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What You Need to Know About the Fourth of July, Fireworks and PTSD

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Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. The holiday lands on a Wednesday this year. The firework store billboards are now up, looming huge on the side of the road, and the firework-stands seem to pop up out of nowhere in the parking lot of strip malls. Business must be pretty good, because many, many people are already shooting off fireworks and firecrackers at all hours of the day and night, ever since the weekend.

• What is PTSD?

I understand the fun and enjoyment some people may have from setting off fireworks. Although there are many legal fireworks for sale in the state where I live, there is a never-ending supply of both legal and illegal varieties lying in wait for the excited revelers to buy just across our state-line. There you can purchase the big ones, the percussion of which shakes the houses in the neighborhood.

We have become accustomed to many of our local county fairs shooting off a fireworks display at the end of the night before they close down for the day. But over the last few years, people are shooting them off at random times during the day and the night. Sometimes at midnight or later, we will hear a loud percussive blast coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Just one, loud blast that jolts you from sleep, and can cause great distress for animals and young children.

Unfortunately for some of our combat veterans, the random fireworks and firecrackers going off can be extremely anxiety-provoking and can be triggering. For some vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that string of firecrackers may sound like automatic weapons fire, and the big explosions may sound like the IEDs that threatened so many of their lives.

Flashbacks are a horrible reliving of past traumatic events. When you are setting off these illegal fireworks, chances are there is someone hearing them who is struggling with their combat-related trauma. If you are unable to resist the urge to set off those huge explosions, then please consider driving out somewhere less populated.

For many dogs, the sounds reverberating off the other houses can often make them disoriented and traumatized. Their stress level becomes unbearable and some of our animals run away or get lost. There are numerous stories about the many dogs winding up in shelters, especially during the days right before and after the Fourth of July.

If this is happening in your neighborhood, try talking to your neighbors who are setting off the big ones, or write them a letter. Many people don’t know they are harming some of our vets, scaring our little children or making our animals shake with fear.

In many neighborhoods where I live, the Fourth of July has gone from the “ooh” and “ahh” of fireworks displays at the local parks, to a lot of houses on almost every street having their own sunup to sundown fireworks and firecrackers celebrations.

People who live with PTSD — whether it is combat-induced or trauma-related — will try to do what they can to take care of themselves over the next week. I’m trekking off to the secluded boundary waters canoe area for four days, coming back after the fourth.

Please be courteous when setting off your fireworks and firecrackers at your home. Be thoughtful not only of our veterans but also the small children, the elderly, pets, and others who may struggle from illness and startle easily.

Photo by Daniel Mayovskiy on Unsplash

Originally published: July 3, 2018
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