Jul 14

“To the Bone”: Intensive Treatment of Anorexia

Today is the Netflix opening of Marti Noxon‘s To the Bone, which focuses on anorexia. Both Noxon and lead actress Lily Collins have dealt with eating disorders in their own lives.

Responding to those who’ve criticized the film in advance, Melanie McFarland, Salon, states that To the Bone “is an admirable and empathetic work that does not romanticize anorexia or the young woman being ground into nothingness by the disease, as some have feared.”

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter, sets up the plot and main characters:

Gaunt and expressionless, Ellen (Collins) is first seen making a humorous but also offensive sign at what turns out to be her fourth in-patient treatment, which leads to her being kicked out again. A few quick scenes establish the situation back home in Los Angeles, where her father is never present; her occasionally borderline inappropriate, endlessly talkative but also somewhat frosty step-mom, Susan (Carrie Preston), tries to overcompensate; and Ellen’s half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), is kinder but has secretly been suffering, too, from having to deal with having a ‘freak sister’ with a disorder. Her real mom, Judy (Lili Taylor), ‘a lesbian with bipolar disorder,’ as per Susan, has moved to Arizona to be with her no-nonsense girlfriend, Olive (Brooke Smith).

The Trailer

Depiction of Treatment Program

For her fifth intensive treatment stint, Ellen winds up in a program run by Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves). States Nick Allen, rogerebert.com:

…Noxon’s narrative gets its main focus when she is brought to the house, where the rules start to take place. There are no doors in the house, no cell phones, and points are earned by doing chores, which can be used to have time away from the house. We also meet other residents of various conditions, like Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is often in bed with a tube in her nose, former dancer Luke (Alex Sharp), who lost a great deal of weight after an injury, and even a character played by Leslie Bibb, who is pregnant despite the thinness of her body, and is working hard to safely deliver the baby. Ellen wrestles with whether she wants to be better, facing her self-hatred, due in part to a disturbing past.

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “Beckham is seen only sparingly, in the sidelines as a paternal ghost who suggests a nicer version of Ellen’s unseen father, who can’t be bothered to attend her family therapy session, which devolves into a litany of accusations.”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, is one of those who’s less than impressed:

…[Dr. Beckham] proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone else’s (they’re not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do). He also clearly enjoys his power over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional film would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctor’s version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who can fix women.

Selected Reviews

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter: “…an occasionally harrowing but sometimes also surprisingly warm and funny tale that, while the characters focus a lot on eating (or, rather, not eating), is really more about finding the will and self-love necessary to live rather than about dealing with an eating disorder.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety: “While not downright irreverent, this is the kind of anorexia movie where characters crack jokes about not wanting to visit the Holocaust Museum, lest they feel guilty for starving themselves. ‘To the Bone’ would hardly qualify as a comedy, but it doesn’t take the kid-gloves approach either — in fact, its attitude seems almost ruthlessly pitiless at times…”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian: “…(W)hen all a movie about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with food, and that this makes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.”

Jul 12

Adapt to Change By Following These “Simple” Plans

With the recent passing of Spencer Johnson (1940-2017), a physician who authored the wildly popular and brief Who Moved My Cheese? (1998), it feels appropriate to present this book as well as two newer ones that advocate uncomplicated plans to help you adapt to change in the workplace and elsewhere.

I. Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson (1998)

A summary from Four Minute Books: “The book tells a parable about two little people and two mice in a maze, searching for cheese, where each character represents a different attitude towards change, with cheese being what we consider success.”

The most quoted line: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Other notable quotes from Who Moved My Cheese?

What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.

Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go.

Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger change that are to come.

II. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston (2015)

Called “a perfect blend of ‘story’ and ‘lesson'” (Robert Kegan, Harvard University), Simple Habits for Complex Times is further described below by Christopher B. Nelson, HuffPost:

Berger and Johnston describe the rise in ambiguity (as well as complexity, volatility and uncertainty) in our workplaces and private lives — and they suggest an overall corporate transformation. They identify three habits of mind that move us toward a new paradigm: Ask different questions. Take multiple perspectives. And get a feel for the complex organism that is our workplace by learning to see systems.

A few thoughts/quotes from this book:

In a simpler world, perhaps unilateral power held by a single, smart, capable leader could rule the day. In a complex world…it takes a collective sharing of power, creativity, and perspectives to become agile and nuanced enough to lead into the uncertain future.

The point isn’t to be the hero and solve things; the point of the leader in a complex world is to enable and unleash as many heroes and as many solutions as possible.

The key lever in a complex system is learning; the key methods are conversation, discovery, and experimentation. In a complicated case, you have distinct times for diagnosing the problem, coming up with the solution, and then implementing that solution.

III. Domino: The Simplest Way to Inspire Change, Nick Tasler (2015)

From the publisher’s blurb about Nick Tasler’s two types of “approaches to leading change”:

…Disturbingly, Change by Addition is far less effective, but is used far more often. Until now. Luckily, Change by Decision is not only more effective it also requires less time and fewer resources—allowing ordinary managers to take their teams in exciting new directions.

