Fireworks enchant me. The brilliant colors of light that blast in the night sky, not knowing exactly which direction they will burst, what beautiful hues will show, and exactly how loud they will be. I was always mesmerized by them. A beautiful man made project dancing with physics come together cohesively to create these sky artwork masterpieces.
Then I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Somehow these once beautiful displays now cripple me. Sitting at a friend’s annual fireworks party, I felt myself tense up with each pop. My breaths were becoming short and shallow and I honestly became frozen, unable to speak. On the outside, I looked like any other spectator, inside I was crying. I couldn’t believe how my body was reacting to this. I became panicked and quickly covered any sign of it up. I only told my husband later that evening when we got home.
And this was a planned fireworks display. That was only July 2nd.
The next day, panic started the moment I heard the first loud bang around 8pm. Every noise startled my body. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep, that my “courteous” neighbors would go the whole night firing off these things. I repeatedly told myself, “Stephanie, don’t worry, tomorrow is a holiday, you can sleep then if you want.” A motto that repeated in my brain like a broken record. Before midnight that night, a sonic boom was created by one said firework, it shook my whole house causing me to jump, exclaim “What the F*ck?!”, and ultimately have an anxiety attack. Shit, this was only July 3rd.
Sleep did not come easy that night.
I woke up irritable. It wasn’t shocking. It took me awhile to fall asleep due to the neighbors’ earthquake producing fireworks and the fact my room was so hot. Then I woke up several times that night. I incessantly apologized for my mean behavior as I was being very snarky and sarcastic. We spent the whole day introducing our daughter to Star Wars Episode VI and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone via cinema. The holiday seemed relaxing enough. I was just anticipating the start of the fireworks. As my husband and I were downstairs watching Murder In The First off the DVR…
“Boom! Pop! Whizz!”
With every sound, my digits tensed. I dug into the arm of my loveseat with my whole body. Soon enough I was tensely wound in a huge knot, locked in the fetal position.
I let out a yelp and shook. My breathing rapid. With each burst of a firework, a tear fell from my eyes, my breaths grew more intense and I became rigid and scared. I am not sure when exactly my Anxiety took complete control of my body last night but over an hour later, my 9 year old daughter came down the stairs to the basement to join us. She couldn’t fall asleep because the fireworks were loud.
“Can I stay down here?” she asked.
At this point, barely able to recognize her voice, I was like a corpse in rigor on the floor still in the fetal position making a repeated sound every time I gasped for air. She stayed with us, hugging me, telling me it would be alright. I kept letting out whispers of “Help me” for them to try to pry me apart as my body was riddled with pain at being locked in this position for over an hour. My husband tried to pull my legs, my daughter my arm. Nothing worked. I couldn’t speak so I could not request my husband get me an Ativan. My daughter suggested my husband give me some alcohol (yes, not the greatest parenting) which he was about to do but I was unable to drink I was so nauseated. Anything to get me to relax enough to breathe.
Almost 2 hours in, I felt my breathing slow. My chest no longer weighted down. I was able to speak and asked for help once again to uncurl my exhausted body. My husband uncoiled one arm and shook it out. Then he did the other. I took a deep breath. My daughter moved the ottoman as I was on the floor and my husband pulled at one leg and then the other. Now instead of sitting pretzel-like, my legs were straight out in front of me but fused. Reaching out his arms, I grasped my husband’s hands with mine and was lifted straight up. I could not walk yet, but rather shuffled to the steps as my legs were still stiff and somehow made my way up the stairs where I dropped on my bed and took my Ativan.
I was never in the military. The mild form of PTSD I suffered from was never triggered by fireworks. Like those former troops who fear the loud pops every 4th of July, I do too. My Generalized Anxiety Disorder is no joke. I don’t want to be incapable of moving and speaking because I am so panicked especially in front of my child. I could not stop my body. I could not stop my brain. July 4th is no longer a holiday for me. Yes, I still get to enjoy the day off of work with my family and friends, but the fear that is built up over the day concerning what fireworks will go off, when they will go off and how long they will last takes over my whole body. My “holiday” turns into a nightmare at the bare minimum.
It is now Tuesday, July 5th, and I started my day off with anxiety attacks. I sat through a meeting masking my short breaths, desiring to go home and hide. I worry about tonight and the fireworks. I worry about the next July 4th and am already researching countries to go to to avoid reliving what happened last night. I am still living in fear. All I can hope for is that tonight is not a repeat of last night.