Emma Lawton is a 33-year-old Creative Director living in London. She was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological condition Parkinson’s at the age of 29. Since her diagnosis, she has also become an award-winning charity campaigner, spokeswoman for the condition, writer, and online store founder. Emma launched her book ‘Dropping The P Bomb’, an honest account of her first year after diagnosis, in April this year.
She’s never met a sequin she didn’t like and 90% of her wardrobe is unworn ball gowns, this week #BEYOUROWN join Emma for a chit-chat on how to drop the ‘P-Bomb and why she’s not spending her life feeling beat up by Parkinson’s.
Hey Emma how’s it going, you are a Creative Director of a small business, can you tell us about that?
Well, until recently I was Creative Director of a web agency but 2 weeks ago I left to work for myself and to officially make all the things I love doing my actual job. I’m designing, writing, speaking and generally spending my time with fantastic creative people. So far it’s going great but maybe check in with me in 2 weeks and see if I’m broke and living in a box eating beans from a can.
What is a day in the working life of Emma like?
Every day is different at the moment. I can be doing anything from speaking at conferences, working on ideas for a documentary, making products for my online store (www.51gladstone.com), writing articles, designing brands and websites, consulting with clients or working with startups. I love the variety and am always looking for new projects to add to the mix. Whatever my day involves I’ll be up at 7:30 with a spring in my step and won’t go to bed until 12 because I’m too engrossed. I’m not one of life’s big sleepers.
Sadly you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago and have since gone on to raise awareness, can you tell us about that?
Yeah, that was a bit of a curve ball, I definitely wasn’t expecting it. I’d had a strange feeling in my right arm for about a year but had been ignoring it thinking it was probably nothing serious. I finally decided to get it looked at by a doctor, they did brain scans and confirmed a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
I remember feeling really relieved that it wasn’t something terminal. Parkinson’s is difficult because it’s different from person to person and has a lot of non-physical symptoms of depression and feeling muddled. It’s a degenerative condition meaning it’ll get worse over time so I don’t know what the future holds.
I decided to face it with positivity and treat it as a nemesis I’ll spend my life trying to beat. I have an amazing support network and I feel lucky that Parkinson’s has shown me how much they care, it’s very difficult to feel sad for them in my life. With their support and strength, I’ve felt safe to share my story publicly and become an ambassador for the charities associated with the condition.
How is the fundraising and charity working going?
It’s going really well thanks. I’ve just got back from a big Parkinson’s conference in Portland, Oregon which was an amazing opportunity to meet people and spread awareness of the condition in younger people. Often, even older people with the condition don’t realise it can happen to the under 45’s so it comes as a bit of a shock to them.
We really love the creative innovative ideas that you are coming up with to raise awareness, especially the video most recently. What other cool projects are you thinking of?
Thanks! I’m writing another book which aims to put the spotlight on travelling with Parkinson’s, I have a documentary coming out in December on BBC2 which should really shake up the public perception of Parkinson’s, I’m working with a director to plan out another documentary, some friends and I are putting on a charity music night and have plans for a masked ball to fundraise in the next few years. I’m always trying to use my creativity to draw attention to our condition and love that my peers are the same.
Is there any way for the public to become involved in this or help sponsor/partner?
People can send me an email via www.droppingthepbomb.com, I always like a good chat and can keep them in the loop about any charity events etc.
You also have a book that’s on standby and ready to launch, can you talk us through it?
It actually launched at the end of April this year! It was the anniversary of 3 years since my diagnosis and I got all my favourite people in one room and celebrated the launch with them. The book is called ‘Dropping the P Bomb’ (www.droppingthepbomb.com) and is the story of my first year after diagnosis. It’s not a sob story though, it’s the story of a girl who has a great year, lots of adventures and, oh by the way she has Parkinson’s! It’s written in a diary style so easy to read and I’m hearing a lot of people are binge reading it after struggling to put it down. I absolutely love that.
What are you currently working on right now and how do you plan your future?
I’ve just got back from Norway where I was helping to run workshops about digital and its potential for the tourism industry there. So after that and Portland, I’m having a bit of a rest for a week. I’ll then start looking around for some contract work for the next few months that I can run alongside my own projects. I don’t really plan my future, I just focus on the coming month and further than that is a bit of an unknown, I like it that way.
What obstacles do you face with Parkinson’s in your everyday work life and how do you cross that barrier?
The biggest barrier I face is a perception that I’m nervous because I shake. As a girl with a face that gets ID’d a lot I often struggle to get my ideas heard in a male-dominated industry because I don’t look like I’d have the experience to do the job I do. Add a shaky body into the mix and I don’t come across as convincing. I’ve discovered if I explain I have Parkinson’s and then when I’m presenting if I know exactly what I’m speaking about, have researched it so I’m unflappable, then people stop looking at my hand shaking and focus on what I’m saying.
What keeps you motivated and do you live by any daily mantra’s?
I’m motivated by the fact that because of the Parkinson’s today is the ablest I will ever be, everyday life gets a tiny bit harder physically. I don’t see that as a scary thing, I see it as a positive driving force that pushes me on to get stuff done. I started saying yes to everything about a year ago and have had some amazing and bizarre experiences because of this. Next year I’m sailing a boat for 4 days for charity because someone asked me if I fancied joining in. I’m not sure if I’d get the same opportunities if it wasn’t for Parkinson’s.
What is your top tip to #BEYOUROWN in modern day society?
‘#BEYOUROWN cheerleader’ and ‘#BEYOUROWN critic’ and you won’t go far wrong. Make sure you push yourself forward, jump out of your comfort zone, say yes to everything, keep learning. But at the same time keep your ego in check, respect others, grow relationships with people and don’t get too wrapped up in yourself. It’s all a balancing act nowadays. There are so many opportunities open to us that we can really make the future what we want it to be and that’s incredibly exciting.