Hi there and welcome to another moment of the mania! I’m Ann Shannon, the manic writer. I blog about PTSD, encouragement and write book reviews and romantic fiction. My passion is the military, soldiers, and veterans, especially those with PTSD. I love that you stopped by, grab a drink and make yourself at home. Leave a comment or find me on social media, I’d love to meet you and get to know you.
So this week I had a slew of stuff I’d gathered, partly because I missed last week and partly because I’d come across it and saved it. Instead, I’d like to talk about fireworks and PTSD and helping our vets. This is a topic that’s incredibly close to me because I have a vet who can’t deal with fireworks, at all. He shakes and cries and goes all silent on me. I want to talk about that, I want to talk about how we can help and I want to offer some ideas for helping them. There is no one right solution, in fact, I’m not sure there is a solution only strategies. What I don’t want to do is condemn anyone in any way. We are all in this fight together. I’m not doing it correctly, there are plenty of things we struggle with and get wrong here too.
Last week our country celebrated its founding, the Fourth of July. Typically this event is celebrated with fireworks, but do you know why? Do you know when the tradition started? I looked it up because I wondered too. According to Slate.com the decision, or recommendation, was made by John Adams, our second president, even before the Declaration of Independence was signed. He wanted a celebration of “pomp and circumstance.” We celebrate to show our joy at being an independent country, free to rule ourselves the way we choose. An important principle that I would hazard to guess every man and woman who signs up to serve this country in its Armed Forces stands behind. They are choosing to defend our way of life if it comes to that. Ironic that the very show of our independence is so hard for them.
On the Fourth of July 2015, Mike Kreft took his own life because fireworks triggered his PTSD and he couldn’t take it anymore. I can’t tell you how many tears I have shed for a man I never knew. How heartbroken I am for his family and his friends. How much I identify with them. My vet is alive. I have no right to identify with them, but I came very close to being in their shoes and who knows, maybe if we hadn’t won the battle he fought and he’d committed suicide I wouldn’t be here today fighting for other vets. I’d be trying to support my daughters and moving on with my life. I’m glad we won our battle, but the reality is that we only won a skirmish, the battle will be lifelong. And Mike Kreft couldn’t face that.
I am so deeply sorry for that. I am still crying over it at my desk as I write. SGT Mike Kreft, I don’t even know you, you are just a year younger than my son, but I love you and I hurt for you and your family.
I do not, in any way, want what I am about to say be taken as a criticism against his family. They took excellent care of him. They took precautions and had a plan. Their plan failed, as they sometimes do.
What I do want to do is take this moment to start a conversation about this. I want to reach out to families who will have to face this same problem on Labor Day, and New Years Eve, and Memorial Day and next year’s Independence Day, and all the holiday’s after it. I want to reach out to the families who have neighbors like mine who love to set off fireworks just because they can. I want to help you start a conversation in your home that will prepare you for those times when fireworks take you by surprise, when you know they’re coming and they upset you anyway and when even the anticipation of them gets you agitated and upset.
Firstly, I want to reassure you. There is nothing wrong with you. You are afraid of fireworks. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m afraid of spiders, very afraid, and fireworks are a lot more dangerous and scary sounding especially when you compare them to the frightening sounds of war. That makes my spider fear look silly. I mean, really, I live in the northeast where we don’t even have dangerous spiders. Oh yeah, we have wood spiders the size of your hand, not kidding, but they keep to themselves, mostly. We have brown recluses, which, by the way, I have been bitten by in the past. No poisoning. It turns out that the bites rarely go bad. But in the end they are just spiders and very vulnerable to a
black powder gun shoe.
Now let’s talk about what to do. There are three possible scenarios I can see, you know they’re coming because it’s a holiday and a public celebration, your neighbors set them off because it’s a holiday or your neighbors set them off because they can. Let’s look at each scenario individually.
You know they’re coming because it’s an announced public display. You’ve seen the signs posted all over town. The fireworks show is something most people look forward to with great anticipation. I used to, but not so much now. You have a few choices. You can leave town, you can face them head on or you can avoid them. We’ve done all three. One year on the Fourth we high-tailed it to my parents cabin at the top of a mountain in NY State. It was quieter there, there were still fireworks but only a few and very far away. It helped. One year he faced them. We attended the show. He felt ok through it. It helped to see the display along with the sound. And several years we have hunkered down and hidden. This year we hunkered. We have window AC units which drown out the noise from outside fairly well and in addition to that he had a whiskey to relax and we watched the loudest Star Trek movie we could find on Amazon Prime. It was moderately successful. There were a few that were loud enough to overcome even JJ Abrams sound tracks and rainbow filters. During those times I held his hand, his dog, not a service dog and in the last week of his life, sat by his side and offered comfort. It helped, he was still upset, but we managed. When it got bad we talked about it, kept the communication going and worked through it together. I kept reminding him that he was safe at home, not in Afghanistan, there was no danger. That others were, in fact, celebrating that which he defended. It helped, it wasn’t a cure.
