PTSD: One of the many faces

PTSD is short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: According to NIMH [National Institute for Mental Health] it is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

For a long time, I did not know I had PTSD and I managed symptoms very well by hiding it or not telling anyone what was happening to me. During my long, in-hospital stay after my last suicide attempt about seven years ago, I remember the doctor telling me that I did indeed suffer from PTSD. I have to say that honestly, I was embarrassed and the first thing to come out of my mouth was: “But wait a minute, I’m not in the military..how can I have PTSD?” I give credit to the doctor for not laughing, but I could see that he was amused at my ignorance.

What I learned during my stay there was that anyone can develop PTSD after a traumatic event. There were two events in my life that I experience symptoms from, but the one I will talk about here is the death of my ex-husband, who took his own life at my work in 1998. That event changed me and to this day I still experience very vivid flash-backs and there is a very real horror about all of it that I am not sure will ever go away, though it has lessened quite a bit since then. I learned, prior to treatment at the hospital, coping mechanisms that I still use to this day. Some were good, some were bad, but when you’ve dealt with it on your own for so long it’s hard to shake the bad ones. But that is not why I am writing this today. We’ll re-visit that at a later time. Right now I’m writing it for two reasons. The first, is so that people understand that there are people with PTSD living in their neighborhood who aren’t in the military and the second, because the Fourth of July is around the corner and I want people to have fun while being mindful of those in their neighborhood who might have this and be triggered by it.

Fireworks are definitely a trigger for me. Not the Sparklers and Pop-its but the Mortars and Missile Rockets that have a distinct sound, which to my untrained ear, reminds of the day my ex took his life. I wasn’t with him, I was in the law-office where I worked and he was just outside. I remember the sound. And the sound is enough to bring every horrifying feeling back to the forefront. It’s not something I wish on anyone and I wish after 20 years that my emotions were all in order, but they are not. So when the holidays roll around here, because fireworks in the south are for all major holidays, not just the fourth of July, I get anxious. The closer the holiday the more fretful I become and typically, like the other night, they start popping off fireworks and it’s very frightening.

I love the holiday as much anyone else and when the kids were younger we popped off a lot of fireworks. I sat well away from the action and gritted my teeth because until that hospital stay I chalked my fear up to just dislike and maybe cowardice and didn’t want my kids not having their fun. It wasn’t until a few years after my hospital stay, that we were sitting in the living-room watching Kubo around the fourth when someone let one of those huge, bomb-sounding fireworks off and  set the dogs to a frenzy and reduced me to tears, that I understood where the fear was coming from and just let myself cry, re-living everything again. I am not saying that I don’t want people to have fun on holidays and I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to, but I would ask as a neighbor who tries to be courteous of those living around me, to try and be mindful of others. Here are a few tips I’ve come up with that just seem as act of courtesy more than anything else.

·       Wait until the 4th of July to set of your fireworks: This can be difficult with small kids who are excited, but it can also make it anticipatory for them, like waiting for Santa Claus.

·       Let your neighbors know you are planning a 4th of July event (or any event revolving around fireworks): You can’t warn everyone in your neighborhood but letting people know when and what time can truly help those nearby who might be struggling with PTSD alone. Besides, a few of your neighbors might come over to see the show and you may make some new friends! Most people enjoy watching bright colors flashing in the sky. I know I do from a distance.

·       If you know a guest struggles with PTSD or anxiety here’s two things: First, don’t be offended if they leave before the big firework show and second, you could create a safe space for them to sit down and relax while the fireworks are going on. Maybe they can watch from the window if they are comfortable with that or not at all. Everyone has different triggers.

·       Start the fireworks at dusk but don’t keep going until the wee hours of the morning with them. I don’t think it is unreasonable to make a cut-off time of 11pm. Besides those with PTSD or anxiety, you have animals who are stressing and you have neighbors who have to go work the next morning.

·       And lastly, you don’t need the fireworks. If you know someone who is dreading the holiday, maybe go out to the movies, get the person out of the house. Sometimes new traditions are fun and become ‘a thing.’ And your friend will really appreciate the kindness. It really is these small acts of kindness that we cherish. 

I hope some of these help you celebrate the holiday in a more mindful way. I will be back with more topics and as always if you are enjoying my blog : 

 

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