June: PTSD Awareness Month & A Brief Look Back

Please don’t take my extended absence from writing as a sign that I am not interested in continuing my veteran (and more specifically, female veteran) awareness efforts.  During my recent absence I have attended to moving into my recently purchased home.  You can read about that journey–should you be interested–at my other blog, Builder Grade and Reclaimed.  The other large factor contributing to my absence has been my concern over the increasing violence in Fallujah and knowing that while I served in Iraq and Fallujah was in our area of operations there is nothing I can truly say as an American that speaks fully to the horror Iraqi citizens currently face on a daily basis.  It is also hard not to feel a bit ashamed that I am quite privileged–enjoying the fruits and discussing the frustrations of homeownership for the first time–in the midst of such chaos, particularly when I see the large number of affected children.

In doing what I can given my current status as an amateur writer I wish to speak to you all about the fact June is PTSD Awareness Month.  In the most recent couple of months I’ve begun to notice more articles that discuss the mental toll war takes on refugees and their disjointed access to support services.  As a veteran, I cannot help but notice the focus on PTSD as it relates to war veterans and the stigma associated with treatment.  Furthermore,  the more recent shooting at Pulse in Orlando adds another layer to how violence plants the seeds for lifelong hurt in the community.  I was stunned when I read about how first responders were dealing with the constant ringing of cellphones as they conducted their work at the crime scene and I realized I,too, need to broaden my perception of who is affected by violence locally  (city, state), regionally, nationally, and globally.  We do not always know the victims firsthand but we may know friends or family members of the victim or feel our shared identity allows us to empathize with their situation, perhaps it even brings up the hardships in our own past.

The older I get the more I realize it’s ok to talk about my own struggles with anxiety as it relates to fireworks and veteran deaths.  The two issues are markedly similar to my first deployment experiences of frequent mortar fire and daily deaths of service members.  I can tell you daily life is not always a challenge for me the way it is for other survivors (war, sexual assault, weather-related catastrophe, domestic violence, mass shootings, and so forth).  The research I invested earlier this year crafting my applied project took a significant emotional toll on me but it’s coming close to that time of year where the celebratory use of fireworks by others makes me cringe.

After experiencing fireworks last year in my old Gilbert neighborhood on the 4th of July and then again for New Year’s the trepidation for the upcoming Fourth of July has been building and for that reason I decided to open up about my issues.  I don’t know what my new neighbors are like and if they will shoot off fireworks from our shared driveway the way the former neighbors did.  I don’t know if individuals in this neighborhood and the neighborhoods surrounding us will subject me to a marathon four-hour ‘celebration’ on New Years that will bring on a series of chest pains and hours of anguish.  I cannot imagine what the Fourth looks like but I am nervous already about potentially losing a whole night’s sleep and still needing to go into work the next day.

I am exceptionally aware of the fireworks season when it crops up: local vendors set up stands on their vehicles on the side of local roadways and local stores clean floorspace for variety packs of fireworks for nearly every budget.  While others plan fun for themselves, I’m counting down the days until I suffer through a particular hell I never imagined I’d be back in.  In war after a mortar attack, I had a purpose and so I trudged through my tasks because my work helped keep people alive.  A daily mortar attack here and there became normal and I adopted a casual brush off of this experience.  So long as we looked around and everyone was ‘ok’ things were normal.

Looking back on my past, I am now rather grateful fireworks were–and are–such a rare exposure.  I lived in the barracks for most of my Marine Corps career and so I did not encounter fireworks there.  When I moved off base–residing in Oceanside–fireworks weren’t a concern either.  From the alley of our home in Cody, Wyoming I could see the large public fireworks display off in the distance which I find enjoyable but none of my neighbors lit fireworks down the street.  (To be honest, I also don’t know if it was permitted either but I am grateful my exposure was limited.)  During the time I lived with my in-laws in Mesa and later in ASU’s family housing I also did not contend with fireworks.

So please know for the duration of June 24th to July 6th–the time period in which the use of fireworks is permitted here–I will be more on edge as I wait to see with what frequency my neighbors use fireworks.

In also addressing the 2006 versus 2016 comparison I’ve promised you, below is one of my previous entries from 2006.  I know I am off a day but I didn’t write as much in 2006 as I thought I did.  However, this time period of entries is a good one because it gets close to when I left for my second deployment with 3rd MAW, serving on the deployment under MAG-16.

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