The 4th of July always was such a special day at our house.
Shelly loves to entertain and she is so good at it. Each year we would host a fantastic party with friends and family. It was a day that Shelly would look forward to like no other. She would do so much planning to decorate, cook and bake for this special day. She would plan fun, elaborate games that we would play near the pool. She would go all out in her quest to have such a fun and memorable day.
The day would conclude with watching the nearby fireworks show as well as setting off our own fireworks on our street.
The day became a family tradition that Shelly took a lot pride in establishing for our boys, Dylan and Taylor.
Five years ago this all changed. A day that was so special and so looked forward to, now terrorizes Shelly tremendously.
The toughest lasting ramification from Shelly’s life-changing traumatic brain injury is her PTSD. When it hits it is literally crippling for her. Her brain goes into panic mode and a wave of terror hits and immobilizes her. When this happens it usually is sudden and unpredictable. It’s caused by situations such as dropping a plate in the kitchen; having a near miss driving down the highway or the radio being left extra loud when the car is turned on.
The boys and I try to safeguard all that we do to keep these sudden situations from happening. Occasional situations do happen, but they are far less often than in the early days after the accident. As Shelly’s caregiver, one of my most important responsibilities is to protect her and to keep her safe. I feel awful when something I accidentally do causes her to immediately shift into panic.
The 4th of July is different than these sudden episodes. We know it is coming, and we know what it brings. The relentless barrage of the crackle and boom of fireworks is more unbearable than any other day of the year for Shelly. A day that brought such joy, now brings her such tremendous fear.
We have worked to be proactive and remove ourselves from the situation. Three years ago, when we still lived in Idaho, we drove to a tiny potato town and checked into a motel. Our hope was that we wouldn’t hear any fireworks from this remote spot. We were correct, as the four of us had a peaceful night watching the television in our motel room.
Now living again in Phoenix, the sound of fireworks is especially tough to escape. We were at a loss for what to do to evade the chaotic sounds. We decided to go to a nice quiet dinner and then a movie. That sounds like a good, safe choice. But it was really a big risk, as going to a movie is something that Shelly could not do anymore after her accident. We had tried it and the loudness of the theatre triggered the PTSD, so we had since stayed away.
Without another viable option, we were calculating that the movie would hopefully be the lesser of two evils. We chose a family comedy that would hopefully not have the grisly sounds and scenes of an action movie. As we cautiously took our seats, the previews started. Shot gun blasts and explosions started immediately. To our dismay it was a preview for an upcoming action movie! Shelly and I quickly headed to the lobby. She regained composure and I occasionally peaked into the theatre to see when the previews ended and our movie would begin.
What started with panic and thoughts of regret, turned out to be such a wise choice for the evening. The movie was funny and not traumatic. It ended at 11:30 PM. By time we got home the fireworks were over (except for a few inevitable stragglers).
A new tradition has been born. A nice low-key day (with some time at our pool), then an evening of a quiet dinner followed by a movie. Shelly gets sad when she thinks of what the holiday consisted of pre-accident vs. what it is now. But she is also relieved that we found an activity to limit the trauma of the day.
The key to adapting and adjusting to a new normal is to find ways to minimize the pain and discomfort of the situation.
I am grateful that we have found a way to make it through the 4th of July.