DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – “It's like you're in a dream but you're re-living that dream all over again. So, you're not asleep, just your surroundings appear as what (they were) then."
That’s how combat veteran John Sparr describes a post-traumatic stress disorder episode. After serving in Afghanistan, the Illinois National Guardsman says anything can spark them.
This time of year, fireworks are a major culprit. Sparr says the first year after deployment was the hardest.
"I had lived in an apartment complex, and kids thought it would be fun to go around making bottle rocket wars, and I had one explode right next to my head,” Sparr shared. “Needless to say, not a very pretty picture."
Even before July 4, when the weather warms up, fireworks come out. Sparr says this time of year can be hard for those who have served overseas, or in a profession stateside involving loud noises.
"A lot of times I've got to go inside just turn the music up so I'm not hearing it," the combat veteran said.
"We have a friend who was a marine who had been deployed and one Fourth of July he blacked out during the fireworks,” John’s wife Katie explained. “And the morning of the 5th of July he woke up in his yard as he puts it, in full 'battle rattle'. He had no recollection of what happened."
The Sparrs say it's not usually big firework events that towns plan that will impact service members. They say what will often trigger PTSD are fireworks lit in neighborhood backyards.
"If you're just out playing with the kids, grilling in the yard, whatever, and all of a sudden you just start hearing 'boom, boom' going off all around you, it's the unexpected surprise that tends to trigger the emotions,” Sparr shared.
The combat veteran goes on to say when it comes to private firework displays, communication is key.
"I'm all for people lighting off fireworks, and if you talk with any other veteran, I'm sure they'd say the same thing,” Sparr adds. “But talk to your neighbors. Get to know those people, give them a heads up. 'Hey, we plan to shoot off some fireworks, is that okay?'"
Sparr says going a step further and inviting those who have served to watch the fireworks with you can help them feel even more safe and in control.
For anyone suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder episode, psychologists recommend practicing deep breathing to help steady the nerves. They also say becoming grounded by taking note of small details in surroundings can be calming.