PTSD, Fireworks and the 4th of July

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Here at Ladybud Magazine, we like to offer trigger warnings on articles that could be upsetting to those with certain conditions or certain life experiences. Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning.

Most people think that the Fourth of July is all about fireworks, watermelon, grilling out, and celebrating freedom. One of those things, however, stands a good chance of making some people feel less that celebratory.

Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects a significant number of combat veterans. It also affects untold others who have survived other forms of trauma, such as assault, the violent death of a loved one, or domestic abuse.

Recently, an article run on the website for Military with PTSD, an outreach and education organization, has brought some much-needed attention to this issue. They tell the story of John Dykes, an Army veteran who posted a sign in his front yard, asking his neighbors to be considerate of him and others for whom fireworks might be less than pleasant. Dykes is quoted in the original article as saying:

Courteous to me means remembering that you are not the only one living in your neighborhood/town/city. America celebrates our independence on the 4th of July. Not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th of July. Some fireworks are expected, and that’s okay. I understand. But, not 24 hours a day. PTSD and combat veterans aside, what about the new mothers trying to keep their babies asleep, the elderly couple that doesn’t need another heart attack induced, or the guy that works odd hours and gets sleep whenever he can? Courtesy is just that: remembering that there are other people in this world besides yourself and thinking of them.

Mr. Dykes is a hero for speaking out because is is doing so not only for himself but also for people who are traditionally marginalized and forgotten by society, such as the elderly, late shift workers, and new parents. His language specifically mentioned PTSD and military veterans, which is important, because not all veterans have PTSD and not all people with PTSD have a military background.

The Fourth of July and fireworks go hand in hand in our culture, but some of those who most deserve to celebrate are being forced far from others on Independence Day. Thankfully, now that this story is gaining some traction, people in communities across the country are putting out similar signs. There have even been reports of businesses donating the signs to veterans, which is amazing progress.

Mike Whiter, a former US Marines Staff Sergeant who has spoken out before for those with PTSD explained what the experience on the 4th is like for him.

I used to love fireworks. Now the flashes and the explosions trigger my anxiety. There have been times when I jump and forget where I am for a minute. It’s a physiological reaction. My heart starts to race, I start to sweat and I go into full fledged fight or flight mode. It’s not as bad if I’m anticipating it, but even then, I can’t be around too many people or I start to get panicky and angry. In recent years, instead of going out, I just sit in my living room and crank the tv up.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for citizens to follow community guidelines for fireworks displays. It may seem like shooting off a few firecrackers a week after the holiday is no big deal, but it may be a terrifying trigger for someone nearby not expecting it.

While compassion and courtesy for veterans on this holiday celebrating freedom is absolutely important, it is also important to remember that many people with PTSD have not seen battle. Hypervigilance and a strong reaction to loud noises are common in many cases of PTSD. Just because your neighborhood doesn’t have any military veterans does not mean you don’t have a neighbor with PTSD. Consider how much you don’t know about other people’s lives before getting crazy with the bottle rockets.

Today and tonight, many people will retreat to quiet, safe places where they won’t be exposed to continual auditory assaults, but for some without homes, this may not be an option. One of the strongest arguments against large urban fireworks displays may well be the number of veterans who end up homeless in the city streets. Research indicates that 12% of the domestic homeless population are veterans and it stands to reason that a portion of them are affected by PTSD. These people are without support networks and are being exposed to incredibly triggering repeated explosions.

It’s okay to enjoy your holiday the way you always have, but just keep in mind that the fireworks should go off today, preferably after you’ve alerted folks nearby that you’re about to light them. Be safe and be considerate.


You can read the original viral post from Veterans with PTSD here. You can also like their Facebook page here.


Photo Credit: Kurume-Shimin under (CC BY-SA 3.0)  via Wikimedia Commons