January 9, 2017 – When my colleague took this picture of Tim Tebow clearly falling in love with me,* I was working on the lead media operations team for the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Marcus Spears & Tim Tebow prep for SEC Nation after the 2017 National Championship, while I do a discreet baby Gator chomp while not-so-discreetly taking this photo. Photo credit: A wonderful colleague whom I shall not implicate by name in this scheme, though she made it happen. Also WHAT is happening with my hair color? Blaming stadium lights.
I kept saying during that week of work leading up to the game that the year had no place to go but down. But I was mostly joking.
I had been killing it professionally. KILLING. IT. I was working on accounts I was truly passionate about and with professionals that I had admired since the beginning of my career. I was president-elect of my Junior League and riding high on some opportunities I’d worked towards for a long time. The “public” side of J. Clary Public Relations was never better.
But as I should know, you should never believe your own press for long. Because sure enough, 2017 was going to go downhill.
Wait. To truly understand the feeling of the fall, you have to understand why working media operations for the college football national championship was such a high.
For a PR professional, working the National Championship is a week of major events with hundreds of media touches, stories, stat delivery during the game, event operations, credentialing, fan engagement, working the press box. You have to think quickly and you’re up early and working late the whole week before the actual game. You also have to be professional enough to remain neutral about “your” team in the midst of college football heaven.
In sports terms, you’re a starter if you’re working at that level. Being on the lead media operations team for an event like this is a BIG forking deal, even if you’re not a college football fan.
But I AM a BIG college football fan (much to the surprise of a very few sexist men I encountered that week, but we’ll save that for a different post). So being handed FULL credentials for this event was next level.
Photo credit: ME! Standing on the field before the 2017 National Championship BECAUSE I COULD.
When my colleague took that picture by SEC Nation (don’t @ me about neutrality with my baby chomp – my job was done). We had just emerged from the tunnel, my four colleagues and I holding back hundreds of media members waiting to emerge on the field for post-game interviews and shots. In my memory it looks something like a college football coach holding back the players in the tunnel.
Les Miles “holding ’em back” at LSU. I 100% picture myself like this with the media, which isn’t an accurate memory.
I ran onto the field with the media, huge Alabama players trudging off the field in defeat and stood 3 feet away from Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban shaking hands, close enough to see the tears in Saban’s eyes. Clemson players danced around me.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP CONFETTI RAINED DOWN ON MY HEAD!
And all of this AFTER I’d exchanged “Go Gators” with Tim Tebow, one of Gator Nation’s most beloved individuals.
By the way, does this girl look sick to you?
Because I was, and the year’s downfall I’d jokingly predicted was about begin.
By April 2017, a string of stressors triggered an advance in physical health problems I’d been managing for several years. Doctors had thought it was fibromyalgia. But the new symptoms I was experiencing didn’t make sense. By the end of the year, I was in swift decline with no help in sight.
The symptoms, the search for a diagnosis and then a search for how to manage when there is no cure are garbage. We know I have POTS (post-orthostatic tachycardia). We also know I have another autoimmune disease that is “like lupus” (same symptoms), could be drug-induced lupus if I had ever taken any of the prescriptions that cause it (I haven’t), but this one is going to take more study.
The point is, being that sick and that consumed with getting healthy again, I couldn’t sustain everything I had going on – family, friends, work, volunteering, etc. So I did the thing they tell you to do and started letting go.
The problem with letting go is that it’s not necessarily a one-way transaction, especially when you own your own business. I let go of some things I chose, and was let go (not fired – just using corresponding language) from some things I didn’t. When you are the business, if you’re not growing, you contract. And I’m sad to say just after its nine-year anniversary, J. Clary Public Relations contracted to nothing.
I suppose it had to be that way for awhile, but it hasn’t made the pill easier to swallow. I love my work. My brain doesn’t shut off from the communications prism. I want to work.
I really don’t know if I will ever work on anything that – for me, personally – is as exciting as the National Championship. Sometimes I’m afraid my professional life will be like the hours spent that week in Meeting Room 1B waiting in case there were any media credential errors.
Meeting Room 1B or Credentialing Error Purgatory. Don’t get jealous, kids!
I do know, though, that being open about my illness is critical. I’ve heard from so many people reaching out with messages of support, suggest recruiting companies, amazing gifs (crucial) and love.
I’m pretty sure I still have the chops to work at a high level. I just don’t know what treatment holds, so I don’t know if my body will cooperate with the heights my mind could take me. So this post won’t have a nice, tidy ending just yet. We’re heading into overtime.
But I like to think at the beginning of another year in the future, I’ll be looking back at January 2019, illnesses in check, and chomping the hell out of a healthier phase of life.
Tim Tebow chomps during the 2006 National Championship on Fox Sports.
(Sidebar: I would NOT want to work the game if the Gators were in the National Championship. See: professional neutrality.)
*My husband, also a UF grad who pulled MAJOR dad duty Championship Week, thought this moment was 100% worth it.