‘It brings back memories:’ how fireworks may trigger those living with PTSD

‘It brings back memories:’ how fireworks may trigger those living with PTSD

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Fireworks are seen as an integral part of the July 4th celebration for many, but those in our community who live with PTSD are asking you to take into consideration how the display in the sky might affect them.

Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo A. Reyes is a retired U.S. Army veteran. He also served in the Marines.

He says the sound of fireworks popping in the sky takes him back to his deployment.

Elizabeth Codega, an outpatient mental health coordinator at the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center said, “A lot of times because fireworks sound so similar to things that they’ve experienced in those memories, then it sets off a whole other cascade of kind of symptoms they experience that make it really difficult for them to feel like they’re functioning the way that is meaningful for them.”

Reyes fought in Afghanistan back in 2003 & 2004.

“I was diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, and depression,” Reyes said. “I mean It’s been a while since I’ve been home, but it’s still there. It doesn’t go away.”

For some, like Reyes, July 4th can be one of the toughest days of the year.

“It’ll trigger me to go for my hand to my side looking for my sidearm. Pictures of what I used to encounter back when we were getting hit with RPG’s or IED’s going off around us,” Reyes said. “Especially if you’re asleep and you’re in bed and 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning all of a sudden something goes off and you’re like boom. You’re back into that mode of protection, defending. Rolling off your bed and looking for cover.”

This year, Reyes is turning to his service dog Rucker for comfort.

Rucker
Rucker

Reyes’ service dog came to him from an organization called K9 for Warriors.

William Stump, a warrior trainer for the organization, says while the service dogs aren’t trained specifically to help during fireworks, they’re trained to focus on their handlers’ behavior.

Reyes says even after just two months with Rucker, it makes a difference.

“They can feel how you’re reacting and when he starts seeing my different tone my body language is different, I’m getting upset, he’ll get up and start living my face he’ll jump up and try to give me hugs. To calm me down,” Reyes said.

Besides relying on Rucker, Reyes is also asking for neighbors to be considerate.

“Enjoy your holiday but also be mindful that you might have veterans, combat vets in your neighborhood,” Reyes said.

Reyes isn’t asking people to stop lighting fireworks completely, he says he just wants more people to be aware of the issue, and be a little more mindful to not set them off in the middle of the night.

If you’re a vet or anyone else with PTSD, experts say it might help you to get through the night if you doing something that will distract you, like looking at pictures, watching a movie, or even wearing something over your ears to help drown out the sound.

According to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

They say about 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year.

Copyright 2019 WIS. All rights reserved.