Just over four weeks ago, on a Wednesday evening, I sat on my sofa brimming with excitement. I really do mean brimming. My cup was running well and truly over. There was so much excitement in my belly that I felt almost giddy. In me, giddiness general manifests in mumbling to myself and occasionally rubbing my hands together like I have just hatched a masterful plan. The cause of my excitement was not because it was the evening of the Great British Bake Off final and Housemate and I had settled in for a night with a takeaway, although that sort of thing does stir my loins these days. No, my excitement was due to the fact it was the eve of my annual film marathon. It was the eve of the London Film Festival. I wrote a very similar blog last year, and the year before that, so you could just re-read those instead of reading on.
Still here? Grand.
This year, unlike two years ago when I was also post transplant, there was no question in my head of me not partaking in what is a film lover’s paradise. I may have had two transplants this year, but going into that treatment, I simply told myself that by October, I would have to be ready to see one, maybe two films a day for eleven consecutive days. I did have to give consideration to my stamina, so I had long concluded that if, at the time of booking, I thought I might struggle, I would give myself a day or two off during the eleven days. But, essentially, by hook or by crook, I knew that I had to get my bum down to Leicester Square, at least ten times. My mental health depended on it.
To those with able bodies, this might not seem like that much of a challenge. Mamma Jones tells me that it is, but she’s my Mum and she has to say things like that to buoy my ego. It is now 17 days after the festival finished, and I can confirm that it was definitely a challenge for both my body and my mind. Put it this way, I no longer think I am just in recovery from an allogrnic transplant.
Prior to the booking lines opening in mid September, I set myself a realistic limit of 12 films. In reaching this calculation, I factored in how much activity I had been doing, how many films I saw the previous year (20), financial considerations and the overall weaknesses of my body that I endure daily. When the booking lines opened, I disregarded all of that and booked myself in for 18 screenings to start on 9 October and finish on the 19 October. My response to this momentary lapse in control was ‘whoops’. The Bank of Mum was the official sponsor of my film festival, providing financial support as well as daily cheerleading throughout the process. Inevitably, as I sat on the sofa waiting for the GBBO to start, I booked in another screening, bringing my grand total up to 19 screenings, because my giddiness had made me feel ever so slightly invincible.
To many people, including myself, there is a little bit of the ridiculous about how I approach the film festival. I got carried away. I really, did. The London Film Festival no longer simply represents an annual period of cultural indulgence. It’s become how I prove to myself that my will still has some say in how I conduct myself and spend my time. That is an important thing to remember every day, but LFF is a handy reminder that even if my grip is weak, I must still cling on to the things that make me, Me. I am not just a Myeloma and chemotherapy riddled vessel, despite the occasional propensity for me to think this.
To me, and I think it is evident to my nearest and dearest, it is imperative that this part of my life does not stop. My brain couldn’t take another loss. What I get from throwing myself into multiple dark rooms, not talking to strangers over x amount of day lasts way beyond the days I am doing it. I’d had two years of testing the theory.
No pressure then.
In the months prior to the EJ Bones Film Festival launch date of 9 October, I had managed to get on a bus four maybe five times since Transplant Number 2 and not once had the trip been longer than 20 minutes. I had probably been out of the flat or Mamma Jones’ house for at most, five hours at a time, and the majority of that was probably hospital related. If I did for some inexplicable reason find that I had exerted myself for more than say four hours, I would then need to spend the entire next day relaxing. I also required a good 10-12 hours sleep a day in order to function.
19 screenings over 11 days did not give me much leeway for any ‘Bad Days’ and I get by on being able to have a Bad Day. Although I did get carried away with my bookings, I had created a schedule that would use the least amount of energy. If I was seeing more than one film a day, they had to be back to back, so that I did not have to do the 100 minutes round trip into the West End more than once a day. Bar two nights, I ensured I was home by 20:00hrs so I did not not interrupt my drug and sleep routines. I had only booked myself aisle seats to allow my butt more space to wriggle. Any socialising outside of the festival was strictly prohibited. In essence, I had accounted for my every minute during the festival in advance of it. I even planned my meals. It made me extremely anti social. Beyond that, I had blanked out the week after it to recoup, which only added to my misanthropic behaviour. Those 11 days in the middle of October, were my days and I put my hands up and admit that I approached it all with only myself in mind, knowing that it would make me feel better. In fact, to me, it was medicinal. A theory backed up by more than one Medically Trained Person.
