What I learnt from watching ‘Brain on Fire’

I’ve been doing a lot of lying down browsing Netflix recently so have been watching some random documentaries and films. One of the ones I watched was a film called ‘Brain on Fire’.It’s about a woman who starts to experience neurological symptoms like seizures, absences, psychosis, mood swings and eventually stroke like symptoms. But no one can work out what’s wrong with her and they go down the ‘it’s psychological’ route and try to get her committed to a psych ward. Her parents keep fighting for her and found one doctor who believed her and eventually she gets diagnosed with a rare autoimmune brain disorder. It’s treatable. It’s also based on a true story. The reason I found this interesting was because before I got diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, I had many doctors tell me that they thought my problems were psychological and refused to treat me- I got made out to be a drug seeker for steroids at one point. Like her, I felt like I was dying and no one was listening. And, in the same way, the only reason I got diagnosed was because one respiratory doctor said ‘I believe you’ and spent 2 weeks running every test possible until a completely random one showed I had adrenal insufficiency, which wasn’t even his field of practice. But before that, I was treated like I was mad. People ‘humoured’ me when I went to a&e for a while, but the more I showed up (every week at one point) and the fact that one doctor wrote about my ‘clear psychological issues’ on my file meant that people became more and more rude and point blank refused to treat me. But even if I was experiencing psychological symptoms, there’s no need to treat me like that, clearly I still needed help which I wasn’t getting. Although, chronic illness humour, it did turn out that the problem was ‘all in my head’ since my pituitary gland is pretty defunct and it’s located in my brain… 😉 It’s still difficult for me to look back and say ‘I was treated badly’, even though I now know I *was* treated badly. It’s left a lot of (now, ironically, psychological) damage about seeking help in healthcare because I really was dying and no one would listen. I’ve always tried to see it from other people’s perspective and think maybe it’s because I didn’t look sick enough, or maybe I didn’t use the right words to describe it, or maybe someone was having a bad day and missed something, or they lacked experience or I said something wrong which threw them… But there’s empathy for other humans and human error and then there’s taking responsibility for something that wasn’t my fault. Watching Brain on Fire meant that I could see some of my experiences portrayed from an outside perspective. And, actually, there were many opportunities for people, whether it be colleagues, friends, family or doctors, to see that clearly she wasn’t right. Yeah, some of her behaviour might have been weird or ‘lazy’, but instead of showing some empathy and sitting down and saying ‘this isn’t you, what’s going on here’, she was told she was being selfish, that she needed to try harder, she was shouted at to see if she would ‘snap out of it’, people were impatient and she was ultimately worn down to a point where even the inherent natural instinct to fight to survive got turned off. But the scary thing is, that her and my experiences aren’t all that uncommon. When doctors can’t find answers, they turn to psychological problems. Lots of people with adrenal insufficiency are committed to psychiatric units first and then are only diagnosed when they’re in a coma. Part of it is that doctors don’t like things they can’t solve, and mental health has a nice broad spectrum, but part of it is that some are too arrogant to admit that they don’t know everything. I find this really baffling in this day and age since more and more people are surviving things they didn’t before which means there are going to be new and rare diseases being diagnosed which we didn’t have before. Therefore, just because it doesn’t fit into one doctor’s experience of illness, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t a physical problem rather than a psychological problem. So what I learnt from watching this film is that I’m not responsible for the way my doctors treated me. Even if I had said something wrong or acted weirdly, they were my doctors and I was the patient- they had a duty of care to me regardless of the root cause and they really let me down. Seeing someone else experience it first hand in visual form (rather than just reading similar experiences) gave me the chance to fully acknowledge that.

What I learnt from ‘say yes to the dress’

I’m putting it out there that if I ever resort to watching Jeremy Kyle, someone needs to host an intervention for me!

The problem with being home and binge watching TV series is that too much of some programmes can cause you to have an existential crisis, think you’re being stalked or about to be murderer all the time, or makes you start talking in olde English depending on the period drama. I did particularly like the heavily Spanish-accented male voice that started narrating my life after I watched back to back Jane the Virgin though!

Anyway, so I found the TLC channel which basically has Say Yes to the Dress and Cake Boss on repeat. Amazing. I hadn’t watched Say Yes before because I assumed it was a bunch of shallow, materialistic girls who have way too much money to spend shopping for wedding dresses. Which it sometimes is, but it got me thinking. And the main thing that came out of all of my avid TV viewing, is that not an awful lot of what we see is actually about the dress. The dress is just a vehicle for a bigger picture.

