• The long road back to work.
Last week I signed the offer letter for a full time job. It will be my first since 2007, when I was forced to go on full-time disability because of the severe traumatic brain injury suffered at the beginning of 2006.
When the accident occurred, I was at the peak of my career, a senior vice president, executive creative director of the San Francisco office of a global advertising agency. I had worked hard to scale my way up the ladder but there was no thrill of victory. I was miserable. I could blame people, I could blame the agency, I could blame clients, but in truth, I can only really blame myself for not being happy back then because I was asking too much of advertising. I was asking it to be my everything: my creative outlet, my source of self-confidence, my sense of purpose, my relationship.
After I got out of the hospital, I tried to keep up with office goings-on via email, but it was pointless. I finally go my doctor to give me permission to return to work part-time in June 2006 and the results were mixed. I did some good creative work, which was a huge relief (I still had it!), but was not able to do the job I as being paid to do. I was not presentable enough to met with clients, could not travel close or far, could no manage my team well or even walk around a review work. To make matters worse, I was not reliable, having to come in late, leave early or not show up at all because of headaches, nausea, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, etc. Still, I hung on because as miserable as advertising made me — even more so considering my situation — I just did not know anything else. Besides, who was going to hire me? Finally, after a heart-to-heart with the agency CFO, for which I will always be deeply thankful, I opted to take advantage of my disability insurance and switch from full-time work to full time recovery. Best thing I could have done.
In the coming years, I did short projects for people I knew and met some incredible new folks along the way. Every year, my stamina got a little better, I felt a little better, I looked a little better, but I could still only manage a few days of work in a row. I once did two weeks to fill in for a creative director friend of mind and it nearly killed me. As late as just last year, I was beginning to despair of ever working full-time again and I needed to work full-time because I needed health insurance. After all, I had an undeniable pre-exisitng condition.
Near the end of 2010, I about went over the edge. I started having migraines daily and was struggling to sleep enough (I need a lot of sleep) and the babies were on the way so I was excited, anxious and stressed. It was a very intense, emotional time. But Catherine is a never-say-die-soul and she pushed me to go see yet another neurologist, this one a headache specialist. We arrived at the office together and my hopes were high but my expectations nearly non-existent. Nothing had worked before, why now?
The doctor looked me over and then disappeared to look some stuff up. What most perplexed him was my constant head twitches, my stuttering, my nearly uncontrolled movements when I had to look up or down or stand up. When he returned he pronounced an unpronounceable word and asked if I had heard it before. I said No. He then asked me if I was willing to try a mild drug. At first I resisted but he gently, and with some humor, got me to acquiesce and within a few weeks the headaches stopped, the movements stopped. I was still dizzy all the time, nothing to be done about that, but to not have the wrenching, spastic movements anymore was a true gift. We tweaked my drug dose a bit, getting it down the lowest possible amount and for the first time since my accident, I decided maybe, just maybe I could indeed work full-time.
At the beginning of 2011, the babies had arrived and life was crowded in the best way, my little drugmix was doing its thing and the future seemed a bit brighter. Then, out of the blue, a former colleague called and asked if might do project for him. That project led to more and before Catherine and I left for Virginia for the summer, talk of a full-time position was in the air. When I got back, the freelance work resumed, there were some formal talks, and I decided that if I was going to go for it, I was going to really go for it. I proposed creating a new position, Creative Strategist, and doing a combination of strategic thinking and concepting. To my utter surprise, the agency did not laugh me out of the building. A meeting with the CEO/CFO was arranged, I made my pitch and then we talked about music. Next thing I knew I was greenlighted.
I start January 3rd and I cannot wait.