Saturday, July 5, 2008

Virtual War Zone on 4th of July (PTSD)

4th of July is a special day for Americans to celebrate America’s independence from Britain. Unfortunately, the fireworks can easily trigger terrible fear, anxiety, loneliness, horrible memory, depression and insomnia for those who have lived through combat zone and now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I am one of those people. I have lived through the war in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and during the invasion and occupation of Vietnam in Cambodia after 1979.

I am blogging at this moment because I just got woken up by the bangs of the unofficial fireworks in the neighborhoods. Now I am having trouble going back to sleep. The more I tried to force myself to sleep the more I am awake reliving my memory of the Khmer Rouge genocide which killed two million Cambodians including my parents (who were starved to death).

Leading up to tonight I was well prepared to cope with the fireworks.

On Thursday July 3rd, I was on Think Out Loud (a program of OPB Radio) to share with the radio audience my own personal experience on how I cope with the fireworks. I told the host Emily Harris and the people who suffer from PTSD that one way to cope with the firework is to be up close and personal beneath a firework display. So tonight, I took my children to Willamette Park and watch the fireworks up close. I truly enjoyed and appreciated the firework. Practically beneath the fireworks, I was able to distinguish the fireworks from the rockets, bullets and explosions in a war zone.

Having marched in the Hillsboro 4th of July Parade this morning (as a Royal Rosarian), I was exhausted and went right to sleep after watching the fireworks tonight. I did it. I managed to prevent the fireworks from becoming a powerful trigger to my PTSD.

Yes, I did it… until a bang woke me up. My heart was pounding involuntarily. Not fully awake, I thought I was in the middle of a combat zone. The presence of the supposed bullets and rockets were momentarily real to me. My horrible memories of the Khmer Rouge labor camps and genocide haunted me.

I am having a headache and my brain isn’t working. I am very tired but cannot fall asleep. I feel like I am in a combat zone. My only comfort is my belief that I am coping better than most of my fellow PTSD victims especially many American veterans. As I know that tomorrow will be a great day for me despite tonight’s nightmare, my heart goes out to those who may not be able to see tomorrow in the same light as I.

Happy 4th of July!