Fireworks are immensely popular in Austin and Texas, and unfortunately those shooting them off don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Every single discussion I’ve ever seen on the topic on neighborhood message boards has always had the very erroneous attitude, “It’s just for a few hours, and it’s a lot of fun.” It’s actually every night leading up to and following the event as well. The fireworks started on July 1st by my house this year, and they’ll continue through July 5th, the end of the weekend. In the summer, they start at 9 pm and will go until well after midnight. For New Year’s Eve, again, the days surrounding the holiday are fair game, too. The actual day of New Year’s Eve, the fireworks start around 6 pm when it is dark, and then continue until 2 a.m. This is not “just a few hours.” For someone with PTSD, this is eight hours of hell when one’s nervous system is set to “freak out completely” for the entire time. It’s an experience no one should have to endure in their own home.
When my children were little, I discovered that fireworks can make life incredibly miserable for those with babies. Every loud round would wake up thoroughly exhausted babies whom we had just managed to get to sleep. They were screaming, we were frustrated, and there was no relief in site. One year after we reached midnight, I called 911 and requested that an officer come stop the fireworks. In retrospect, I should have reported the person who took my call. She was clearly very pro-fireworks. Her first response was that fireworks were legal in my area. I agreed, but I pointed out that noise ordinances meant that they were in violation since it was after midnight. She then argued with me that the officer wouldn’t be able to find where the fireworks were coming from. Really? The officer just needed to open his/her/hir ears and drive around my house and would have had no problem locating the fireworks. It was a pointless conversation that justed added to my frustration. I suspect the woman answering the phone never even submitted the order for the police to come out.
Having survived the misery of babies and fireworks, then I faced chronic illness. I discovered firsthand that fireworks can be absolute hell for someone living with PTSD. With PTSD, even if one has not been a soldier in a war zone, fireworks can be a major trigger because one’s startle reflex is so overexaggerated. Someone stealthily walking into a silent room and then speaking when I had my back turned was enough to set me off when my PTSD was out of control. My adrenaline would sore, my body would shake, and I would scream out in fear. It would take almost an hour for me to calm down again. I could not handle any kind of surprise noise. This is because my “fight or flight” response was constantly set on fight due to all the trauma in my body. Thus, even though fireworks are not a danger, they were loud, startling, and traumatizing. They made my life absolute hell several times a year.
I recently saw a photo on Facebook of a veteran holding a yard sign that said “A veteran with PTSD lives here. Please be considerate in your use of fireworks.” I suspect that such a sign in my yard would be absolutely pointless even if I was a veteran. Most people don’t care. Their fun, even if they are traveling to a place that is not their home to set off the fireworks, is more important than the health and well-being of those around them. Our society simply doesn’t have the compassionate understanding to realize that fireworks are not all fun and games for those who suffer from PTSD or who are parenting young children.
This year, if you choose to set off fireworks, consider those around you. Do you have neighbors with young children? Do you have neighbors with PTSD? Will your joyous celebration create a night of hell for someone else? If you don’t know those answers, ask your neighbors how they feel about the situation. Make sure that you are doing the compassionate thing for all around you. Karma is a real pain when it comes back around: know that hurting others with disregard or malice will show up again in your soul’s journey for you to experience the same. The safer, healthier way to celebrate the fireworks holidays includes attending a large, safe, public display that truly is only for a short duration. The results are far more fabulous than anything amateurs can create, and the public displays are always free if you know where to park and watch.
As for me, my startle response has decreased as my healing has progressed. I also finally found an over the counter supplement a few years ago that will dope me up enough to make fireworks tolerable. It leaves me in a very fogged, drugged state, unable to do much besides stare at a tv screen or lay in bed in a semi-comatose but not sleeping state, but this is far preferable to being in hell with the noise of fireworks. Life is short, and it seems wrong to me that I have to dose myself into oblivion to be in my own home several days of the year, but such is my reality until fireworks are finally banned in the area I live in.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC