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!
Most people weather life’s changes with little more than some slightly elevated stress levels. For someone with PTSD, however, even the smallest of life changes can make them feel like their life has been turned upside down.
Right now, I am three days from a major life change. In three short days, I will get on an airplane and fly to Florida where I will meet my service dog for the first time. His name is Chaunsey, the beautiful golden retriever in this picture. We will train together to learn what it means to be a team. I will learn what his ‘alerting’ behaviors are, and he will learn how to perform tasks that mitigate my disabilities. This is a huge step. This will be the longest I have been away from my family in, well… ever. I have never been away for even a night without at least my husband, if not my kids. This is something totally new to me. I will be hundreds of miles away from my support system and that thought scares me to death. The ONE thing that is keeping me from canceling the entire thing is this single simple fact…I will be gaining a new tool to add to my support system. A tool that will allow me to do something as simple as going to the grocery store alone, or taking my children to the park without having to worry about freaking out (though I will admit, most of the time they keep me pretty grounded to the present).
I also know that my life will continue to change once I’m home. No longer will I be able to hide away in my bed when depression is rearing its head because Chaunsey will need exercise and potty breaks. He will need to be fed and brushed, but most of all he will need attention. His needs will require me to come out of myself and engage in the world around me instead of hiding in my computer and isolating myself away from the world.
There are so many things that Chaunsey and I will do together that they would be impossible to list them here. But there is something I would like to share. If you, or a loved one, think you would benefit from a service dog, and you are a post-9/11 veteran, I encourage you to check out K9s for Warriors. Without their generosity, I would not be getting ready to enter this new chapter in my life. They are a non-profit group based in Florida that provides these dogs to post 9/11 veterans at no charge. Also, if you think you may need help with transportation to and from Florida (its a three weeks of training, lodging is provided), I encourage you to check out Veterans Airlift Command. These generous pilots volunteer their time to fly veterans and their families all over the country.
I will do my best to update everyone about our progress over the next three weeks. As I have said earlier, I am terrified right now…but I am also hopeful. I feel as if the light at the end of the tunnel is finally turning on and the darkest hours of my PTSD may soon be behind me. I know this isn’t a cure. I know there will still be bad days or weeks, but, I know with Chaunsey, I will have a life long battle buddy that will be with me 24/7. Everywhere that I go, he will go. When I have a bad day, he will be there. He will bring me out of the flashbacks, interrupt the panic attacks and help me with mobility. I will be his forever human. Neither of us will ever be alone again, we will be battle buddies, we will be a team.
I wrote this to explain to friends and family what it means to have PTSD.
As you may already know I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As terrible as it is that I have PTSD I can understand that it must be distressing to know you have a friend with PTSD. I am writing this so you can better understand me and what it means and what I ask of you.
I think its important I start off by telling you what you should not be doing. First off, do not be a social worker or another therapist. I have one of those and they are doing a good job and I do not need another. Also spare me the platitudes such as “Stay positive” or “Take it easy.” If it really were that simple then I would not have PTSD. I also do not need to hear that it could always be worse or about some person you know who you think has it worse then me.
The most important thing you need to be doing as a friend is to simply be a friend. I do not need you to have all the answers or ask the right questions. I am not looking for anything insightful. If anything just do your best to treat me as you always have because it is what I need the most right now. Feel free to ask me how I have been doing and what I have been up to.
To most people, PTSD means experiencing something distressing previously and then flashing back to the event later and being distressed about it. That description barely covers it so a few things you need to know about PTSD. Having PTSD is distressing. Knowing you have PTSD is just as distressing as the PTSD itself. PTSD destroys your normal brain activity and makes it function in ways you can not control. The worst part for me with PTSD is it makes my brain very active.
As part of this increased activity I experience things like flashbacks, distressing images, hyper-vigilance and panic attacks. My whole life is about living on the edge waiting for something bad to happen. It is why something simple like a tap on the shoulder or somebody standing behind me can give me a major adrenaline rush and cause me to panic. I understand logically that these thought processes do not make sense however I am unable to control it.
If we ever decide to hang out together you will have to forgive me if I am sensitive about the venue. I like places that are not very noisy or crowded and I prefer to sit near a wall where I can minimize the activity around me. You will also forgive me if you find me not talking and staring off somewhere. Sometimes there is just too much activity for my brain to process and it needs to rest a little. If we are picking a venue or activity please do not give me a lot of choices and try to keep things simple. If I abruptly change the conversation on you, its probably getting into topics that will trigger my PTSD.
If I do not answer your phone call or return your text message or e-mail please forgive me. It is sometimes a struggle for me to remain in the present or keep track of what I have to do. My brain will sometimes shutdown and will forget things or even who I am and where I am. Other times my brain is simply overloaded and I need to minimize stimulating it. I will get back to you but if I am not as fast as you want then I hope you will understand why.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter to try and better understand me. You will never understand what it means for me to have PTSD (and hopefully you never will) but hopefully you can at least understand what I need and why I sometimes do the things I do. I am confident that with time I can resume a normal life but for now I am going to be fighting the good fight.