFS (including backpacking!). Here is this year's #MillionsMissing profile pic frame or this frame from a few years ago. Twibbon also has a bunch of other options, including blue ribbons, from previous years (I couldn't find the one I used still available).

As mentioned, I also use this day/month to tell my friends and family about ME/CFS, too. I use my main Facebook account for just close friends and family (though you can follow my blog on Facebook), so I rarely mention my illness there, but May is the exception each year. Here is what I am posting on my Facebook wall for my friends and family:
"Today is ME/CFS Awareness Day & May is ME/CFS Awareness Month (and Lyme Disease Awareness Month). Most of you know that my son and I both have ME/CFS and Lyme, plus he has 2 other tick infections, but you may not know what that means, since the U.S. name, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is misleading. ME/CFS is a debilitating immune disorder that has dramatically changed our lives the past 18 years. If you see either of us out in the world or even just look at our photos on Facebook, you may think we live pretty normal lives ... but that's why this is called an Invisible Illness. In reality, you only see us out and about when we are having a good day, and even then, we need a LOT of extra sleep, I can't get through the day without a nap, we almost always have symptoms, and we have to carefully monitor and limit our activity levels. One of the main characteristics of ME/CFS is that exercise or exertion makes us sicker, so our lives are defined by limits and restrictions. Even with all that care and caution, we still sometimes overdo and "crash" and feel like we have the flu for days or weeks afterward. Crashes are often unpredictable - I am badly crashed today (flu-like aches, sore throat & exhaustion) from a 1-hour Zoom meeting and a short walk yesterday! A simple infection like bronchitis can knock us out for weeks. But, we are the lucky ones. About 25% of those with ME/CFS are housebound or even bedridden. Worst of all, few people - and very few doctors - understand ME/CFS, so Awareness Month is really important to us. We don't want pity, just understanding. You can help to spread the word by sharing this post or clicking the link to learn more (you can also donate to ME/CFS research on that page). If you know a friend or family member who has or might have ME/CFS (or tick infections which have similar symptoms), I would be glad to help them find the right doctors, accurate diagnoses, and/or effective treatments. We are always glad to share our experiences and help others, and we are happy to answer questions. Thanks for reading this far."
Besides helping to educate your friends and family (most of whom probably want to know more but don't know how to ask), here are some other ways to help further ME/CFS education and research - share these resources widely!
  • Learn more about ME/CFS. Here are some sources of information you can share with others:
  1. What is ME/CFS? by Solve ME/CFS Initiative
  2. An Overview of ME/CFS by Phoenix Rising
  3. The CDC's information on ME/CFS
  4. Our public testimony on pediatric ME/CFS at the 2011 CFSAC meeting.
  • You and your friends and family can also donate money to help fund badly-needed ME/CFS research. I know the economy has been rough lately, but you could always do what we've done and just switch some of your charitable giving from other organizations to one or more of the following ME/CFS-related charities. I also set up a recurring donation for one of these of just $5 a month - easily affordable but not noticeable day by day!
  • You can also donate to ME/CFS research without spending any extra money by using a shopping donation site or links like:
  • You can even earn money for CFS research when you use a search engine:
Happy Awareness Day/Month!  Help to spread the word!

(feel free to link to this page or share its information)