Everyone, even the most seemingly confident brides, is looking for approval from someone. Otherwise why do they bother taking anyone to the appointment? And the more people they have, the more they appear to like to be in the spotlight, the more they actually need that validation and approval. You can see it in their faces when they think they like something and someone disagrees. They don’t know what to do.

Aside from approval, the wedding or the wedding dress has some kind of symbolism that doesn’t have anything to do with their fiance or wedding. Some have medical stories where wearing a dress causes body image problems or signifies the end of something. Others don’t have family members who’d like to see them in the dress because they’ve died. One got ridiculously upset because her mum didn’t like the dress and burst into tears and it turned out that what looked like a stroppy tantrum from a shallow bride not getting what she wanted on the surface was actually because she’d spent years as a teenager being belittled by her mum about everything and finally thought she’d got to a place where she knew who she was as a person and didn’t need her mum’s approval and it turned out it still had a massive impact on her. She’d taken her mum to the appointment to be the bigger person but she hadn’t quite closed all of the anxiety she felt about it off despite therapy.

So what have I learnt? That everyone needs approval, even the most confident of people. In fact, the most confident often need that validation more. And that it’s ok to ask for approval or validation in certain circumstances, like when you’re trying on your wedding dress or showcasing something or making yourself feel vulnerable. If people aren’t willing to boost your confidence or say they’re proud of you when you’re doing something specific, like shopping for your wedding dress, that says a lot more about them and their insecurities than it does about you.

I think it’s really easy to project fears and anxieties onto even experiences which should be happy. Your mind can’t really handle the really deep rooted negative stuff by itself, but it can get irrationally angry about surface level things. I temporarily lost my scarf at a funeral once and all I could think about at the start of the service was ‘I can’t believe I lost my scarf’. And then I got really stressed because I was thinking about having lost my scarf rather than the person we’d lost and were burying! But it’s the same thing as people eating wedding dress consultants alive because their dress isn’t quite perfect. The mind can’t handle the hard stuff, but it knows how to let it all out on the not so important metaphors of life.

Don’t judge a book by its cover (or wedding dress). Just because you can’t see what’s going on immediately doesn’t mean that the reaction is coming from a shallow place, it’s probably a lot deeper a problem than you realise. It’s just a shame that some of these brides are spending $5k upwards to learn this!

The People v O.J. Simpson

I’ve watched my way through all the comedies and light hearted TV series on Netflix, so have moved onto dramas and ‘real life’ stories. I quite like law and medical dramas anyway, but hadn’t come across The People v O.j Simpson until a friend suggested it. 

I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to scary things. There’s a running joke with my friends that if it’s an 18 I can’t watch it and I should vett 15s before watching them- I can’t handle  scary things at all but I find legal and crime stories interesting! This had a ‘me friendly’ certificate on Netflix so I thought I’d give it a go.

I got seriously hooked. It wasn’t remotely scary, a little bit creepy in some places, but if I could cope I’m sure most people could! I’m not old enough to remember the original trial so I had no idea as to the outcome. Basically, the writers have taken evidence, court room testimonies and statements made by people involved in the trial, and produced a dramatised version. It’s really well done. Not all of it takes place in the court room though, so you actually get to see the defence and the prosecution developing their strategies and how the twist and turns unfold. It took a while to get over the fact that the actor who plays Ross Geller from friends was a major role, but other than that I got completely absorbed. (I half expected him to shout ‘we were on a break’ at some point). 

It also made me realise that a lot of being convicted in America isn’t to do with the actual evidence but how you tell your story to the jury. Even things like the jury not liking your lawyer can be enough to convict you. Scary! The show also highlighted how stressful it must have been for the jury living with a gagging order and supervision for the duration of the trial. I can’t believe that DNA evidence wasn’t fully considered as ‘proper’ evidence, considering how much we know about it now and how it’s relied on so heavily! 

I thought the choice of music was good- there was the right amount of silence versus sound track, plus added audio such as ticking clocks or heart beats to represent action on the screen. The camera work varied between inside the court room for the dramatised version that we were watching, but also recreating how it was broadcast to the country on the news by the camera angles used e.g. High up shots or off to the side where cameras would be positioned in a real trial. 

It was really interesting and it made me want to read more about it. I’ve since added some more legal and crime things to my Netflix list because of it! 

