Wednesday, May 20, 2009

PTSD Education: What’s Your Attitude?

In studying organizations, institutes and associations’ tips and tricks for speaking about mental health, I’ve come to the conclusion that it all boils down to attitude – our attitude in terms of these two things:

1 – what we want to accomplish
2 – what we think the reaction will be

Knowing What You Want
For many years I was a publicist. This meant I was often pitching people about news stories they didn’t necessarily want to hear. My strategy: like every good salesman I had an end goal and a outline. I wanted the reporter to write about my topic; I had 3 main points I needed to make by the time the conversation ended. Needless to say, I wasn’t always successful, but having a goal and a strategy allowed me to stay on topic regardless of the reporter’s reaction to my pitch.

Going into a conversation about PTSD you should be just as clear about your job. What do you want the end result to be? Is this just a let-me-tell-you-how-it-is discussion in which the goal is flat out exposition? Or are you presenting the facts at the end of which you’ll ask for help? If action is the goal, make sure you know what kind of help you’re seeking. Be specific. I need… I want… If you could… Friends and family might fall all over themselves trying to help you, but if it’s not in the ways you need – and instead in ways that make you feel more anxious – then their participation will be worse than useless; it will be detrimental to your progress.

Knowing what you want to come out of this honest conversation can help you focus and outline your thoughts. 1. Here are the facts. 2. Here’s how they affect me. 3. Here’s what I need to do. 4. Here’s how you can help. When we’re clear it immediately gives our audience a way to proactively grasp and see things, too. (This approach can help keep your own emotions under control. You know what you want, you have a plan, you execute that plan. This perspective can give distance that allows you to perceive yourself and this conversation as less ‘personal’ and more ‘professional’.)

Finally, having clear goals can help keep the conversation on track. Whenever it goes astray you can return to what you want to accomplish and use that to steer the discussion back to what’s beneficial to you. Internal clarity gives strength and authority.

Knowing What You Expect
When I worked as a publicist I went into every pitch expecting …. Well, you don’t know what to expect, do you? People surprise you. People are open who you didn’t think would be. People are closed who you thought wouldn’t be. The thing is, we have to be prepared either way.

Before beginning the PTSD education of those around you, take a minute to conceptualize what you think the response will be. Imagine how you will react to it. Visualize the scene in your mind and become comfortable with either outcome. Have a strategy for going more in-depth because people ask you to, and have a plan to cut bait if the reactions make you uncomfortable. What will you say if someone asks, Tell me more? What will you do if someone is not kind? Knowing what you expect from others and from yourself helps keep you grounded in the moment.

Before you speak, think about what it is you expect to receive. We hope we will find the support we need, but we must not be shattered if we don’t get it.

Knowing You’re in the Driver’s Seat
In the end, we have to remember that family and friends don’t know what’s coming; they can’t prepare for this conversation. But we can and should. This is our problem and it is our recovery and we are the ones who should be in control of the process. A discussion will go much better if we ourselves have the right attitude and use it to be clear in how we want someone to react and how we hope he or she will help.

Our attitude and how we present the topic can and will (in some cases drastically) impact how our audience perceives us and PTSD. If we talk about our situation with strength, knowledge and focus then friends and family can follow our example. If we demean our situation and ourselves we open the door for others to do so, too.

People learn by example; in educating about PTSD it's up to us to set the right attitude and tone so that in as many situations as possible we get the support we seek.

Do/did you have a clear idea of what you want(ed) the outcome of your friends and family PTSD conversation to be? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(Photo: Half Pinay - Laretta)

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