Updated: May 27, 2019
It's the moment that every professional speaker dreams of. A venue holding thousands of seats with every ticket sold. You are the keynote speaker and your family and significant other will be in the crowd. You have practiced your speech and you have your timing, jokes, and body language perfected.
You sit with your family at the table that has been reserved for you. Your heart pounds with anticipation as the clock ticks down. The last speaker before you is done and the host of the event is getting ready to introduce you. As he runs through your accolades, awards, and accomplishments your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, and you feel faint. It is that you feel more alive than you ever have in your life...
I have been speaking for 8 years now and that moment never changes. However, I approach the stage with a small but of trepidation. Being on stage is a mixture of pure adrenalin coupled with a feeling of extreme paranoia. Not because I'm afraid of public speaking, no. I am terribly afraid that I am going to get shot by a sniper.
While serving in Iraq I was shot in both legs by a sniper. Let me tell you, there is nothing on Earth that will put the fear of God in you like being shot by someone you never even saw. While going through my recovery, I thought about how long the sniper was watching me. How long was he watching me for? Why did he choose me? Why didn't he kill me?
These are all questions that I asked myself daily. I felt as if the sniper didn't kill me in Iraq because they were planning on killing me later. Toying with me by having the ability to strike at any time without me even seeing where it came from. This is my PTSD...
When I go to a venue to speak the first thing I do is stand on stage all alone. I like to get a feel of the stage and do a quick walk through of my speech. What I also like to do is look for any place where a sniper could hide. Now, there is probably a 0% chance that there will be sniper waiting to take me out. However, the bigger the venue the more vulnerable I feel while on stage. This is my PTSD…
I feel as if the sniper was watching me for weeks, just waiting to pick a day to strike. Now, when I speak, I walk from side to side. However, this is NOT to engage the entire crowd. I walk because while on stage I feel vulnerable and I do not want to stand in one place for too long. That's what happened to me in Iraq and I cannot shake the feeling that if I stand in one place for too long I become an easy target.
During my first year as a speaker, I would throw up before I was called to the stage. However, the more I did it the easier it is for me to get over this form of PTSD. It is something that I never told any therapist because I was afraid they wouldn't understand. I love to speak for multiple reasons. 1st, the feeling that I get when people come up to me after I'm done cannot be put into words. People tell me about their sons/daughters/moms/dads who served and how they thank me for their service. There is no better feeling than that.
2nd, speaking is my therapy. Every time I step on stage I face my fear. It helps me get over my PTSD, one speech at a time. The more I speak, the less vulnerable I feel each time. I'm not sure if the feeling will ever completely diminish. However, with every speech I grow stronger. For me, speaking is more than a paycheck. It is my opportunity to look PTSD in the eye and tell it YOU WILL NOT WIN.
PTSD comes in many forms for many veterans. This is my rare form of it. 8 years ago, I didn’t know if I would ever speak again after my 1st speech. However, I am strong mentally and spiritually. I was spared on the battlefield for a reason. So now with every speech I hold my head up high and try to leave every person in the crown with a little piece of myself. My sniper did not win back then, and PTSD will not win now.