Network image 

The Night Shift

Good grief, you do not want to work in this hospital. There’s at least some kind of natural disaster, gunman, industrial accident or just general peril every night which the staff have to deal with. I thought Meredith had a disproportionate amount of bad luck in Grey’s Anatomy, but I think the staff here just manage to beat her! Also like Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a disproportionate amount of attractive staff who work there!

The Night Shift is a medical drama set in San Antonio following, unsurprisingly, the Night Shift working in the hospital (for the most part). A lot of the staff were deployed abroad with the armed forces at some point, so bring military experience to the job. I’m not sure if San Antonio is a military area in real life or not, but there were also a lot of soldiers who came in as patients from nearby bases. So while it’s a medical drama and you see a range of emergency cases, the show focuses on some of the problems soldiers face as part of their reintegration into civilian life. There are also regular flashbacks to when the doctors were working in military and field hospitals, which help you understand more about a character, or shows where their skills and insights are directly transferable to the general public, even if it’s not immediately obvious what they’re looking for to start with.

Medically, it mostly seemed accurate to me. I mean, when they said ‘BP is down’ it actually was going down on the monitor and they didn’t try to shock asystole (like they did on ER). Having said that, someone nearly always needed to have surgery ‘in the field’ every episode, and there’s no way that all of them would have survived infections they were bound to get from them having sterilised a pen knife with some vodka (for example). So realistic but with a massive pinch of salt. 

It was easy to watch and the characters were likeable enough. I did find the military background interesting- I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much if that wasn’t there. There were also some storylines which tackled every-day discrimination which I quite liked: e.g. Don’t ask don’t tell in the military, male nursing staff, racism. I particularly liked the fact that they had a few mental health storylines which forced the doctors to review the way they treated patients- some were adamant that mental health was a waste of time and neglected to see how it impacted on physical health until it was ‘too late’, forcing their opinion to change as to how to treat patients in the future. There were 2 ‘shoutouts’ to my rare medical condition- one time they got the facts wrong, the other was much more accurate, so not sure what happened to the researchers in between! A couple of characters did seem to just disappear though, either I wasn’t paying close enough attention or they just got written out quickly. 

I liked the fact the series tried to develop the characters and we saw their histories through flashbacks. I also liked that it was very obviously a flashback because it was set in war zones rather than the hospital, meaning I could keep up! I wouldn’t say it’s like Grey’s Anatomy, where you’re missing out if you haven’t watched it, but The Night Shift helped me pass a rainy rest week in my pjs quite happily 🙂 

Photo: NBC


I was brought up in the countryside (in the UK) so ‘farm life’ isn’t a foreign concept to me, but I am in in no way an animal person. And definitely not a horse person. So why, you might be asking, did I decide to watch a Tv series about a ranch and the surrounding community, where pretty much every scene features a horse? Well, I’d just finished Gilmore Girls on Netflix and wanted another show that had a lot of series on there, and it was in the ‘because you watched…’ section. So I thought I’d give it a go. 

And then I got hooked! It’s the first Canadian show I’d watched, so the accents took a bit of getting used to, but I loved it. Sadly only seasons 1-6 were on Netflix in the uk, and season 7 just got released, which I binge watched within the space of 2 days. I *need* the rest to be uploaded soon! (Please!)

Amy is a teenager who loses her mum in an accident, and who also has inherited her mum’s gift with horses. She’s not a horse whisperer (she doesn’t like being called that), but she does more than just train horses. Once Amy recovers from the same accident which killed her Mum, she takes over the day-to-day business at the ranch (heartland) that her mum used to do, supported by her business-minded sister Lou and her grandfather, Jack. A ranch hand called Ty, who is on probation for petty crimes, also comes to live and work there, and the horse-crazy ‘next door neighbour’, Mallory, drops in so often she basically lives there- I love Mallory as a character! Amy and Lou’s dad becomes a permanent fixture in their lives, and a lot of screen time is devoted to happy (and some eventful) meals around the Bartlett/Fleming dinner table. Other characters come and go as the story progresses through the seasons. 

So why do I like it? It’s easy watching but with enough ‘drama’ that you want to find out what’s happening. The characters are loveable- Jack appears to be a grumpy old man, but is actually anything but, and I even started to like Tim, who I hated in the beginning. The scenery is stunning- I really, really want to visit Canada now! But it was also really interesting learning about ranch-life and how to look after horses. We don’t have ranches or rodeos in the UK, so it was really enlightening to see what cowboys actually get up to, rather than their outfits just being seen at fancy dress parties like they are here. Plus I like programmes where theyre factually accurate e.g. the vet and medical stuff. 

