Independence Day Celebrations: When Your Loved One Suffers From PTSD

insolence + wine

Before my husband came into my life, I never really gave it much thought how loud noises and fireworks affected people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or chronic adjustment disorder. Several summers in a row some of my friends and I made a yearly tradition of jumping in the car and taking a road trip to New Mexico to purchase boxes of (illegal) fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. We carelessly set them off around the neighborhood, running in various directions at the sound of a police siren never once thinking of those people who were locked inside their houses having a nervous breakdown every time they heard a loud boom!

Once my husband came into my life, I didn’t take me much time to realize how much our fun was hurting other people. For a badass who rode motorcycles with tattoos, I at first teased him for acting like a little girl on our first Independence Day together. We were at a barbecue with friends and the moment kids around the neighborhood began setting off their little bottle rockets, he went into the house and all but demanded that we leave.

“What’s wrong?” I remember asking—he wasn’t talking to me or making eye contact the entire drive home. 

“You wouldn’t understand."

I went home that night confused, thinking he was about to break up with me. (Duh!)

The next morning he called me and explained how fireworks startle him. Turns out being in a war zone for any amount of time changes the way your mind responds to loud, unexpected noises. (Even bigger Duh!)

 Image courtesy

Image courtesy

In the years that have followed, I’ve learned some tricks when it comes to Independence Day and other louder celebrations throughout the year;

Most importantly: ask them what they’re comfortable with!! If you’re dealing with anyone like my husband, they might shrug and refuse to give you an answer, which in that case means you’ve got to use some of your mind reading skills.

The following year, remembering what he had told me about the loud noises, I made plans for us to go to a cute little beach town about an hour away that wasn’t having a fireworks show. We sat outside on the balcony and watched the fireworks being set off in a town a short distance a way, with only the noise of the fog horn from the lighthouse. Since then, we’ve made it a tradition to either go stay somewhere along the coast (where he couldn’t hear the fireworks) or go camping somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Of course I miss the thrill and excitement of my self-produced fireworks show (as well as the ones going off around town), but it’s definitely more important that I’m not finding my husband curled up into a ball until the night sky quiets down.

Over the years we’ve accepted invitations to backyard gatherings and what I’ve realized is being surrounded by people he’s comfortable with is one of the most important things to ensure he’s not going to have a minor freak out. By now, all of our friends and family themselves have adjusted their own traditions in order to make him feel more comfortable. If there does happen to be a loud fireworks show going off somewhere nearby, we simply go into the house and either turn the music up or put on a movie to drown out the outside noise.

If you also happen to have a loved one who suffers from PTSD, what do you do to make the unpredictable noises less of a threat? I’d love to hear some other ideas just as I’m sure other people would like to have more options to still enjoy the festivities while not alienating their loved ones.