I spend a lot of time in bed. I mean, a lot. I live with chronic migraine and between the days when I have a full blown attack and the days when I’m recovering and completely exhausted and the days when I think I’m ok but then realize that sounds are too loud or being touched is too painful or sitting upright too exhausting, I end up retreating to my bedroom for more hours than not. Maybe you’re reading this thinking you wish you could lounge around in bed, and to that I say, “Me too!” I wish I could wake up some weekend morning feeling abso-fucking-lutely great and stay in bed just because, but that’s not what being chronically ill is like. It’s your whole body screaming in pain, it’s neurological symptoms so intense they leave you in tears, it’s missing out on your family’s life and your own damn life. It’s boring and depressing and often scary and it feels never-ending. It is never-ending. I can’t read because I can’t concentrate, often I can’t write because the pain is too distracting, I can’t open the curtains because it’s too bright, and I’m not a monk, so there are only so many hours a day that I can sit in contemplative meditation. Sometimes, I listen to audiobooks, which I love, but the range of voices and reading abilities I’m willing to have piped directly into my ear sockets is limited. A few years ago, I did, at my son’s request, listen to twelve Rick Riordan books consecutively, which are read exclusively by men who sound like adolescent boys. It’s a feat of which I’m very proud and would prefer to never repeat.
My best distraction is to watch things on my laptop with the screen dimmed to a bearable glare while listening through headphones. Most televisions make me feel nauseated and dizzy and my brain can’t seem to process the sounds when they’re bumping around in the air. But there is something about shutting out all the noises I can’t control (lawn mowers, satanic leaf blowers, sometimes satanic children, my husband clipping his nails, other humans existing, etc.) and visually escaping into another world that makes me temporarily forget about the pain, the nausea, the vertigo, and the other bizarre symptoms on the endless road of chronic illness. When I’m done watching a show or a movie (and when I’m able to read a bit) I escape down rabbit holes by researching actors, trivia, history, and on and on.
For years all this information just rattled around in my head. I mean, I certainly wasn’t going to bore anyone by going on and on about the seemingly fluffy movies and shows I enjoyed while holed up alone in my room. I wasn’t going to explain in excruciating detail why I thought long and hard about the exact moment that Gilmore Girls became less fun to watch and why. Then a friend came down with a nasty stomach flu and texted to ask if I had ideas of shows she could binge between running to the bathroom. I clearly remember my thumbs poised over the keys (this was long enough ago that there were actual keys on my phone), considering how honest I should be. First, I told her about some other shows I’d liked well enough, and then I took a deep breath. “There’s this show I couldn’t stop watching about a New York City doctor who ends up in a small town in Alabama. It’s kind of like Gilmore Girls, but with more formal shorts and very attractive men who end up shirtless a lot,” I wrote. That’s right friends, I plunged in headfirst and recommended the CW classic, Hart of Dixie, a show that explored friendships, social expectations, growing up, romantic entanglements, sexuality, family relationships, AND the contours of male abdominal muscles. A Renaissance show of sorts, if you will. Sure, it was a piece of fluff on the sleeve of more critically-acclaimed television, I explained, but it was also a show in which all the main characters had story arcs that allowed them to develop and change, the wardrobe was always entertaining (So. Many. Formal. Shorts.), and (abs aside) women’s stories got told. And the thing was, my friend loved the show as well. And although we did part ways on our preferred eye candy, she coming down staunchly in camp Wade and I in camp Lavon, our friendship managed to endure.
Then another friend watched it and liked it. And they asked for more recommendations. And with the floodgates finally opened, I shared more of what I watched and why I did or didn’t like it. I turned 40, my symptoms got even worse so I spent more time alone, and I completely stopped giving a shit what people thought about my watching habits. Now, in the same breath that I tell you that I thought Shtisel was a beautiful and compelling story of an Orthodox Jewish family finding themselves within the confines of a very prescribed life, or that 20 years later I still think about Homicide: Life on the Street, I can also say—with the same conviction and confidence—that I watched the entirety of a somewhat mediocre Spanish series mostly for the angle of a man’s cheekbones.
I hope you’ll join me in throwing phrases like “guilty pleasure” and “chick flick” on the manure pile of life. Then you can come sit beside me on my fainting couch, where I’ll give you all the reviews you absolutely never asked about.