It’s the kind of show that I’d watch again from the beginning because I like the characters and the world they live in. In fact, if I can’t sleep, I put Heartland on because the familiarity of the music and voices helps me relax! I also particularly liked that the actors all can ride- some of it must be done by stunt people, but there are lots of shots where it’s clear it’s the actors riding. 

The storylines might not be the most sophisticated in the world and some are pretty predictable, but actually, I quite liked that. And Heartland definitely beats Eastenders or Coronation Street anyway…! If you want to watch something heartwarming with beautiful scenery, then Heartland is a good show to watch! 

Now I just have to wait for the rest to appear on Netflix 😦

Photo: Studio Image

Why I like ‘I’m a Celebrity’

I don’t really like reality TV, and I couldn’t care less about celebrities. So it’s odd that I quite like I’m a Celebrity! It’s a tv show (full name: I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!) where celebrities are dropped in the jungle and have to complete trials usually involving creepy crawlies in order to get decent food and/or supplies. I also hate bugs. The public chooses who stays and who goes (to an extent).

November has been a bad month for me health-wise for a few years. 2013 marked the start of me getting back to back chest infections. 2014 I spent the best part of 3 weeks in hospital as an inpatient. In 2015 I got told I was ‘critically ill’ and continuing to work at that point was dangerous. 2016 *touch wood* is looking a damn sight more positive and less dramatic, albeit I’m still ill. 

And here enters I’m a celebrity. I spend a lot of time watching TV and it’s on every night. I started watching it properly when I was in hospital in 2014 for the 2 1/2 weeks. Visiting times were from 7pm-8.30pm and my husband and 2 friends faithfully came every evening and because one is a nurse, I was allowed off the ward, which I desperately needed, to go to the public (closed) canteen area, because I would still be medically supervised. But I really didn’t cope well with being left afterwards. It turned out I had an undiagnosed endocrine condition, which meant my hormones were completely haywire (imagine woman in labour kind of scale) and so being left alone caused massive emotional meltdowns. Plus the reeducation plan and diagnostic tests I was on was horrendous so I was already fragile. So visitors leaving me made me massively stressed, which, it turns out is something my body really can’t cope with since the hormone I don’t make is the stress hormone, cortisol, hence the meltdown.

My friends and my husband used to deliver a usually sobbing me back to my room and hand me over to either Mary or Sue, my lovely night nurses, who would try everything they could to settle me down before my breathing deteriorated and I needed a nebuliser. Routines are common in hospital so at 9pm we’d get given evening hot drinks and biscuits, and at 10pm was evening meds which meant I couldn’t sleep until I’d had them. So I’m a Celebrity was on when I was given a hot drink and a snack and kept me occupied until I was given my evening meds. Then there’d be the ‘after show’ discussion I could watch while trying to sleep. Once the night nurses worked out that I was watching it, they used to distract me by asking what had happened on show the night before when I was upset. I was the youngest patient on the ward by about 50 years so lots of the other patients were already asleep or didn’t need anything until the drugs round, meaning they could make time to chat to me. One healthcare, Lyn, would make me get my pjs on while she was making my drink for me and then watch me get settled in bed with the tv on because, for whatever reason, it really calmed me down focussing on it and having her keep me company. Then she’d come back at the end of the drinks round and make sure I was ok again. When I was discharged from hospital, watching the show acted as a kind of transition and gave me the ‘stability’ I needed at that point while I adjusted. 

Last year, i watched it in the morning after breakfast. I felt guilty about not being in work so it gave me something else to focus on once I’d emailed in my cover work. Both years, it helped me out because:

– I felt ‘trapped’ in hospital so I felt I really understood what the contestants were feeling regarding wanting to get out! Thankfully without the bugs…

– it gave me a routine and something else to focus on

– hospital food might not be great but at least I didn’t have to starve or eat bugs

– it gave me some kind of stability when it felt like everything was falling apart 

– it made me laugh 

– my concentration was dire, a new to me symptom, so watching something ‘easy’ helped alleviate the frustration I felt about that. 

– it gave me something ‘neutral’ to talk about which wasn’t about my own life or what was happening.

