It is that wonderful time of the year where we a holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States. Very exciting right? Fireworks, kids get to play with sparklers, poppers and all the wonderful stuff to do on this exciting holiday. On the other hand, this is one of the most crucial times where veterans’ PTSD is at their worst.
As a child, I enjoyed our morning glories, sparklers along with many other aerial fireworks that were legal in Hawaii at the time. Most are illegal now which kind of defeats the purpose of celebrating, but at the same time, most of veterans don’t mind it at all. What used to be fun and entertaining all changed after our deployed experiences that involved incoming rockets, being ambushed, sounds of explosions, and all the above. Prior to my deployments, seeing those beautiful aerials in the skies were the highlights of my year. I loved seeing different colors, shapes, hearts along with other beautiful figures explode and develop at night.
(Photo by Lake Norman Furtography)
After returning from Afghanistan, fireworks became my worst nightmare, it became the enemy. I remember my first July 4th celebration back in 2010 after my deployment to Afghanistan, we popped our fireworks at my sister’s house. I immediately became anxious, heart racing, body dripping sweat and having flashbacks. When the kids threw down poppers, I’d get startled. When the aerials exploded in the air, I would jump, cover my head with my hands and run in the garage to take cover. When I look up in the sky, what used to be beautiful firework shows are now the enemy. Everyone saw a beautiful display; I saw rockets and mortars exploding. My family was skeptical and thought I was playing games at first; when they questioned me, saw me sweating and fidgety, they thought I was having a heart attack. They had no idea how much I was suffering mentally from this happy event and celebration. Of course, they won’t, they haven’t experienced it. When everyone lit up their main 1 – 2 min firecrackers at midnight, that was the worse. The whole street of over 12 families lit theirs up almost at the same time, some waited a few minutes after. As everyone is cheering, saying Happy New Year and hugging each other, I was still in the garage with my arms on my head and crying. I tried my best to enjoy it, I just couldn’t. After we all cleaned up and piled up the trash, my mom and everyone asked me if I was okay and what was I crying. At first, I told them I was happy to be able to spend another year with them, but they knew it was more than that. I did my best explaining how the loud booms and lighted skies brought me back to Afghanistan. They were very apologetic and told me had they known we would have stayed indoors but I told them I didn’t know, and they wouldn’t have either. I told them I am glad to find out now that holidays with fireworks triggers me. We all hugged and did a toast and made a toast to the new year. After this day, they are very cautious with loud noises, lights and fireworks and support other troops as we are likely to be experiencing the same symptoms as well.
For this 4th of July, I ask that we be patient and considerate of both military and veterans as they may still be going through some issues with fireworks due to the loud booms and lights. Other than that, Happy 4th of July everyone :)
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