While watching one of my favorite Sunday morning shows, CBS This Morning, I always find something to inspire me, educate me or just widen my mind. We should be clear, right at the get go, that I record this Sunday morning tradition and watch it most often on Sunday afternoons when I finally wake up. Today was no different in many ways but the source of my inspiration this time came from an odd place.
It was an interview with Sharon Stone. Sharon Stone of all people! I think I had an impression of Sharon Stone in my mind that positioned her squarely in the place of noted kook, beautiful older woman, famous mostly for THAT scene in that movie where she showed the world her personal, uh, situation in that particular interrogation scene. I thought of Sharon Stone as a privileged, rich celebrity with an awesome life. This particular interview with Sharon Stone taught me some things and blew me away with how much I relate to this woman who is a movie star and completely unrelated to and entirely removed from anything in my decidedly non-celebrity life.
You can watch the whole segment here. I recommend watching the show in general, really, because today’s segments were so especially good, but we’ll focus on the segment about Sharon Stone. She said something, many things actually, that hit me squarely in my core but mostly this one thing:
“…Others are not that interested in a broken person,” said Stone.
She was referring to the time after she experienced a health crisis, a stroke that rendered her unable to walk, or talk or act in anything at all. She had to re-learn how to live. Then she had to figure out how to re-enter a life that seemed impossible to break into (again) even with all of her obvious advantages. The segment made me think differently about Sharon Stone but it spoke clearly to me of things I understand, now, since diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
First things first, working in advertising has nothing on Hollywood but you might be surprised how much of what we do when we work in advertising is about appearance, performance and showmanship.
I always tell people that I can tell when I interview someone if they’ll be successful in advertising within five minutes of talking to them. There is something you can’t put your finger on or name really, but you can feel when someone has it. It’s that need to put on a show. It’s the need to command a room or want to be the center of attention. The ad business attracts creative people who revel in creative things but excel in leveraging creative ideas to persuade groups of people to do certain things. Believe something. Do something. Buy something (usually whether one needs that something or not).
But our ability to do all of those things relies on a basic theme: Confidence that you CAN. Confidence that you can do this better than someone else can. You love being the alpha (even if you hide it on the outside). You need to be in the room, have a say, share an opinion. You have to believe that you make a difference to a situation just because you and your brain happen to be sitting in the room. You have to believe in yourself as a problem solver. Someone people want to listen to. Someone people believe knows how to make magic happen.
It’s all a bunch of blowhard foolishness. We all learn that eventually, as we get older and wiser in this industry, that what we do is not quite as noble or cool as we once thought it would be but sometimes, other times? It still feels pretty cool. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that. I’m like the quintessential ad guy (girl). I need to be in the room where it happens. I need to be pulling the strings. I love my job even when I hate it.
Once, when I was really young in the business, I had a boss/mentor guy who said lofty things to me that were pithy and generally sounded true most of the time. One of those things that stuck with me was when he said, “You know what kid? The bottom line is, 90% of success in this business is just showing up.”
Christ, how that haunts me now!
Showing up is really hard for me now. It’s not only because of my mobility challenges, it’s the combination of the MS trifecta of challenges including intense general pain, trouble concentrating and crippling fatigue. All of those things contribute, oddly, to my ability to move my legs.
Imagine my anticlimax when I finally figured those things out recently! It’s all inter-related just like my nervous system controls everything in my body from top to bottom, inside and out. It’s all connected! It all keeps me from feeling whole. It leaves me feeling broken much of the time, while also feeling completely frustrated that I know in my literal cells that I am still me and that I can still do what “old me” used to do. I know this. So completely! I just have to figure out how.
I told the ‘showing up’ story to a colleague recently when we were discussing my inability to be physically present at times when I feel that it would be ideal for me to be so. I explained to him how this notion haunts me. It haunts me so much, in fact, that I have movie-like nightmares on the regular about terrible things happening to me in work situations.
I vividly dream about people I trust implicitly betraying me horribly in medication-induced detail and vivid color.
These dreams are so real, I wake up feeling shaken and unsteady. I wake up feeling sick. I can see the rooms, I can feel my legs struggling, I can remember facial expressions and what clothes people wore. On top of making me feel sick at the mere idea of something like my dreams actually happening to me, I also feel sick because I know for certain, 100% certain, that something like what happened in this particular dream would never happen. I am surrounded by people who want me to succeed. People who literally not only respect me but also love me. I am 100% certain about this, as well. So I wake up feeling sick and also guilty! How ironic.
Last night’s dream was a vivid representation of an event that will happen in real life tomorrow night. My boss’s boss (my boss’s title starts with a “P” and my boss’s boss starts with a C and ends with an EO), is coming to town to join me for dinner with clients. Tomorrow is actually a company holiday so I will be off work all day but it was the only day we could find that worked for all parties, so dinner on a day off it shall be.
This dinner only involves minimal effort. I need to get to the hotel where our CEO will be staying, pick him up, drive to the restaurant and eat dinner with people I genuinely like and respect, drive him back to the hotel, drive myself back home. Easy peasy!
In my very vivid dream last night all of this started in a blizzard.
