BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — With fireworks expected to go off across the country this holiday weekend, veterans are reminding people that the celebrations can be extremely difficult for those who have served our country and are struggling with PTSD.
Brent Larsen, a Marine Corps veteran who has lived with PTSD, spoke about his journey and why fireworks can be so damaging for veterans experiencing PTSD.
Larsen served for more than five years. He was part of the invading force into Afghanistan in September of 2001, stationed in the country for eight months.
“I served in Afghanistan with some very brave men and women,” he said. “We served in combat and saw our fair share of things. I got out in late 2003.”
When he returned from war, he said he struggled with school, jobs and relationships.
“I was just angry at others, and angry at the world,” he said. “And angry at the system. I was able to coast on that for a little bit.”
It wasn’t until Larsen’s son was born that he finally realized he needed help with his PTSD. He said that “just changed it all,” and “caused a level of vulnerability” he didn’t anticipate.
“Even the birth of my son brought back things from my military service in Afghanistan,” Larsen said. “So all of that triggered and snowballed in my life.”
He went through trauma treatment, which he described as extremely difficult. It can be very painful for veterans, as the therapy focuses on the memory of the traumatic events. Eventually, Larsen said he started to get better.
“I started to see the changes in my life,” he said. “I started to be able to engage in my kids’ lives. I started to be able to go out and do things.”
Larsen said he received treatment alongside other veterans, learning from them, as well. He soon realized he wanted to help his fellow veterans, too.
“Having that recovery with my peers was like, ‘OK, I want to help you do this,’” he said.
For a decade since, he has helped other veterans struggling with PTSD as a peer support specialist at the Battle Creek VA. He recently started a new position at the medical center as an administrative officer for medical services.
“You go there, you will be surrounded by other veterans,” he said. “You’ll be able to hear their stories, not just of what they’ve been through, but what they’ve done to recover, what they’ve done to grow.”
Larsen said it’s about “learning their stories, learning what they’ve been through and how they struggle.”
“It’s really intimate work,” he said. “It’s difficult work. But at the same time, it’s been the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”
‘UNEXPECTED ONES ARE THE WORST’: THIS FOURTH OF JULY, BE COURTEOUS
With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, Larsen wants to remind people that for veterans with PTSD, fireworks can trigger traumatic events from their past.
“It brings you back there,” he said. “The sights, the smells, the memories. It doesn’t just bring you back there, it brings you back to the most horrific things that you’ve ever experienced.”
Larsen said veterans obviously expect fireworks on the Fourth of July when it starts to get dark out. But it’s especially difficult when the fireworks pop at unexpected times.
“The late-night ones that wake you out of your dead sleep, when you can’t be prepared for it, those are unbelievably triggering,” he said. “What happens isn’t something you can think and control.”
When a PTSD episode happens, Larsen said it’s not something you can just sleep off.
“Those types of events often bring back higher swings of PTSD,” Larsen said. “They can bring back periods of depression. It’s not just an overwhelming state that simply goes up and goes away, it can last periods of time.”
Larsen emphasized that veterans fought for people’s freedom and they don’t want to restrict the Fourth of July celebrations.
“But at the same time, it is good to have respect,” he said.
Larsen has asked people to be courteous if there’s a veteran in your neighborhood. Some have signs in their yards indicating that.
“If there’s veterans that are in the area that have those signs up, be a bit respectful,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have them. But consider when you light them off. Those unexpected ones are the worst.”
Also, if you are setting off fireworks in your neighborhood, don’t do it too late at night.
“When you’re local and fireworks are going off, or the stadium fireworks are going off, those are great times,” he said. “That is a great time of day. That was very considerate of them when they planned those. I would follow that same rule of thumb in your area.”
For veterans struggling with PTSD, there’s always help available.
“You can’t keep avoiding,” Larsen said. “It will run your life if you do.”
“It saved my life,” Larsen said of his decision to get help.
“It made me a better father, a better husband, a better friend,” he added. “It brought back who I was in the core, who I felt on the inside.”
If you are a veteran experiencing PTSD, help is available at the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1.800.273.8255. You can also send a text to 838255.