If you like self-assessment quizzes, go to Tasler’s website and try out his Decision Styles Index. As he indicates on that page, “Change happens when decisions happen. Change stalls when decisions don’t happen. It really is that simple.”

Jul 10

“Notes on a Banana”: Bipolar Disorder and More

In his masterful new memoir, David Leite weaves together three of my favorite things: food, humor, and debilitating mental illness. Notes on a Banana is beautifully crafted, inspiring, and poignantly honest. A must read for all foodies and memoir lovers who know the power food and family have to overcome nearly every obstacle in life. Josh Kilmer-Purcell

In Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression the “Banana” in question is Leite’s nickname, the “Food” a significant part of his career, the “Love” his long-term relationship with “The One”—otherwise known as Alan—and the “Manic Depression” his symptoms of bipolar disorder that surfaced in childhood and didn’t stabilize until his late 30’s or so. Leite is now in his 50’s.

B. David Zarley, Paste, praises Notes on a Banana as “one of the finest portraits of bipolar disorder I have ever read.” He speaks from the experience, like Leite, of living with hypomania, and he states the following about Leite’s diagnosis:

Bipolar II, to be specific, the form of the disorder marked by deep depressive modes and hypomanic episodes (hypomania being, as Leite describes it, ‘a watercolor version of bright-neon manias’). It is the alternating currents of depression and hypomania that have galvanized and rendered black Leite’s life, a perpetual rolling brownout.

Leite also once had signficant difficulty accepting being gay. Kirkus Reviews:

In college, the author had affairs with men while ‘dating’ a woman he fantasized would be his wife but with whom he could never have sex. He also began experiencing the chaotic extremes of the bipolar disorder that psychologists had mistakenly diagnosed as depression. Leaving college without a degree, Leite went to New York, where he worked first as a waiter then as an ad writer while unsuccessfully trying to turn straight through involvement with the ‘gay curing’ Aesthetic Realism movement. A long-term relationship with a man who ‘loved everything about the ceremony of the table’ led to Leite’s reimmersion in the cooking he loved and the Azorean culture from which he had separated himself. It also gave him the courage to seek the answers that had eluded him and his doctors about the truth of his condition.

In addition to the medications and therapy Leite now uses, he’s described other parts of his “bipolar arsenal” (his blog) :

…Things no shrink can prescribe and no therapist can analyze—namely, cooking and writing about food. Even on my worst days, when it feels like I have some gargantuan creature threatening to drag me down through the couch cushions, the simple act of swirling a knob of butter in a hot skillet can cheer me. And nothing mercifully bitch-slaps depression for a few hours like the utterly frustrating and highly improbable act of stringing together words, like pearls on a necklace, and turning those words into stories.

Selected Reviews of Notes on a Banana

Publishers Weekly:

He expertly walks the line between sad and funny, making himself the clown and hero of this coming-of-age tale. His firsthand account of mental illness pulls no punches, serving up an honest and open perspective on personal and family issues that are often swept under the rug. Despite Leite playing the leading man, the true stars of the memoir are Leite’s parents, who mirror his passion (his mother) and thoughtfulness (his father) and allow Leite to continually draw the focus of the story back to family and food, love and learning.

Drew Ramsey, MD: “Born into a devout immigrant community that didn’t believe in psychiatry or being gay, Leite fought for twenty-five years to understand the truth about himself–his triumph is rich with lessons for us all.”

Marya Hornbacher, author of Madness: A Bipolar Life: “In hilarious, deeply honest prose, Leite has brilliantly captured the light and dark of bipolar disorder. But this book does so much more. It explores the relationships between culture and family, friendship and food, love and the body. A memoir about the astonishing resilience of the human heart.”

Jul 07

“The Big Sick”: A Rom-Com with True Issues

The movie’s so good…in part because of the degree to which it considers marriage not just as a relationship between two people but between two families. Alison Willmore, Buzzfeed, regarding The Big Sick

Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick is receiving some of the best movie reviews of the year—but first, what’s with that title? Anthony Lane, New Yorker, notes that it’s “both a turnoff and a spoiler”:

You know at once that someone’s health, in the course of the movie, is going to collapse. The someone turns out to be Emily (Zoe Kazan), a student who goes to the hospital with such a serious infection that she is put into an induced coma. Word of her suffering reaches her ex-boyfriend Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), who hastens to visit her and, as the days crawl by, begins to reflect on how ex he wants to be.

Emily is studying psychology in graduate school when viewers first meet her, and the real-life Emily V. Gordon did become a therapist, eventually switching to writing. Another real-life thing: she winds up recovering from her health crisis and marrying comedian/actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani

And what about the illness Emily contracts in the film? Andrew Lapin, NPR: “…(T)he real Gordon has a rare autoimmune disorder called adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD), a form of arthritis that can (and does) shut down major organs in the body…The Big Sick is the first ‘hospital film’ in a while that makes us feel the stakes of a vicious mystery disease in our guts.”

