Tuesday, April 27, 2021

TV Tuesday: The United States of Tara

We are a bit late to the party, but we've just discovered the outstanding drama-comedy of The United States of Tara, a half-hour show that originally ran on Showtime from 2009-2011. We are enjoying this wholly original series.

Toni Collette plays Tara, a wife and mother with Dissociative Identity Disorder aka Multiple Personality Disorder. Stress can trigger her to morph from her normal, ordinary mom persona into one of three other distinct personalities: T, a 16-year-old with a wild streak; Alice, a buttoned-up, perfect 50's-type housewife, complete with high-heeled pumps and frilly aprons; and Buck, a rough male Vietnam vet. Tara has no control over when or where one of the other personalities takes over her body and often doesn't remember what happened while she was one of the others. She lives with her long-suffering but loving husband, Max (played by John Corbett); older teen daughter, Kate (played by Brie Larson); and younger teen son, Marshall (played by Keir Gilchrist, talented star of Atypical). Tara's younger sister, Charmaine, played by Rosemary DeWitt, is often around, too. They are an ordinary suburban family, except when they aren't. Though Tara's alter egos often wreak havoc in their lives, sometimes they are just there for awhile, and the family has gotten used to the sudden shifts. T borrows Kate's clothes, Alice loves to bake, and Buck is an excellent bowler. The family weathers the usual ups and downs, with Tara's unexpected personality shifts thrown into the mix. She suspects there is some forgotten trauma behind the disorder, and she sometimes tries therapy and other approaches to getting better, but much of the time, this is just normal life for this very unusual family.

OK, I know this sounds like a very weird premise ... but it works. In fact, it works extraordinarily well. All of the actors on the show are excellent and work very well together, but Toni Collette's performance, playing four very distinct personalities, is outstanding. In fact, she won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and several other awards for this role. She and the rest of the cast manage to capture both the ordinariness of their life and the insanity of it. Though Tara is at the center of it, the show is also about a regular family living this extraordinary life: Kate's issues with boyfriends and jobs, Marshall's struggles with his sexual orientation, and Max's attempts to hold the family together and earn a living. And Tara is actually a great mom, when she isn't punching Kate's boyfriend as Buck or embarrassing the kids as T! The show is warm and engaging and both moving and very funny at times. We just started season 2 (of 3) and are enjoying it.

The United States of Tara originally aired on Showtime, so is still available on their platform. It is now also currently available on Hulu. You can also purchase episodes for $1.99 or seasons for $10.99 at this link on Amazon or start a 7-day free subscription to Showtime there.


Friday, April 23, 2021

New ME/CFS Testing & Treatment Guidelines

Great news! The U.S. ME/CFS Clinician Coalition has published two more excellent documents to provide guidance to doctors diagnosing and treating ME/CFS patients. Here are some details and links to both the new and older documents:

Who Are They?

The U.S. ME/CFS Clinician Coalition is a group of 21 top experts in myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome in the U.S. Individually, these doctors have treated thousands of patients with ME/CFS using the best and latest research (and often participating in research and running studies themselves) for dozens of years. Together, they were working collectively to exchange information and stay up-to-date even before this group was officially formed in 2018. Some of them served on the committee to develop new diagnostic criteria. You can read more about the group at their website.

Some, but not all, of the doctors in the coalition still see patients. They are included in my page on Finding a Doctor, which also includes lists of top ME/CFS experts around the world, second-tier doctors who treat certain aspects of ME/CFS, links to doctor databases, and tips on finding a local primary care doctor who can help you.

What Are the New Guidelines Just Published?

The Clinician Coalition just this week released two new documents to help doctors trying to diagnose and treat ME/CFS patients. These are documents that YOU can share with your own doctor:

Testing Recommendations for Suspected ME/CFS - this comprehensive list not only helps doctors to diagnose ME/CFS and rule out other possible causes, but it also provides tests to help doctors better characterize this particular patient's ME/CFS, like which kinds of infections are present and whether they have Orthostatic Intolerance (OI).