Next year we hope to have a service dog for him. The day I am posting this is the last day of his faithful companions life. It has been a difficult decision, but he’s in a lot of pain and deserves to maintain his dignity. When the pain has dulled in a few weeks we will start paperwork for a service dog because at this point in our lives it makes the most sense for my veteran.
In our next scenario we are dealing with neighbors, but on the holiday. We are fortunate since we live in a highly populated area and it isn’t very safe to set them off here without the risk of burning down someones house. That also makes them illegal where we live. We do have one neighbor who does it anyway but he usually restricts himself to just a few and all at once because he knows Mike struggles with it. I’ve only said it to him once and he figured it out and stopped. We are lucky in that respect. And I know it. Our plan for this scenario is similar to the one I mentioned above. Loudness, distraction and little something to relax with, add in love and support, talk and presence and you will probably make it through, not unscathed, but at least not banged up and destroyed.
Military with PTSD offered signs for vets to place in their yards this year and will again have the same campaign at New Years. If you think it will help I’d suggest getting one. If you have a few dollars to spare then make a donation and provide free to a vet. At new Years this year we will, if all goes well, be in a new home and we will probably put one out if we don’t know our neighbors well enough by then. We didn’t feel that in our cul-de-sac it was necessary this year because our neighbors all knew.
Finally, we come to the random firework that goes off because some teenager found a left over and Mom and Dad aren’t home and they can. So many things we do just because we can without a thought to how it affects those around us. I do it too, and it will never stop. Those might be the hardest because you can’t be prepared 24-7, you have to take it when it happens and roll with it. It’s a little like falling in that respect. There you are, walking down the street looking up at that beautiful house and BAM! your toe catches a section of sidewalk that is sticking up and all of a sudden your dog is looking down at you and you want to cry. (Yes, this actually happened to me and I did cry while the same dog comforted me.) You need to be prepared to stop, breath and relax. It’s a little like stop, drop and roll only different, the fire is inside not outside, but it needs to be put out regardless. You stop, take a deep breath, remind yourself that you are home and safe. Then you breath, because when we get upset we often hold our breath, the fresh influx of oxygen helps to fuel our mind and strengthen us. And then you relax, let that breath out in slow measured exhales as if you are doing yoga or meditating. Do this as many times as you need to release the tension. It can help. If you’re alone then find company, call someone, hang out with the dog for a moment. Heck, say hi to the mail-person, they’ll appreciate it anyway.
My last bit is for family members and friends. We are the official and unofficial caregivers of our vets. We are the ones they lean on when they are having a hard time. Just as they are the ones we leaned on when our freedom was threatened, or when we needed protection, or when we fell down and needed a hand up. It’s reciprocal, never believe that a soldier is too strong to need support, we all need support.
What can we do? We can discuss it with them openly, in a way that doesn’t make them feel judged or uncomfortable. We can help them formulate a plan for how they will deal with it when it arises. We can make sure they aren’t alone when we know fireworks will be used. Having a plan for fireworks for a vet with PTSD is as important as having a plan for escape in case of fire because when it happens there is panic and bad decisions can be made. Lifelong decisions, with incredible impact for everyone involved and even many who aren’t. Have a plan, for you can help, for how your vet or soldier can cope and for how you will cope. It will make all the difference.
We won’t win every skirmish, but we will lose them without a plan.
How about you? How do you deal with fireworks? Do you have a plan in place? If you don’t will you change that? How? If I can be of help please ask. I’ll even talk to you on the phone, listen to you and offer my friendship and sympathetic ear. I’m not a licensed counselor but I am a good listener. Reach out to someone anyway and talk about this.
Please remember that I am a writer and researcher, my key role is to filter through the mountains of information available and bring the best of it to you. I do not and can not offer medical advice, if you suspect that you or a loved one is dealing with PTSD please seek professional help immediately. If you are considering suicide, or you believe a loved one is considering it, please call for help now. As I’ve said before, we can’t let the trolls win this battle and 1 suicide is 1 too many.
It is my goal to end the stigma that comes with PTSD. I blog about PTSD once a week, searching the mountains of information out there and bringing you the best of what I find. I review a book on PTSD every other week and I publish a weekly encouraging reflection and tweet encouraging quotes for PTSD survivors daily, follow me to be encouraged. Together we can make a difference.
When I’m not blogging about PTSD or trying to encourage those of you living with it. I’m an author. I write romance. I just finished my first book and I am revising and editing it. With any luck, it will be published later this year, in the meantime you can get a sample of my work on the web. Original work can be found here, and fanfiction can be found here. Let me know what you think, and tell me how you found me!