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Anxiety Turned the Fourth of July Into My Nightmare

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Fireworks enchant me. The brilliant colors of light that blast in the night sky, not knowing exactly which direction they will burst, what beautiful hues will show, and exactly how loud they will be. They’ve always mesmerized me. A beautiful manmade project dancing with physics coming together cohesively to create these sky artwork masterpieces.

Then I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Somehow these once beautiful displays now immobilize me. Sitting at a friend’s annual fireworks party, I felt myself tense up with each pop. My breaths grew short and shallow and I honestly became frozen, unable to speak. On the outside, I looked like any other spectator; inside I was crying. I couldn’t believe how my body was reacting to this. I became panicked and quickly covered any sign of it up. I only told my husband later that evening when we got home.

And this was a planned fireworks display. That was only July 2.

The next day, panic started the moment I heard the first loud bang around 8 p.m. Every noise startled my body. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep, that my “courteous” neighbors would go the whole night firing off these things. I repeatedly told myself, “Stephanie, don’t worry, tomorrow is a holiday, you can sleep then if you want.” A motto repeated in my brain like a broken record. Before midnight, one firework’s boom shook my whole house, causing me to jump, exclaim “What the f*ck?” and ultimately have an anxiety attack. Shit, this was only July 3.

Sleep did not come easy that night.

I woke up irritable. It wasn’t shocking. It took me awhile to fall asleep due to the earthquake-producing fireworks and my hot room. I incessantly apologized for my mean behavior; I was being snarky and sarcastic. We spent the whole day introducing our daughter to “Star Wars Episode VI” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” via cinema. The holiday seemed relaxing enough. I was just anticipating the start of the fireworks. As my husband and I were downstairs watching “Murder In The First” off the DVR…

“Boom! Pop! Whizz!”

With every sound, my digits tensed. I dug into the arm of my loveseat with my whole body. Soon enough I was wound in a huge knot, locked in the fetal position.


I let out a yelp and shook, my breathing rapid. With each burst, a tear fell from my eyes, my breaths grew more intense and I became rigid and scared. I am not sure when exactly my anxiety took complete control of my body last night, but about an hour in, my 9-year-old daughter came down the stairs to the basement to join us. She couldn’t fall asleep because the fireworks were loud.

“Can I stay down here?” she asked.

At this point, barely able to recognize her voice, I was still in the fetal position making a repeated sound every time I gasped for air. She stayed with us, hugging me, telling me it would be all right. I kept letting out whispers of “help me” for them to try to pry me apart; my body was riddled with pain at being locked in this position for over an hour. My husband tried to pull my legs, my daughter my arm. Nothing worked. I couldn’t speak so I could not request my husband get me an Ativan.

Almost two hours in, I felt my breathing slow. My chest no longer felt weighted down. I was able to speak and asked for help once again to uncurl my exhausted body. My husband uncoiled one arm and shook it out. Then he did the other. I took a deep breath. He pulled at one leg and then the other. Now instead of sitting pretzel-like, my legs were straight out in front of me but fused. Reaching out his arms, I grasped my husband’s hands with mine and was lifted straight up. I could not walk yet, but shuffled to the steps and somehow made my way up the stairs where I dropped on my bed and took my Ativan.

My anxiety disorder is no joke. I don’t want to be incapable of moving and speaking because I am so panicked — especially in front of my child. This year I could not stop my body. I could not stop my brain. The Fourth of July is no longer a holiday for me. Yes, I still get to enjoy the day off work with my family and friends, but the fear that builds over fireworks — when they will go off and how long they will last — now takes over my whole body. My “holiday” turned into a nightmare.

It is now Tuesday, July 5, and I started my day off with anxiety attacks. I sat through a meeting masking my short breaths, desiring to go home and hide. I worry about tonight and the fireworks. I worry about the next Fourth of July and am already researching countries to go to to avoid reliving what happened last night.

I am still living in fear. All I can do is hope tonight is better.

Originally published: July 5, 2016
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