ME/CFS Treatment Recommendations - this 9-page document includes a fairly complete list, organized by aspects of the disease, of medications, supplements, and other treatment approaches. They've included proven treatments that have helped many patients, as well as options for the patients who might not respond typically. Note that while the document does mention pacing toward the end, it does NOT mention Graded Exercise Therapy or Cognitive Behavorial Therapy!

What Else Is Available from the Clinician Coalition?

So much!! Their website has a treasure trove of information for patients and doctors. Check out their Resources page for reports and documents from them and from other sources, including more testing and treatment advice, latest reports on ME/CFS, more on common aspects/comorbidities like Orthostatic Intolerance and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, disability info, and more.

They also published a statement in October 2020, Post-COVID "Long Haulers" and ME/CFS, that explains how most cases of COVID long-haulers probably have ME/CFS and the history behind various infections, including SARS infections like COVID, triggering ME/CFS.


All of this is excellent, scientifically-based information that you can share with your doctor(s) to help them better understand, diagnose, and treat ME/CFS (including cases of "long COVID"). Our medical professionals are sadly lacking in training and up-to-date information on ME/CFS, so share this freely!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

TV Tuesday: Debris

Most of the TV shows we're enjoying right now are returns of old favorites like The Rookie, Good Girls, and New Amsterdam, but we've also gotten into a new sci fi series that just debuted this spring, Debris.

British agent Finola Jones, played by Riann Steele, and American agent Bryan Beneventi, played by Jonathan Tucker, are working together on an international, top-secret mission. Months ago, an alien spacecraft exploded over Earth, and the debris has been raining down on the planet ever since. Its alien technology does strange things and has horrible effects on the humans that come into contact with it. Bryan and Finola travel all over the U.S., going wherever a piece of debris has been found, no matter how small, to collect it and document the strange effects it causes ... and hopefully, to keep the people nearby from being harmed. Of course, there are bad guys, a group called INFLUX, that want to get their hands on the technology, too, led by the nefarious, bearded Anson Ash (who is played by--no kidding--Scroobius Pip). As the two investigators race against the clock to try to collect the pieces before they can do harm (or get scooped up by INFLUX), the mysteries deepen. In each location, the effects of the debris get stranger and stranger, while well above their paygrades, different countries are scrambling to get an advantage in spite of their apparent cooperation, and INFLUX is experimenting with their own violent uses of the technology.

We have watched seven episodes so far and are enjoying this sci fi-mystery-thriller. The two main characters are likeable, though each has his or her own secrets and past. The alien technology is certainly very strange and intriguing, and it's impossible to predict what will happen in each episode. We have seen lots of this type of sci fi-mystery-thriller, and we always enjoy them, even though they don't always last very long (my husband's theory is that the writers don't know what to do next with the weird things they have thought up!). I'm hoping this one will stick around for a while because its mysteries are interesting and its plotlines suspenseful.

Debris is currently airing on Mondays on NBC and is available the next day on Peacock (free). It is also available on Hulu.

If you enjoy this kind of sci fi-mystery-thriller show, you might also consider some others we've enjoyed (my reviews, trailers, and info on how to watch at the links):  


Monday, April 19, 2021

Movie Monday: Moxie

I spent a couple of nights down at the beach last week, on a little solo getaway, which meant plenty of reading, writing time, and ... watching movies my husband wouldn't be interested in! I enjoyed Set It Up, a rom-com on Netflix, but it wasn't fabulous, just a fun, light rom-com. My first night, though, I watched Moxie, a mother-daughter, coming-of-age movie (also on Netflix) that I really loved.

Amy Poehler plays Lisa, single mom to sixteen-year-old Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson. Lisa often jokes about her "misspent youth" as a rebel, protesting and getting involved in feminist causes, and Viv mostly just rolls her eyes. She's a quiet, shy girl who's had the same best friend, Claudia (played by Lauren Tsai), since they were tots. Viv's awakening begins when a new girl starts at their very traditional high school. Lucy, played by Alycia Pascual-Pena, dares to speak up in class, about how their English curriculum includes only "old white guys," and she refuses to put up with the abuse from Mitchell, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, that all the other girls take for granted. Mitchell is the school's star football player and is pretty much given carte blanche for his bad behavior since he is so charming to the adults running the school. Principal Shelly, played by Marcia Gay Harden, is particularly enraptured by Mitchell and has a very traditional "boys will be boys" attitude. Seeing Lucy speak up makes Viv start to think about the double standards and what she and the other girls at school have put up with for so long. She digs out the old suitcase with all her mom's counter-culture materials, and her imagination is sparked about how she can maybe make a difference. She starts a feminist 'zine that sparks a revolution at her school, all the while helping her to figure out who she is and what she believes in.

