By Alysha Radia
On Winning the Year
I haven’t written a scab in months. I’ve gotten away with it because I was taken off the SCAB rota when I was taking time off school for a traumatic relapse of my chronic Lyme disease, a time at which I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it back to school after already dropping out half way through last year. I would have written some anyway, but I’ve felt paralysed by the pressure that comes with writing a SCAB out of choice and impulse, as opposed to duty and discipline, as if every word should be that much more poignant, considered and thought-provoking.
However, I felt like I couldn’t close out the year without writing a final SCAB. The last SCAB after a year that I can only describe as the most tumultuous, yet simultaneously the most formative of my life. Rounding off my year in the space of web-page seems like somewhat of an impossible task, but I am going to attempt to do so by meditating on a pair of antonyms that have been swirling around my Lyme-clogged brain of late.
The former is one of Marc’s favourite words. He eulogises of those that ‘won’ their year. Those that sailed to the top of the book score charts and strode out of the church practically before September was out, with 49 job offers and Nils Leonard on speed dial. I used to think that these terms were not interchangeable but this year has really challenged that for me.
Yes, sure, people also speak of silver linings and of managing expectations, but fuck that. I came back this year, after already dropping out once, to win. After last-year’s ‘D-word’ and 7 months of what I felt like had been enough healing from a decade-long systemic illness, I decided that I had had enough ‘rest’ and screw the hundreds of stories I had read about my condition normally taking a good few years to stabilise before being at a point of being able to live a normal life. I wasn’t like those people. I was strong. I felt like I had won back my health and I was ready to jump head-on back into SCA and to dedicate my life to the art and craft of advertising. I was winning in that I was normal – I was one of the pack, answering briefs, working hard, socialising, having fun. But things started to unravel by November, when the aching joints, foggy head, and the crippling fatigue started to return, and I began to realise my futility against chronic disease.
Over the course of the next few months, I got sicker and sicker. I was losing the ability to read, to speak, to think. I can’t describe how terrifying it was. I had to skip out on D&AD and 5 weeks of school. I eventually did come back, and I found a kind, dedicated and brilliant creative partner with whom I produced work that I am really proud of. However, whilst I’ve been a lot better, my sick days have still been cropping up and affecting everything from work to my interpersonal relationships. So a few weeks before portfolio day I made the agonising decision to split from my partner and to sit out the big day, allowing him to flourish as a single, and for me to take things a bit easier and to take some open-ended time out post-SCA to focus solely on healing. The last thing I would want is to go on placement whilst unable to perform at my very best. Whilst I know this is the right decision, there have been days where I’ve physically felt all the ‘losses’ that have come along with it hit me all at once like a Japanese bullet train. Such as:
Losing my creative partner.
Losing being able to leave SCA with a proper book in hand.
Losing portfolio day and finishing up the year beside my peers, especially since for a while it felt like it was going to happen for me this time.
Losing my health & stability.
Losing the insurance of a secure future.
Losing my old self.
Losing the possibility of awards, accolades and credit for all my hard work. D&AD and Cream will have to wait at least a year.
Losing being able to end the year on a high.
Losing the possibility of making my parents proud, just yet.
Losing the closure of finally achieving what I set out to do, after loss, after loss, after loss, after loss.
At times, after making this decision I’ve felt so empty and achy inside that I can only compare the feeling to being in mourning. I’ve see-sawed between being catatonically upset and wanting to jump out in front of a bus, to feeling upbeat and positive about my future. During these positive moments my perspective shifts to one that I hope writing and reading back this SCAB will help me hold onto for those tougher moments. That, in fact, in many ways, I have still won my year. Except, the prizes have not quite been the ones I was hoping for, or expecting. But that doesn’t make them any less valuable.
I have won the ability to truly grasp that that whilst advertising is great, it’s just advertising and that many if not most things are more important.
I have won a deeper sense of empathy and of perspective. I used to be that kid that cried over an A when I wanted an A*. I have learned to be kinder to myself and to others. Everyone has their limitations and small triumphs should be celebrated whilst the small stuff should not be perspired.
I have won a new found strength in resisting F.O.M.O, a compulsion that used to drive me to drink through the pain. The ultimate fear is missing out on living a full life in the long run. So, whats swapping out cocktails for green juices and late nights for early ones, for another couple of years, if it means I’ll eventually be able do those things sooner (and maybe eventually get the job of my dreams!) if I stick to being strict?
I have won superhuman resilience.
I have won a sense of control over my future. Instead of allowing my career to dictate my health I have decided that things should and should always be be the other way round.
I have won the time and the space to heal and repair at my own pace, without worrying about letting down anyone else, or for that matter, myself.
I have won the ability to speak freely and openly about chronic illness and my condition. It wasn’t long ago that I felt embarrassed, but now I can’t shout loud enough about the near abusive treatment of Lyme patients by the NHS and the need for a deeper public understanding of chronic illness conditions. When I am strong enough I hope to channel my SCA thinking into doing something great for the cause.
I have won a year’s worth of the finest creative, emotional and intellectual education money can buy. Sure, I haven’t made it to portfolio day but that doesn’t mean I haven’t come out of this year an exponentially better thinker than I was at the start of it. I feel equipped to put together a book with a the right partner when the time is right.
I have won the most wonderful group of 36 (thereabouts) creative and inspiring friends (and not forgetting a compassionate cohort of mentors) that I feel like I could call on at any time and that have looked out for me this year far greater and deeper than I could possibly have anticipated. I genuinely feel like I have found family at SCA.
And in 6/9/12/24 months, because who can tell, I know I will eventually be winning a placement at an agency of my dreams. I want it even more now than ever. It may have taken a bit longer, and I’ll have taken my own pot-holed and winding path to get there, but when it happens it will feel like I’ve won the lottery.
Until then, i’ll be at home baking cakes at https://www.alleywaybakery.co.uk/ so let me know if you need something sweet for any occasion (or no occasion at all for that matter), and filling my time with the stuff that makes me happy and keeps me healthy.
Thanks SCA, thanks HUSH, it’s been real.