I had my first momondays experience on stage Monday February 25th where I shared my experience with PTSD. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It wasn’t that I hadn’t spoken in public before. I made a career as a communications professional, training senior military staff on speech delivery and interview techniques, retiring as a senior Public Affairs Officer.
But there was a new factor I had to contend with. Three years ago, I suffered a major mental breakdown after an event triggered me in my office at National Defence Headquarters. I was later diagnosed with PTSD and went through a lot of therapy in order to be stabilized before being finally medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces because of my disability.
Monday February 25th 2019 was the first time since my breakdown that I spoke in public about my experience. My mind is not what is used to be. My short-term memory isn’t as solid as it once was and my emotional state isn’t as stable as it used to be. So, when Tim Brodie asked me to share my story, deep down I was conflicted. The old me, the professional Public Affairs Officer, knew that I had a decent story to tell and that I should be able to tell it; but the new me, the injured me, was worried. There was a real possibility I was going to screw it up.
So I approached this challenge as I’ve approached every challenge in my life. I broke it down into manageable pieces, tested myself along the way and prayed that I was doing the right thing.
The first draft of my presentation was entitled “You can’t do that.” I took it from the book I’ve been writing about my experiences. I started writing that book over a year ago and shelved the project for a while because my house building project has been too all-consuming. I liked that presentation, but it turned out that it had more to do with my life philosophy and struggles than PTSD. When I tested it on my wife and son, that’s the feedback they gave me, so I ended up rewriting the whole thing. It was also a little too long. I tried really hard, but got stuck at around 14 minutes.
As I practiced, I also found myself shedding a lot of tears. It was very difficult to speak of meaningful things about my life without breaking down. That worried me. As a former communications professional, I knew that emotion was a good thing for a presenter to share, but it was important to not allow myself to be overwhelmed. So I worked on my mindfulness techniques to process those emotions.
I remembered that communications was about much more than what one says. It’s about engaging all the senses. Then I remembered a key story from my days serving at NORAD in Colorado when my American colleagues jokingly addressed me as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” I had no idea at the time about the Dos Equis commercial guy. I simply accepted the compliment at face value until they showed me one of those commercials on a YouTube video one day.
So, The Most Interesting Man in the World became my new icebreaker and the Visual communications device through which I would be able to tell my story. My wife Lee-Ann and I had just returned from a vacation in Mexico where I had bought a nice Panama hat. All I needed was a few other accessories so that I could better look the part. The white tie and vest completed the set. I was good to go. Tim Brodie had sent an email before the show where he instructed us to dress up as if we’re going to be posing for a magazine. So I felt I was good to go!
I guess that this is where I could say that the old idiom, “dress for success,” worked for me. I felt good up there. One big decision for me was to simply bring my whole text on the stage and have it available to read from as necessary. At first I was embarrassed about that. I never used notes before. Never needed them. But they are now part of my new reality. I finally realized that for me to be up there with my notes is no more embarrassing than for someone missing a leg to be up there with a prosthetic limb.
As I delivered my presentation I could feel the energy in the room flowing back and forth in response to my words. It was exhilarating to be back out there telling stories. This was very different though. I used to tell other people’s stories, not my own. My job used to be to highlight the stories of the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces who sacrifice their lives day in and day out at home and abroad on behalf of all Canadians. To tell my own story was a very different experience.
In some way it’s like performing surgery on oneself in public. It’s risky and intimate. But there is something healing about it as well. By exposing those weaknesses in public and yet being accepted nevertheless was very validating. Then to have people not only validating what I was saying, but saying that they got something out of it for themselves was even more rewarding. I guess that this whole experience validates what Tim Brodie said about the MoMondays experience, that it’s a place where we share what being human is all about. These are our collective stories. We all own them.
This blog post was written by Alain Blondin. Catch Alain at momondays Halifax, NS on 02/25/2019! Get your advance tickets for the next momondays here: Buy Tickets
Lieutenant-Commander (retired) Al Blondin was medically released from the CAF suffering from PTSD in the fall of 2018. A French Canadian raised on a small farm in western Quebec, he’s a former vacuum cleaner salesman, Cold War submariner, diver, carpenter, log house builder, industrial mechanic, church minister, philosopher, apologist, truck driver, writer, editor, Officer of the watch in RCN destroyers and frigates, communications specialist, Afghanistan War veteran, veteran of Operation Hestia in Haiti, former advisor to the Canadian Commander of NORAD in Colorado and the Royal Canadian Navy in Ottawa. Al Blondin is now building is retirement home in the St Margaret’s Bay Area of Nova Scotia. For more about Alain, visit https://www.facebook.com/Al.Blondin.