July 4 is a tough day for veterans with PTSD

Daily Kos user filmgeek83, an Iraq War veteran, posted a moving diary today called “I Dread Tomorrow Night.” Here is an excerpt:

When I came back from my first tour of duty in Iraq, I spent a Veteran’s day cookout with my uncle and his friends.  My uncle’s friends lived in Santa Monica at the time.  The day was gorgeous, even by Southern California standards, so when my uncle and I took our leave of the festivities we decided to pass a moment on a bench and enjoy the day.  We sat, chatting and soaking up the sun, when a car backfired.

I dove for the ground immediately, and only just regained my senses in time to keep from falling from the bench.  My breath quickened, my pulse raced.  My uncle, God bless him, knew what was going on immediately, and began to soothe me.  It only took a moment for me to regain my composure, but even in Santa Monica, and even though I had seen no combat to that point, the stress of constant vigilance had followed me back to my civilian life.  

I later learned what incoming fire sounds like (it’s a frission, a small sonic boom that sizzles the air around it).  A car backfire and a gunshot really sound nothing alike.  Yet every time an old wheezing jalopy rolls by, I become uneasy.

The same is true for fireworks.  Not the big, professional kind.  While I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I used to, I can observe them with no apprehension.  It’s the amateur fireworks I can’t stand.  The whistling, popping, exploding-at-random-intervals kind that rub my nerves raw.  All of my neighbors, it seems, are fireworks enthusiasts, and every 4th they come out of the woodwork.  The night’s events bother my dog less than me, while I spend the evening on pins and needles, jumping at every explosion, transported for a split-second back to that hellhole until I remind myself that I am home, that I am safe, that I survived.

If you know a veteran of this or any other war, take a moment tomorrow to make sure that they are all right, that the images of horror and death don’t weight too heavy on them.  That they are as close to normal as they’ll ever be.

Steve Gilliard wrote about this problem on Independence Day two years ago:

Personally, I hate fireworks, the noise, the explosions. Always reminded me of Pathfinder Force over Germany. Don’t much like the 4th of July either.

But I just wanted to say that for a lot of people, this is a very tough day, especially with PTSD. While everyone else is celebrating, they’re either alone, or pretending nothing is wrong. And every firecracker reminds them exactly what is wrong, and why they aren’t the same.

It’s easy to talk about sacrifice on the 4th of July. But who talks about what people live with?

I avoid amateur fireworks because of the safety hazard, but after reading filmgeek83’s diary I’m even more convinced that they are a bad idea. Just go watch your local city or county’s fireworks display. Don’t mess around with stuff that could injure you or increase the anxiety of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.


    Very much for the post!

    I am glad someone is talking about it.

    As I have mentioned, I am a veteran with PTSD, and I frequently find myself doing the same thing on the fourth, I even sat out the 2006 fireworks because of it.

    Desending whistles are probably the worst. When I was in Ramadi that was the worst sound because it signified a mortar attack and you never knew where it was coming down. Most of the time I am able to catch myself in mid duck and try to play it off like I am tying my shoes.

    It always makes it better to talk to other veterans about it. I guess it is good to know that others are going through the same thing and are able to find a way through it.  

    • I am sorry you have to deal with this

      I can’t pretend to know what you are going through, but I have empathy for anyone who feels sad or anxious or just lousy on a holiday when everyone else seems to be celebrating.

      This stems from many years of suffering through Mother’s Day after my mom died when I was a kid.

  • thanks desmoinesdem

    glad you brought this up. the public fire works remind me of mortars.  If our mortars were putting up illumination something bad was fixing to go down. That was 1973 in Ubon Thailand.



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