Creative Career World

How a stroke affected my work and life as a creative director

By Wayne Robinson | Creative director

July 3, 2018 | 5 min read

Last year saw Wayne Robinson, creative director at M&C Saatchi, suffer a stroke midway through one of his routine gym sessions. Here, he writes about the nuances of living with only the creative part of his brain.

wayne robinson

It’s amazing how life can just whip the rug right out from under you. I was at an innocent skipping session in the gym, then boom – blackout.

Next thing I’m in an ambulance rapidly discovering that a blood clot is lodged in my brain. The one tool I have to put food on the table, the thing that allows me to come up with ideas for clients, is slowly being taken away from me. Life’s a bitch.

The following few days were pretty intense. I couldn't move my left side. I couldn't feel my left side. I couldn't count backwards, let alone walk forwards. I thought I was going to have to use the tank tracks from my agency’s Arnold Schwarzenegger PPI campaign to get around. The writers Dom and Keiron would have had a field day driving me around the office.

I couldn't open a door without pulling it into my already wonky face. I couldn't hear properly. Bizarrely, I couldn't recognise a fridge.

But there was a strange yet sensational consolation. The one thing I could still do, pretty easily, was think. And think pretty clearly. Most importantly, I could think creatively and laterally. The creative part of my brain was still well and truly alive.

wayne brain scan

The clot chose a different path that day, avoiding the creative side altogether. It gave the logical, rational part of my brain a battering. It’s times like these I’m glad I’m not an accountant.

With the creative side still alive in hospital, it was the 'notes' on my phone that also took a battering. I jotted down film ideas, book ideas, business ideas, TV ads, radio ads, ads for clients we don't even have, merchandise ideas for the films, game show ideas ... it was all flooding out and getting typed down as quickly as my good hand would go.

There was a clothing range called Dafuq where everything was a little off (clothes with one sleeve shorter than the other, stuff you wear inside out, etc); a healthy supplement for active teenagers called Proteen; an 80s toy range aimed at getting kids out and about with things like a pack of sixty pooh sticks or a stick on a rope; and a product called Littlelostsoles – an inner sole parents can put in their children’s shoes that links to an app on their phone. The app will alert set off an alert if the child ventures out of a designated safe zone.

I was buying domain names and trade marking names. It was a side of creativity my brain hadn't had to deal with before – normally it was being fed briefs to keep it occupied. But now, lying in a hospital bed with nothing to feed on to keep it distracted, it started coming up with all this other stuff. Stuff that was actually pretty good.

(Maybe not the stuff I just mentioned – but I can’t exactly give away all my good ideas).

With my creativity well and truly alive, my focus shifted onto getting everything else working.

heart rate

I set myself a goal to be back at work in three months. I started by doing one minute on the treadmill followed by one minute on the exercise bike and one push up. This was pretty pathetic by my standards, but I had to start somewhere. I then kept upping it every day until my movement got back closer to what it used to be.

Three months later, I was back skipping through the door at work – not physically, I may add (that skipping shit can do one).

Exercise was a big part of getting back on track, and it still is. It's why I jumped – because I can now – at the opportunity to take part in the Freedman International Tournament (Fit). The competition invites creative and media agencies to compete to be crowned the fittest agency in London and win the opportunity to travel to Rwanda with Action Aid and build classrooms.

Kudos to the M&C Saatchi team: everyone has been on their A-game, smashing out an unbelievable number of steps every day. It’s been relentless. The competitive side in me is still well and truly alive, and after the first week I was top of the individual leader board.

Going from just about managing one step to achieving one million steps in less than a month has taught me the importance of keeping fit and healthy. It’s weird and wonderful how your brain works and I’m thankful mine still works in a weird and wonderful way.

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