Recently a lot has been written about Neurodiversity in the world of advertising, and in particular, the benefits that these differences can bring to an agency. The label ‘Neurodiverse’ covers a spectrum of neurological differences from Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, to Autism, Tourette Syndrome, and others.
When I first read about neurodiversity, I mistakenly thought that this applied to me. However, soon-enough I realized that my neurological differences are considered by most as ‘disorders’, and for that matter, not beneficial to my job. But I’m here to argue the opposite.
I was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour when I was 25, about a month after I started working in advertising. ‘Incurable’ makes it sound deadly and you could wonder how I’m still here writing this. Truth be told, for several years it didn’t cause any problems bar epileptic seizures.
Hardly anyone knew that there was anything different about me. I worked all the hours, went to the work drinks (but pretending soft drinks were alcohol and slipping off early-ish, which as a Junior in Account Management was frowned upon) and relying on a few key people to be around in the rare instance that I had a seizure.
As I mentioned, ‘incurable’ meant this tumour wasn’t going anywhere of its own accord. I had always been prepared for this by my Neurologist, but it was still a shock when things got serious last summer, resulting in an operation to remove as much of the tumour as possible, and leaving me with temporary paralysis of my left-hand side. I say temporary, but a year on I’m still working on regaining use of my left-arm. It’s very likely that for as long as I live I’ll be working on it as the motor pathways in my brain have been damaged by the operation and radiotherapy that followed.
But what’s an arm in the grand scheme of things? I’m very lucky to have suffered little serious damage compared to other people for whom this kind of treatment results in huge cognitive deficits.
So, except for not being able to carry enough tea to quench the thirst of the whole bank of desks, my weak left arm hasn’t caused any huge issues at work. I’ve never been able to touch type, so one hand is sufficient and possibly even quicker.
However, I don’t want it to stay this way forever, which means a lot of hard work for my brain and body. Not just a session of physio once a week, but intense daily exercises.
Why return to our mad, or what some would suggest frivolous, world? Surely there are more important things to do than make ads? One Hospital Consultant even said to me recently, ‘I don’t know anybody else with your diagnosis who works anymore.’ (How rude! Anybody could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and I like to imagine I’ll be around for a while).
So, other than earning money to live off, why work?
Working takes you out of your own little world. For a few hours a day there’s no time to focus on yourself or your problems. And where better than advertising to escape? Every day you’re challenged to be curious, to learn something new, and it’s never boring.
Working at two very supportive agencies has helped me no end to get through tough times. There have never been any questions about my ability to do my job.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt a little guilty seeing others pull all-nighters despite knowing I physically can’t manage them. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t whimpered to our CEO or Head of Account Management, a.k.a., the office Mum and Dad about this in the past. Only after I was told various times that it didn’t matter, that nobody thought any less of me, did I realise that my neurological ‘disorders’ could be positive differences, bringing benefits to me, and maybe even those around me.
First there’s resilience. Impossible to quantify, but I’ve got it in spades (I’m trying to be humble, honestly). Being able to stay calm and bounce back from extreme situations has proven useful when faced with an undoubtedly less life-changing, yet still frustrating, curveball from a client.
Then, there’s positivity. Over the past few years I’ve developed an almost annoying level of positivity, always seeing any little ray of sunshine in everything.
And finally, a relatively new one, but perhaps the best one:
Simply not giving a f**k; which is not at all to say I don’t care, but I know that life’s far too short to agonise about the things that used to eat me up inside (see ‘guilt’ above).
Written by Sam Vine, Account Director at Now