As rom-coms go, it’s not typical. David Sims, The Atlantic: “The Big Sick resembles three great, swoony sitcoms mashed together: It’s a typical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily), a nuanced generation-gap story (between Kumail and his parents), and, well, an extremely atypical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily’s parents).”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, describes Kumail’s family: “…devout Muslims who insist on arranging a marriage for him. His older brother, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), already has a wife and seems content. His parents (Bollywood legend Anupam Kher and theater veteran Zenobia Shroff, both lovely) just want him to be happy—as long as he carries on their cultural traditions. Caught between Pakistani and American identities, between Islam and agnosticism, Kumail is unsure of who he is—but he knows he can’t tell his family about the white woman who’s become so important to him.”

Adds Lemire about Emily’s parents, they’re “the nerdy, down-to-Earth Terry (Ray Romano) and the feisty, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter).” Who are not quick to warm up to Kumail. “(T)he way Nanjiani, Romano and Hunter navigate their characters’ daily highs and lows—and dance around each other—is simultaneously pitch perfect and consistently surprising. Romano is great in an unusual dramatic role, but Hunter is just a fierce force of nature, finding both the anger and the pathos in this frustrated, frightened mom.”

Supporting roles include friends in Kumail’s comedy world—Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler.

You can watch the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Nanjiani and his wife/co-screenwriter Emily V. Gordon carved this romantic comedy out of her personal hospital experience and their own culture-clash relationship. Their hilarious and heartfelt script has a rare authenticity that pulls you in and keeps you glued to the screen.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Love means having to say you’re sorry — early and often. That’s one of the truisms in ‘The Big Sick,’ a joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy that, even as it veers into difficult terrain, insists that we just need to keep on laughing.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “And even if you are already aware that things end up fine…there’s still plenty of reason to keep watching. That’s the thing: Even if The Big Sick risks being too long, or too gently lovable, it’s certainly welcome counterprogramming for a clobbering summer.”

Jul 05

Top Mental Health Headlines (That Aren’t Trumpian)

The following headlines about mental health topics were among the most interesting published in June, 2017:

I. For Some Traumatized Veterans, the Best Therapy Can Be Stroking a Velvety Nose, Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post

A velvety nose? Guess no further. An excerpt:

‘The veterans feel that the horses are mirroring what they feel,’ said Yuval Neria, a medical psychology professor at Columbia and the study’s other director. At the outset, ‘Both the horses and the vets kind of exhibit or even suffer from the same fear circuit-based behavior. They are both fearful, initially, they are both apprehensive, initially, they avoid being together initially, and over time they develop the ability to be together’…

The study is being funded by The Man O’ War Project, a non-profit set up by army veteran and lifelong horseman Earle Mack, who had a hunch that stressed soldiers and horses would be a good match and approached Columbia with the idea.

II. Cute Puppies Can Make Your Relationship Happier, Theresa E. DiDonato, PhD, Psychology Today

The basic concept:

If your relationship’s in a rough spot or just a bit mundane…maybe look at some photos of your partner cuddling a cute puppy?

Sounds like strange advice, but new research published in Psychological Science suggests couples can benefit from creating mental links between things that inherently make them happy and their partners.

III. Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax, Alex Williams, New York Times

In the following excerpt Williams offers concerning statistics:

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for ‘depression’ was relatively flat.)

IV. Are Smartphones Making Us Stupid? Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

An introductory quote: “Cognitive capacity and overall brainpower are significantly reduced when your smartphone is within glancing distance—even if it’s turned off and face down—according to a recent study.”

V. A Colorado Dad Wants to Make It Illegal to Sell Smartphones to Preteens, Lisa Ryan, Science of Us

Because it’s not only adults who suffer the consequences:

Despite how much teens and tweens love their smartphones (and Musical.ly apps), scientists believe being tethered to these technological devices may potentially have negative health effects on kids. Now, a nonprofit in Colorado has drafted a ballot initiative that, if passed, would make it the first state to establish legal limits on the sale of smartphones to children, the Washington Post reports.

Parents Against Underaged Smartphones (PAUS) was formed in February by anesthesiologist Tim Farnum, a father of five in Denver who told the Post he noticed ‘some real problems’ after purchasing smartphones last year for his two youngest children, aged 11 and 13…

VI. Forget Freud: Dreams Replay Our Everyday Lives, Jon Hamilton, NPR

“Thanks to Sigmund Freud, we all know what it means to dream about swords, sticks and umbrellas. Or maybe we don’t.”

VII. Dying is a ‘happier’ experience than most people imagine, say scientists, Katie Forster, Independent

Subtitle: “Final accounts of terminally ill ‘filled with love, social connection, and meaning’.”