The other night I was sitting on my deck when a loud explosion shocked me in its suddenness and intensity.
The evening before, I was at an event where my friend, Patrick Donohue, was performing as a comic. Patrick is a combat Veteran who founded Project 9 Line, a non-profit that helps Veterans reintegrate back into civilian life. As part of his routine, Patrick made a joke about the “benefits” of PTSD, like scanning rapidly for danger while driving.
Patrick has been very open about his PTSD. In fact, last year he was interviewed by News 12 about how he used to find comfort in the quietness of the basement of his house when the July 4th “explosions” would begin.
Our Veterans won’t be vocal about this issue – except, perhaps, when asked. Better to suck it up and deal with it…or make jokes about it like Patrick and his “Comedy Assault” brethren. That’s more the military way.
But PTSD is no laughing matter. It’s the signature injury of the post-9/11 wars and treatment for it is all about building coping strategies and resilience for the discomfort, the anxiety, and the depression.
The first time he heard the crack of fireworks around July 4th the following year, he realized how wrong he was. Thomason, a 28-year-old Louisville native…remembers being at that first Independence Day party when a flashback was suddenly triggered. He was either playing a game or in a conversation with his wife — he can’t remember which — when someone behind him set off fireworks without warning. “When that happened, I physically just jumped and didn’t really know where I was for a minute,” he said. “I had a flashback and we had to leave, and that started to be a trend.”
Dr. Frank Dowling of Long Island Behavioral Medicine notes, “Many sights, sounds, and smells may trigger anxiety, panic attacks, or flashbacks to traumatic events from their service-related experiences. This includes the sights, sounds, and smells – even vibrations – caused by fireworks.”
Combat Veterans have sought out “safe spaces” to avoid fireworks during the Fourth of July season, according to Marcelle Leis, Program Director of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project. Programs like the Dwyer Project are working this holiday season to find alternative solutions, such as movie theaters, to find solitude while Americans patriotically celebrate Independence Day.
It’s a sad irony that many Veterans feel the need to relocate and isolate themselves while their family and friends enjoy a weekend that’s all about the freedoms they fought to protect.
We live in a region where there are many opportunities to enjoy professional fireworks events. Veterans with PTSD will tell you that these planned, supervised fireworks shows are less apt to trigger PTSD symptoms.
This season, can’t we spread some patriotic and neighborly goodwill and bag the loud boomers at least in our neighborhoods?