I loved this movie! It made me realize that while light, fun movies are OK, I prefer mine with a core of meaning and consequence. The acting is all outstanding in this film, including Marcia Gay Harden, who you will love to hate. Amy Poehler is not the center of this movie, nor does she play a typically comedic part, but she is great in the quiet role of Viv's mom.The young actors playing the students at Viv's school all bring depth to their characters, moving well beyond the typical stereotypes (in fact, outright busting many of those stereotypes). The writing was good, too. The movie has a serious core and addresses important issues, but it also has some romance and plenty of humor. All in all, it's the whole package: a fun, uplifting movie with heart and a powerful message. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a huge smile on my face at the end. You'll be cheering for Viv and her friends, too!

Moxie is a Netflix original, so it is available exclusively on the streaming service.

Check out the trailer for a preview of the fun, inspiring tone:


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Weekly Inspiration: Give Me a Break!

With apologies to the familiar McDonald's jingle: "You deserve a break today!"

My Solo Getaway

I just came back from a mini solo getaway to the beach (about 90 minutes from here), which I sorely needed. In addition to the pandemic, which has affected everyone everywhere, I'm in month #13 of a bad relapse (improving now but slowly) so have been far more limited than usual. I've also been totally overwhelmed by the stress of some major issues with extended family, which have been affecting my sleep just when I need it the most. And, there's all the usual stuff: juggling my blogs, freelance writing, time with my husband, household maintenance, and all the mind-boggling medical issues  (my current regimen requires taking medications and supplements at 10 different times of day!).

So much to do and remember! I need a break!

Then, there's the simple fact of just getting sick of the same old routine, day after day, which my relapse and the pandemic have multiplied. My husband and I had tentative plans to get our camper out for the first time this past week, but that fell through when his work schedule interfered. We are severely limited right now because we (and especially he) are taking care of his 95-year-old father, who now requires daily hands-on assistance. So, we can only go away for a day and a half, mid-week when his aide is visiting, and less than an hour from home. We are looking for an Assisted Living facility for him, but we weren't going to move him until visitors were allowed. So, yeah, there's that, too!

Anyway, all of this stress has been growing, so when our camping trip got cancelled, I decided I still needed a break. I planned a short solo getaway to the beach, with the help of a generous friend who lent their condo, which was empty last week.

Stormy skies ... but at least I'm at the beach!

This was just what I needed (though over far too soon!). I was completely alone for about two days, with no one to be responsible for but myself. I ate when and what I wanted (very little cooking; mostly takeout!), kept my own schedule, and enjoyed the silence. Though the weather forecast looked pretty bad when I left, I ended up having about 24 hours of sunshine and clear skies, so I drove to the beach (just a few miles away from the condo) three times: first for a walk with a friend, then (because the walk wore me out) just to sit with my book and enjoy the sounds of waves and seagulls and the gorgeous views. In the evening, I ate my takeout in front of the TV and watched movies my husband wouldn't have been interested in. Both the time alone and the change of scenery really helped me. In fact, I realized as I returned home that I was beginning to obsess over the family issue again and that I hadn't thought of it while I was away. My mini getaway provided both a physical and mental break for me.

Ahhh, that's better! Relaxing with a book in the sunshine.

It's not always possible to physically get away like I did this week, either due to responsibilities or the limitations of your illness (I never could have managed this during the worst of my relapse last year). But, you can still find ways to give yourself a break, even right at home.

A ride in my convertible to the nature center a few miles away provides a respite!