In my dream, I was upset that I had to wear my winter boots to dinner instead of something more snazzy. That was the first sign that things were going awry. The second hit me when we arrived at the restaurant for our reservation to meet a large group of colleagues. I had never been to this restaurant before so I had no idea what to expect. As we approached, I saw what amounted to a multi-level tree house-like structure that had wooden steps, covered in snow mind you, circling all around the structure. Kind of like fire escape stairs? But wooden and running from floor to floor in a five story structure. The stairs had twinkle lights on them.
Our table was in a room at the top of the tree house, because of course it was. In my dream scenario, there weren’t clients at this dinner but people from my team and from our home office. They smirked at me as I clung to the wooden railings, dizzy and weak. I asked where the bathroom was and was told it was on the third floor (I’d have to go back down and back up the stairs again). I remember how painfully cold it was and how afraid I was of falling. I made it back to the table, out of breath and dizzy, and sat down but I couldn’t see anyone. My eyes had gone all blurry. I could hear people snickering. I heard someone say, “Yep, this is what we get now.”
Guys, it was so vivid! Wood grain on the stairs, sparkles in the ice where the twinkle lights hit the snow on the stairs, the numbness in my feet and legs, the tingling in my hands, the fact that my hair was sticking up in the back in the wrong direction and how embarrassed I was that I hadn’t been able to take a shower before my dinner meeting. I remember my panic thinking about driving home in the dark, in the snow, when I couldn’t really see anything.
I woke up shivering. I’d thrown the covers off in the middle of the night and I was actually cold in real life. I actually DID have to go the bathroom so I stumbled down the hall to pee. I shook my head to get the images from that crazy dream out of my mind.
This was the second similar vivid dream I’d had in a week about being “outed” at work for being useless. What is happening in my brain for heaven’s sake? I started to question my additional dose of baclofen that I’m now taking at night because that shit makes me have these crazy, movie-like dreams that freak me out. I know it will stop eventually as the side effects from the increased dose settle down but, damn. Dreams that vivid are scary as hell.
It occurred to me, then, how stressful it is for me to keep trying to figure out new ways to “show up” even when I can’t actually, physically show up. What doesn’t come out in my daytime thoughts finds a way out in my medication-fueled epic intense dreams. It’s me, again, not giving myself a damn break but subconsciously preparing myself to fail.
Here’s the thing. I do show up. I show up now more fully than I ever did before my diagnosis because I have to try harder now than I’ve ever had to try.
I used to do this job effortlessly, with barely a thought. It comes that naturally to me. I’m a born performer (hidden inside of a secret home-body). Now, I can’t always be in the room where it happens physically but I work really hard to be present, to make myself known, in other ways. I work harder. I talk on the phone a LOT (and I truly hate talking on the phone). I do my best to physically show up when I can and when I can’t, I do my best to prepare others to show up in my place.
It’s been working like a dream, to be honest. Things at work are still working. Our office is still successful. We’re still making money. We still do great work. I still show up. And even more gratifying is watching so many people I trust show up in my place and perform like the pros they are. It’s working!
Listening to Sharon Stone talk about how she is coming back to performing after years of working hard to physically come back, but this time in an entirely different time of her life, in an entirely different head space, spoke to me. I relate to that. I also work in an industry that worships youth and appearances. I’ve only been dealing with this come back of mine for a little over two years so I can’t really claim it to be a success. Half the time I sit back in awe wondering who’s life this actually is! But listening to Sharon Stone, of all people, made me believe that coming back is actually possible. Even when you think it’s way too late to even consider such a thing. I mean, Sharon Stone is over 60 and a woman in Hollywood. Those aren’t good odds even for someone that looks like Sharon Stone with all of her obvious financial advantages.
I know my real experience of this dinner meeting I have tomorrow will be nothing like my dream experience.
For one thing, I’ve already showered and we all know that’s half the damn battle. For another, I know exactly where I’m going because I took the time to Google that shit this afternoon, just to be safe. It’s weird to have a client dinner on a day off but even this detail actually works to my advantage! I get to rest all day, giving myself the best chance of holding my shit together for a few hours after dark, when I’m usually safely at home in my jammies.
This might be the best case scenario possible for someone like me to have a client dinner with corporate bigwigs. It’s all going to be fine! I will be fine. I will do what I always do and hold myself together while others are looking. I will show up physically and mentally this time. And it will be good. Nobody but me will know how hard it is. This is also good. It’s part of how I show up, now.
Oddly, the weather is calling for snow showers tomorrow night. I couldn’t get that lucky, could I? But I won’t be alone. I will have a supportive person with me and I will be dining with even more supportive people. I am almost as lucky as Sharon Stone (though I don’t live in her fabulous house with her fabulous wealth, but I do OK for a regular person). I’m pretty fortunate in more ways than those in which I am not.
I will keep showing up in as many creative and unusual ways that I can because I love my job, I love my colleagues and clients, and I need to hang on to as many parts of myself as I can, for as long as I can.
And that’s that.
Here’s an image I relate to right now, maybe more than the one above of the broken thing.
This is a very, very old ceramic tea pot. It belonged to my grandmother, I think, but I can’t really be sure. To be honest, I can’t remember. You might be able to see that it’s been broken several times and glued back together several times, as well. I keep it because I love it. I can’t explain my penchant for tea pots (and salt shakers) shaped like other things. I’m weird that way.
Now I will keep it for another reason.