All over the United States, people are gearing up for an exciting Fourth of July, complete with loud and showy fireworks. But many people with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) dread this national holiday.
Many veterans’ hearts sink as they anticipate a holiday that’s full of fear, not fun at all. They can’t escape the booming missiles that explode with fire. This terrifying entertainment triggers flashbacks to the horrifying past of battles and brings it alive once more. During flashbacks, people with PTSD actually relive the trauma physically and emotionally. Even if veterans stay away from this real threat, they can’t escape the deep, resounding booms that echo in their hearts and souls.
Others who have been traumatized by gunfire, explosions, or assaults also dread the Fourth of July. Fireworks can take them right back to a trauma that threatened their lives, the lives of those around them, or the lives of witnesses.
I find this heartbreaking and I want to say, “Dear brave souls, I’m so sorry that the present might trigger your past. I honor your courage and sacrifice and pray that you survive this holiday, emerging once again as the heroes you are.”
Others with PTSD also dread the noisy Fourth. The symptom of hyperarousal keeps us on constant alert. We may know in our rational minds that the fireworks are basically benign. But brains with PTSD startle at anything unpredictable with panicky, heart-stopping terror.
So … what can we do?
- If you’re hosting a celebration, let your guests know if you have fireworks planned. This gives veterans and others with PTSD the options of preparing themselves or leaving the celebration before the show.
- If you have fireworks in your possession, confine the firing to just the Fourth of July. Don’t shoot fireworks before or after when they’ll surprise and shock people with PTSD.
- If you find yourself at an event and you notice someone holding their ears closed, shutting their eyes, or cringing, just say something like, “I have a lot of trouble being around fireworks. Would you like to go with me to a safer or quieter place until the show is over?”
- If you’re a veteran or a person with PTSD, practice self-care. Arrange your holiday schedule to be in a place where you feel safe when the fireworks start. If you get caught unaware, it’s okay to slip away. You can tell the hosts or your friends that you’re leaving early, or text them to say you’re okay so they won’t worry.
- If you have PTSD, surround yourself with safe people or pets as a preventive measure to minimize the impact of flashbacks.
To all of us: As we honor our country this Fourth of July, let’s be aware of all warriors with PTSD and offer a reassuring word or gesture if we sense their fear.
With sincere gratitude for the amazing country we live in, have a great Fourth of July!