A Change of Scenery

Even if you are housebound, you can give yourself a break from routine with a simple change of scenery: 

  • Lie on the couch in the seldom-used living room instead of your usual spot in the family room. 
  • Create a comfy nest for yourself somewhere. Back when three of us were all sick at the same time, my youngest son liked to do this. Our couches were all taken up, so he'd pile a bunch of pillows and blankets on the floor (maybe even with a spare mattress) and get cozy in his nest. 
  • Lie outside (see below).
  • Move to a spot where you can look out of the window.
  • If you are up to it, drive or ride along as a passenger while a friend or family member drives. You don't need a specific destination--sometimes, it's just nice to get out.

Lying outside on our deck lifts my spirits!

Get Outside

Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to rejuvenate and "get away," even if you are still home. My article,The Restorative Power of Nature, written for ProHealth and updated as a chapter in my book, details the health benefits of spending time outdoors with lots of practical ideas for those with chronic illnesses. Scientific studies show that nature has amazing benefits for both physical and mental health. So, try some of these ideas for a mini outdoor getaway:

  • Sit or lie outside in your yard, garden, deck, or even on a balcony. I like my anti-gravity. bungee chair and often lie in it out on our deck (or in the screened porch if the bugs are out). Just being away from the TV and other indoor noise helps.
  • Tune in to the natural world. Once outside, look, listen, and smell! Look up at the sky and watch the clouds. Listen to the birdsong (which was there all along, even if you don't normally notice it) and the wind in the trees. Smell the spring blooms or the air after a rainstorm. Look around to notice the signs of the season and what has changed since the last time you were out there.
  • If you can manage it, ask a friend or family member to take you for a drive on backroads, into the country or maybe to a local park. Put the windows down, smell the air, and enjoy the change of scenery.
  • If you are able to walk without crashing (for me, treating OI was the key to improving my exercise tolerance), try walking in a park or other natural area instead of your usual neighborhood walk. Though, even in your own familiar neighborhood, you can focus more on your surroundings and observe what is going on in the natural world. I love to see what new flowers and trees are starting to bloom (or turning color in the fall).
  •  If you are severely limited and bedridden, ask someone to open the window on a nice day so you can listen to, observe, and even smell nature. Studies show that even looking at pictures of nature has beneficial effects! Try a nature documentary or a slideshow of photos of National Parks.


Takeout from our favorite Louisiana restaurant is a nice treat!


Take a Break from Routine

This past year, during this bad relapse, I have learned that even a simple break from my usual routine can help to lift my spirits. Certain things, of course, can't be changed: my bedtime, my daily nap, and all those meds and supplements, timed just right! But, there are other things that my husband and I enjoy as a change of pace:

  • Order takeout from a favorite place, as a special treat.
  • If you are able to indulge a bit outside of your usual dietary restrictions, then do that once in a while! I normally avoid grains, so a grilled Reuben sandwich or a po'boy from our favorite New Orleans restaurant is a huge treat for me. Similarly, I normally avoid dairy but will occasionally indulge in a small sugar-free sundae. It might not seem like much to healthy people, but these rare splurges bring me joy and a break from my routine.
  • If you normally eat at the kitchen table, indulge in dinner in front of the TV with a favorite show. Or, if you always eat in front of the TV, try eating in the dining room on the "good" dishes with candlelight.
  • Take a "day off." Even when I am not feeling well, I am usually trying to be productive, even attempting to clear my e-mail inbox while lying on the couch, for example. There are two ways that I take a day off: if I am really feeling awful, it is a huge relief to give in, admit I won't get anything done that day, go back to bed, and lose myself in a good book or TV show. Alternatively, like with this week, it can give me a big boost to intentionally take a "day off" when I am not badly crashed. I did that on Tuesday, the day I drove to the beach. I did not even attempt to do anything productive, just enjoyed the beach, read, and watched a movie (and left my laptop closed).
  • If you always watch the same TV shows, try something new that everyone's been talking about. Or choose a movie that's different than what you usually watch. Or read or listen to a book in a different genre than you usually read. Anything different can provide a nice change of pace.
  • If you're feeling isolated, surprise an old friend with a phone call, video call, or even text message. It can provide a huge emotional boost to reconnect and interact with a loved one, even virtually.

I bet that YOU need a break today! Hopefully, those ideas can get you started. 

What do you do when you get sick of the same old routine and need a break? Share your own ideas in the comments below.