To put my energy usage into some sort of perspective, a few days before I found myself struggling to contain my excitement on my sofa, I asked a Medically Trained Person if I should still be limiting myself to the 5-25 minutes of activity a day. I was told that if I could do more, I should do more (but not too much), but at that stage they do not expect people to be able to do much more than 25 minutes.
I think I have hammered home the point that my plans were ambitious.
Did I do it?
Of course I did.
I missed the last screening. So, my film festival finished on the 18th with 18 screening and. I do not consider this a failure. Firstly, I got a refund on the ticket I did not use (ever the bonus). Secondly, I had seen 18 screenings in 10 days and by the evening of of the penultimate day, I was nearly catatonic. Sometimes, pride should be taken in knowing when enough is enough. Given the fact that I could no longer follow a five minute conversation, I knew that a two hour long Chinese musical starting 15 minutes after my usual bedtime was out of the question. If I had gone, I would have only done so, so I could tell you that I had seen 19 screenings and not the 18. 18 was enough. 18 was the magic number that is going to carry me through the next however many, long and dark months of the Unknown.
It was so hard. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but my will and my body well and truly battled it out. Housemate lived with a zombie for the duration. Some mornings I had to contend with vomit or a similar issue from another orifice. The experience not only highlighted the level of my fatigue othe limitations of my morning drug regime; it reminded me that I have ‘problems’ with my back. Believe it or not, I forget about my back. I suppose 100mg of slow release morphine a day can do that. The same can also be said for spending nearly three months predominantly on my back. The bus journey and sitting in a cinema seat quickly brought me back to a face squinting reality.
In getting the bus and being around the general public, I was also reminded that the outside world is a hard place to exist in. It’s not considered acceptable to lie down when you are out, for a start, there are no beds. One of the cinemas had a footstool and I thought I had walked into paradise. Body issues aside, I suddenly and frequently had to factor in that there are the people who are oblivious when it comes to my disability. Mind you, my disability is invisible, so I can only allow myself to be marginally bitter about this. Leicester Square at midnight on a Friday could only be described as a Danger Zone for somebody used to the quiet of their flat. Many days I struggled to get a seat on the bus. There were many days I struggled to walk to the bus. Then there was the one day, when I was sitting in my seat ready to see the latest Studio Ghibli, when a woman on her way to her seat told me that standing up to let her through would give me some much needed exercise. Needless to say, I took her life apart with a disapproving glare. I just told this story to my favourite Medically Trained People, and they responded ‘if only she knew’. Indeed.
In the days that has turned into weeks following the conclusion of the festival, I have been extremely tired and my brain has been in quite a muddle. I started this blog on the 10th October. I feel like all my energy has been frustratingly zapped from my body, but I know that this is just an illusion of my own making. Of course I am tired and I do think some of this is caused by me running before I could walk. 25 minutes, remember the advisory 25 minutes. I went from doing a little every other day to being out and engaged for at least five hours a day for just under a fortnight. On one of those magical days, I was out for over 12 hours. For those 12 hours, I pretended I was normal.
During a few moments of existential despair, I have questioned if I took on too much, whether 18 was too much and whether instead of giving me hope, it has set me, physically at least, back. A physical setback quickly becomes a mental one too. With the help of my occasional friend Reason, I realised that I was being missing one crucial detail… I am now doing more, and the consequence of doing more, is feeling tired and being more aware of the very real need for my bed.
The EJ Bones’ Film Festival could never set me back. It’s spurred me on. The giddiness I felt on my sofa was not met with an anticlimax.
I would not be capable of replicating those 11 days again today. I probably would not be able to replicate it again in a fortnight. The key point for me to remember is that I did it once. And, if I could do it once, less than 100 days after my allograft, what the hell am I going to be able to achieve in 18, 50 or 100 days from now? More importantly, how many am I going to be able to see next October? The answer isn’t endless, but I know it is bigger and that is something to cling on to.
I am glad I set myself such a busy challenge, which means I am even happier that I was able to do what I needed to do. My will won out. I won that battle. Now, I just need to find a new one.
For those of you who are interested, I saw the following:
1/ Grandma (USA)
2/ The Club (Chile)
3/ The Daughter (Austrailia)
4/ The Measure of a Man (France)
5/ When Marnie Was There (Japan)
6/ Son of Saul (Hungary)
7/ Room (Canada/Ireland)
8/ 11 Minutes (Poland)
9/ The Assassin (Taiwan/China)
10/ Evolution (France)
11/ Chronic (USA)
12/ Carol (USA)
13/ Desirito (Mexico/USA)
14/ Cowboys (France)
15/ Dheephan (France)
16/ Anormalisa (USA)
17 & 18/ A selection of short films