On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to present my story at a Design Institute Australia — ACT Brand 5×5 Speaker event.  Below you can find my presentation notes and a link to my slides FULTON 5×5 Speech.

Life is a lemon.

My talk is the culmination of the lessons I have been learning over the past 18 months. To set the scene we need to rewind to the 6th of March last year. Now I want you to imagine yourself unable to move, lying in a hospital with doctors and nurses around you. You are being told that your spiking fevers, rash covered body, swollen joints and excruciating muscle pain is the result of your body attacking itself — your immune system gone rogue. You are diagnosed with adult onset Still’s Disease, a rare auto-immune disease that affects 1 in 500,000 people. Your prognosis is uncertain. It might last a month or a life-time. The drugs you will need to take will cause insomnia, depression, weight gain and deplete your immune system.

What I have just shared with you is my story. At the age of 22, I faced an uncertain and frightening future and I learnt my first lesson — Life is not linear. It is unpredictable and subsequently the faster you learn to adapt the sooner you can start moving forward.

Shortly after my diagnosis I began writing a blog to record my thoughts and feelings as I tried came to terms with the impact that my health condition was having on my life.

Through writing my blog I very quickly realised both how powerful empathy was in uplifting others and how critical it is for us to feel understood. This brings us to our second lesson. Empathy is the greatest skill that any designer can develop. In Geoff Colvin’s book Humans Are Underrated Colvin says ‘We are designed to empathize. It is part of our essential nature. But in developed economies we live in an environment that has become hostile to empathy. We hunger for it…. The opportunity for us to offer genuine empathy in an empathy-starved world is thus a chance to be truly valuable, to supply something that everyone wants and needs and isn’t getting enough of”. Intentionally and purposefully taking the time to learn and appreciate the perspective of others is not an optional extra, it is our mandate as designers.

The third lesson I learnt was meaning. I would like to share with you a part of a blog post I wrote on the 11th of May 2016. “Over the past two and half months I have been learning to be grateful for the present. To be thankful for where I am and not becoming fixated on constantly improving myself and obtaining things that I perceive will give me worth and value in the eyes of the people around me. Things are temporary and can be taken away from you in an instant. For ten years, I have built my identity around my grades and work. Thinking that just maybe if I can do this or that or receive some award I will be happy with myself and that others will accept and appreciate me. That I will be enough. In the space of two months I have had my ‘coping framework’ ripped away from me and I’ve had to stop and look hard at myself”. Coach Irv in the film Cool Runnings puts it this way.“Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing; but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it”. What defines you… is it stable?

After five months of not responding to steroids and disease modifying chemotherapy drugs I was given government approval to start a new monthly infusion treatment called Tocilizumab. The extraordinary thing about tocilizumab is that it is a humanised protein harvested from the ovaries of Chinese hamsters. This brings us to our fourth lesson. Open your eyes. Who would have thought that this protein harvested from such an obscure source would bring me into remission? Ideas and inspiration come from a variety of places and experiences and that is why nights like this are so critical to our industries. They facilitate knowledge sharing and break down silos allowing solutions that would have never been conceived before to be birthed. So, in the wise words of Vanilla Ice stop, collaborate and listen.

No. Learn to say it. We need to protect our health, our relationships and our aspirations. We need to find balance in our lives or we will quickly burn out. To do this we need to have the courage to say no. There will be good opportunities in our life that we know will stretch us too far and put too much pressure on our relationships. People of integrity respect an honest no, they’re looking out for your interests as much as their own, and those who don’t do this aren’t worth working with.

So why is life a lemon. Because Life’s not linear. Empathy is our greatest skill. We must assess our meaning. Open our eyes to new opportunities and learn to say no.