I finally did it! After eleven long years, I finally attended a fireworks display with my kids! Guess what?! I survived not only the fireworks, but navigating the crowds with three little ones…by myself!
All in all, I actually enjoyed myself! The girls were able to play on the bouncy houses, get their face painted, and even stood in line for patriotically over-priced snow cones! The girls were able to get those twisted balloon things that end up being made into all kinds of things (one had an alien that rode on her shoulders, one had a sword, and one had a flower). Granted, none of the balloon characters made it home, but they were free, so I wasn’t terribly heart broken (especially since I’m allergic to the stupid things).
I had originally decided to attend because my teen invited me. I figured with her there, I’d be able to get through the fireworks. Well, she went AWOL with her friends and I only saw her once the entire evening. Thankfully, my best friend and her family showed up just minutes before the show started. Between her and Chauncey, they got me through. I purposely sat far enough away that I couldn’t hear them launching, and I enjoyed all but the absolutely largest shells. Those were the ones that I could feel the repercussion of their explosion in my chest and that would trigger me, but as I said, my service dog Chauncey (who did amazingly well with the fireworks) and my best friend saw me through.
I definitely think we will do it again next year. Perhaps I will be able to convince a couple of my fellow veterans to attend with me. Just showing up was a huge step for me and I hope I can share that with others next year.
Moral of this story: don’t be afraid to face your fears…you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. If they aren’t what you expected them to be, you will at least know that you tried. Perform an after action and see if there is anything you could do differently next time to improve the outcome!
So, I’ve been reading ‘Until Tuesday’ by Luis Carlos Montalván. Political convictions aside, it’s been a delightfully eye opening read, but it has also caused me to feel rather conflicted about my own PTSD.
You see, I know without a doubt that when it comes to PTSD, I’m lucky. That may sound like a huge contradiction, but let me explain. I have learned that hell, like time, is a perception. Each persons perception is personal, no two people experience the same event alike. What may knock me to my knees may only cause another to flinch, what seems like an eternity to you may fly by for me. I KNOW there are far too many other veterans who suffer extremely more debilitating symptoms of PTSD. I also know that fact does not diminish my perception of hell when it comes to my own symptoms. In fact, my personal theme song for several years has been Rodney Atkins ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’.
“If you’re going thru hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down. If you’re scared, don’t show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.
So, while I am enduring my own personal version of ‘hell’, I know I am lucky, because there are others who have it so much worse than I do. I have flashbacks, grey-outs, hyper-vigilance, over-stimulization (which exacerbates the hyper-vigilance), anxiety and panic attacks, over sensitive startle response, and insomnia. Thankfully most of my symptoms are fairly stabilized by my current regime of medications.
So, why do I need a service dog? Because I know from my own experience that these meds will only work for so long. Once my body decides to become immune to their effects (as has happened with three other meds thus far), I will begin to spiral once more. Also, my therapy has had some horrible side effects in the past. I have so many layers of trauma in my life that trying to resolve a single trauma is like trying to unravel a sweater…you can’t just pull out one row of yarn without effecting the next row. We tried ONE “mild” (in my therapists words) session of EMDR and I was a train wreck for the next two weeks. It was like ripping off a bandage and taking the scab and sutures with it. EVERYTHING was trying to pour out and I spent the next two weeks having anxiety attacks, horrible nightmares (that my meds wouldn’t let me wake from, and if I was able to wake, it was like someone simply pressed pause on a movie…as soon as I fell back to sleep, the dream simply picked up where it left off), I was depressed and horribly moody. My therapist believes having my service dog with me will help me get through not only the therapy itself but the aftermath.
And yet I feel conflicted about receiving a service dog…almost guilty really. I often feel like I’m being selfish because I know so many others need this more than I do right now; like I’m taking something away from them. Perhaps it’s the medic in me, always looking out for the welfare of others before, or in spite of, my own well being. What ever the reason is, I again know I am lucky to even be offered this valuable tool. This opportunity to have such a huge asset in my journey through recovery is immeasurable. Monetarily, these dogs can cost tens of thousands of dollars to train, without the guarantee that they will actually graduate to full fledged service dogs. Personally, this dog has the potential to give me back aspects of my life that I have nearly given up on ever experiencing again. Things as simple as walking through a busy grocery store without having a panic attack before we even get through the produce section, let alone if I have to go by myself. I look forward to being able to have an outing with my daughters and being able to stay until they are ready to leave, rather than needing to leave once it starts getting crowded. It will help me to return to college and sit through the class, able to pay attention rather focus on the other people surrounding me. Finally, being able to get through a therapy session without having to worry about falling apart.
I suppose being conflicted isn’t such a terrible thing. It certainly helps me appreciate this gracious gift even more than others might. It helps me to realize, during my darkest times that it could be so much worse than what I might be experiencing at that moment, and it helps me to empathize with those who do have it so much worse than me.