Life-threatening illness changes you, but not always in the ways you’d expect.
1. “Am not going to see anything else at the theatre unless I’m really desperate to see it,” I say to Mum. “I just haven’t enjoyed the last few plays I’ve been to. It’s too uncomfortable sitting for hours on end without a loo break.”
“You won’t say that when you’re watching David Suchet as ‘Lady Bracknell’, I bet,” Mum says. Let’s hope she’s right.
Severe illness has made me realise quite how exhausting and uncomfortable a trip to the theatre can be, especially in the evening. Matinees aren’t so bad.
A good new alternative is the Live Screenings broadcast from theatres to cinemas. Cinema seats are often more comfortable, with more leg room. If you need to pop out to the loo, you’re not disturbing the actors. There are more loos. And you don’t have to trek all the way into town: many local cinemas show the broadcasts. Also you don’t have to sit in the best seats to ensure that you can see or hear anything.
This doesn’t just go for theatre. When you’re severely ill, any excursion becomes more difficult. Haven’t been to an art exhibition for months, if not years. Used to enjoy those, but now the thought of all the crowds and not being able to get near the pictures puts me off.
Culture becomes difficult to access when you’re very ill. More needs to be done about this I think. Love the theatre, and cultural experiences, but sometimes it feels as if they’re trying to make it all as uncomfortable, unpleasant and expensive as possible. Am grateful for the access schemes, and some venues are brilliant, but there are never ever enough loos. Argh this point needs its own essay!
2. The thought of a time limit, a cosmic deadline, is liable to make you more focused. Have been able to be quite single-minded about my writing in the last couple of years. No longer think, as in the past “oh I’ll write it in a few years.” Have to knuckle down and write it NOW.
3. Quality has become more and more important. Haven’t watched rubbish on the television since my cancer diagnosis. If it’s not educational or an adaptation of a book or a new drama that looks worthwhile, am not going to bother with it. Used to read the free newspapers on the bus. Now just don’t bother. The only news I hear or see is The Daily Mash spoof news website or what people post on Facebook, or the headlines on Absolute 90s, but seem to manage.
4. There seems to be a squeamishness around talking about death and dying which needs to be addressed. It’s isolating enough being a young person with a life-threatening illness. We need to be able to talk about death and dying without people saying “you mustn’t say that. You’re not going to die.” Is this a new problem. It must be. In The Victorian Railway Murder the other day, it said that 50,000 people turned up to watch the execution of the murderer. We need to put death back in its rightful place as a natural and non-scary part of life.
5. Have become a little bit more assertive. “If someone asks you if you want to do something and you don’t, it’s better to say No immediately. People don’t mind as much as you think.” Read this somewhere. Still working on this one. Am having to undo the years of doing-whatever-I-can-to-please-people which has been my strategy ever since my mental disorder diagnosis. Never know when will be too depressed to go out, or so high that will annoy everyone. So have always done what can for my friends when well enough. Now have to be selfish and do what is best for own exhausted self. It’s a constant struggle against my natural instinct (and/ or social conditioning) which is to let people trample all over me.
6. The human spirit is more resilient than one would imagine. Most of the time, you just keep going whatever happens. Sometimes people say “you’re such an inspiration,” which is kind of them, but don’t think that am. Most other people with breast-cancer-in-their-thirties or any other serious illness are also carrying on with their lives. Some of them, most of them, have small children or demanding jobs and responsibilities. Am just banging on and on about it more than they are. Probably because have more free time than they all do.
Anyway, happy Tuesday everyone! Am pedalling so slowly that bike has just reprimanded me…
*2014. Detective novel by Frank Hill
The picture is copyright Getty Images and shows the East London express, the train where the first railway murder took place in 1864