So yes, it’s trashy TV and is probably rigged, and goes against what I’d usually watch. But I like the familiarity of it 🙂 

Photo: ITV Image

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I’m so excited for Season 2 streaming on  April 15th! Kimmy is freed after spending 15 years in a doomsday cult bunker as a ‘mole woman’ and moves to New York to try and get some of her life experiences back and to make the most of her new found freedom. Everything about this show is wacky and out of the ordinary, but it’s hilarious. Don’t watch it if you are easily offended or follow politically correct rules- every character is an exaggerated version of their stereotype. There’s the gay room mate, wealthy socialite employer, bratty teenager, foreign friend who struggles with english, even a senile war veteran. Somehow, despite the over the top portrayal, all of the characters still manage to come across as endearing.

The overall plot line follows Kimmy’s entrance into New York life and her navigation of every day tasks such as finding a job, using a mobile phone and enrolling in school. Her room mate, Titus, ‘helps’ her adjust to society, but she also motivates him in pursuing his dream of being famous. The first season ended in the court case of her cult leader, where Kimmy managed to outwit her own lawyers and the slightly suspect jury in convicting the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. It kind of reminded me of the end of Legally Blonde where both characters’ sheer determination to prove everyone wrong helps them win the case.

It’s as crazy as it sounds but it’s feel good, laugh out loud TV. Kimmy is constantly positive, but not in an annoying way, and she manages to pass on the lessons she’s learnt in the bunker to her employer, landlady and school buddy. The theme tune is also ridiculously catchy!

Gossip Girl

I really wanted to dislike Gossip Girl. I spend a lot of time watching Netflix at the moment, and, having watched most of the ‘recommended for you’ options, a friend suggested watching Gossip Girl. Based in New York’s Upper East Side, Gossip Girl narrates the lives of the wealthy and privileged students attending a private school, Constance, through her blog. No one knows who Gossip Girl is (until the last episode of season 6), but they all follow her reporting and send in tips and try to manipulate the content she posts to suit their own needs.

Everyone seems to hate the blogger, but it’s still important to be mentioned or ‘spotted’ on it, because it means that they’re relevant. It’s quite a cleverly written programme, in that you make assumptions early on as to your feelings towards a character e.g. Chuck as the ‘evil’ villain, but you have to change your perception as the story progresses. As the characters grow into adults, their personality changes and therefore so do your perceptions. Characters I was determined to hate I actually quite liked by the end and vice versa.  In the later seasons, Gossip Girl takes a break and one of the main characters takes over her blog determined to not be as spiteful as the original Gossip Girl and to use it to make things better. But she actually becomes just as manipulative and ends up showing that her wealth might not be everything but her knowledge of others and the way she uses it is really is.

The Gossip Girl blog tends to focus on the ‘It’ girls/boys of Manhattan, but other characters e.g. the Humphreys from Brooklyn and the hired help to Blair, Dorota, feature regularly and help enhance the cliche that money can buy you lots of things, but it can’t buy loyalty, happiness and friendship. There are some touching moments where the upper and working class boundaries don’t exist e.g. the Waldorfs paying for Dorota’s wedding because they consider her to be family. At several points, fortunes are lost and social status drops but the revenge plots keep coming until the balance is restored.

It would have been very easy to focus on the ‘who is Gossip Girl?’ storyline and drag that out for 6 seasons. The question is always there, the blogger is always a constant, but the focus shifts between different characters’ storylines as well and she becomes more of a narrator and voiceover in some episodes. There were a few blink and you miss it moments where either I wasn’t paying attention properly (entirely possible!) and missed the introduction of a character or a key plot line development, but it’s still reasonably easy to follow, and, helpfully, everything is recapped regularly by Gossip Girl’s blog voiceover.

I loved the wit of some characters e.g. Blair, and I would not have thought it possible to  make as many puns based on Chuck’s surname, Bass, as she managed to throughout the show. I particularly liked the symmetry in the way Gossip Girl’s identity was revealed, where the main characters speculated as to who they thought Gossip Girl was, following a similar thought process to what the viewer had experienced throughout.Having visited New York, I loved the New York panoramic long shots during transitions and the characters visited attractions like Central Park and The Empire State Building, making the storyline seem more plausible and real. The soundtrack was a good mix of current, ‘popular’ hits, again referring to the socialite scene and their ‘popularity’ in society versus 1920s music which featured in Blair’s Damsel in Distress dreams/nightmares. Blair’s minions and Dan Humphrey’s written musings provided humour poking fun at some of the traditions and etiquette of the Upper Class.

I put it on as something to watch in the background, but found myself wondering what would happen to the different characters when I was doing things like making dinner- it sucked me in but not with massive cliff hanger moments (although those did exist). It was also really interesting seeing how ‘the other half’ live.