oh, god, we're all going to die
July 21, 2009 5:01 PM   Subscribe

How can I be less freaked-out by fireworks noises when I am living in a possible war zone?

(posting anonymously to keep safe)

I live with my husband in a country that has been often at war in the last few decades. We're expatriates, and I'm having a lot of problems dealing with frequent celebrations involving extremely loud firecrackers and roman candles.

It's not at all unusual for political events to be marked by celebratory gunfire, and that's something I've learned to deal with with a degree of humor: okay, okay, time to put on the flak helmet and hide under the table for a little while. The gunfire never lasts long, and the events precipitating it are normally predictable.

For some reason, though, the firecrackers have me slowly coming unglued. Some nights are feast nights for one thing or another, and the little boys will start exploding things at about five o'clock or so and go on into the night, for hours. It'll be quiet for minutes at a time and then suddenly the living room will be filled with flashes of light and sounds of explosions. Other days are just a few here and there.

I guess what I'm looking for is some kind of way to change my thinking on the situation. Currently, it's somewhere along the lines of, "Oh, man, haven't you people had enough of explosions? You have got to be fucking kidding me." I get angry and stressed and sometimes cry a little bit.

How can I rephrase/rejigger my reaction to minimize this kind of stress?

Thanks for any help you can offer. The rest of my stay here is great and there's no immediate reason to get out of here, but this part has me chewing my fingernails to the quick.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Join in with it?
posted by Iron Rat at 5:19 PM on July 21, 2009

I don't have an answer for you, but I can commiserate somewhat. I used to live in a fairly rough neighborhood where gunfire (with the logical consequences) was frequent. I somehow managed to "be cool" about it. Now that I live in a much quieter neighborhood, the occasional firecracker will damn near cause me to crap my pants. New Years Eve and Independence Day reduce me to tears. I just really don't know what that's about, but I am glad my brain was able to help me feel safe when it maybe wasn't so safe, even at the cost of feeling freaked-the-fuck-out when there's nothing to worry about, and maybe you can find some small comfort in that as well.
posted by padraigin at 5:22 PM on July 21, 2009

You could learn to tell the difference between the two sounds. Gunfire has a distinct 'crack' that fireworks don't, and often comes at a more regular interval. If you're close enough to be hit, I don't think my advice is any good.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:42 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

hopefully someone with more experience in the area will have a little more relevant advice for you...i have never understood mimicking the sound of bombing as a means of celebrating. as someone who has never been anywhere close to any sort of danger or bombing (unless one is convinced by all those soldiers in fatigues of an imminent threat to the nyc subway), i get pretty uncomfortable at the fourth of july, and if there's random fireworks on another day, i'm on alert till i find out why... it's just not right to be exploding things like that...you have my sympathy - maybe a little valium or another similar benzodiazapene (ativan, etc.) would be helpful until you could calm down a little. you're probably oversensitized to it, just from thinking about it so much. maybe a little drug-induced break (not that you'd be unconscious, just suffering less anxiety, thanks to the meds) would help.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:54 PM on July 21, 2009

Ear plugs. I'm not being facetious. They won't stop your initial jumpy reaction (assuming you don't wear them 24/7), but put them in once the festivities begin and they should help block out the subsequent explosions.
posted by axiom at 6:03 PM on July 21, 2009

Kuujjuarapik's advice is good. If you've been around guns a lot you have no problem telling them apart. Go shooting.

Sometimes when fireworks go off I think "was that gunfire?" but last year at one point there were five evenly cracks (bang....bang bang bang bang) late one night and it was _immediately_ obvious that it was gunfire.

Just exposing yourself to guns will make you more comfortable with loud bangs, and more importantly, it's probably a really good idea to know how to handle firearms in a country prone to sudden warfare. At the very least you should be able to take a gun and make it inoperable and learn what objects are thick enough to stop small arms fire.
posted by paanta at 6:09 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Er, I don't think the OP is having any problems telling the gunfire from the fireworks:

The gunfire never lasts long, and the events precipitating it are normally predictable.

For some reason, though, the firecrackers have me slowly coming unglued.

I'm not entirely sure what to suggest. I know I feel the same way about hovering helicopters- they really stress me out and make me want to smash things. When there were several days of riots/near riots in my town, the constant police and news helicopters were almost the worst part. You have my sympathy.

I sort of like the idea of joining in with the celebration, and setting off some fireworks yourself.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first July 4th after we invaded Iraq I was at a park waiting for fireworks. When the first one went off I had to leave, ran to my car and turned on music loud. I knew that it was because it was like the sound of bombs, and that in other parts of the world the sounds that my neighbors were cheering in the park were similar to those bringing terror to others. I have not been able to tolerate fireworks since then.

So my only recommendation is keep an Ipod/MP3 player handy, and play it loud.
posted by mareli at 6:54 PM on July 21, 2009

i'm sorry. i live in a rough-ish neighborhood in oakland, ca. and the 4th of july is my least favorite holiday. the fireworks start a few days before and go all night long till a few days after. it's not even that i think they're gunshots--in fact, i probably do hear some gunshots around that time that i assume are just fireworks. but it makes me jumpy, the cat jumpy, and i worry the house will burn down. i don't know what to tell you, except that it might just come with the territory of living in an unstable area. how do you deal with the 'real' explosions? that kinda sounds like an unhealthy environment. i guess mine can be, too, except mostly it's ok.
posted by apostrophe at 7:24 PM on July 21, 2009

Put a loud electric fan in the room. Not necessarily aimed at you, if you're not hot- the goal is to buffer the fireworks sounds with a layer of gently humming white noise. The fireworks popping outside will seem less loud and alarming if they are heard through a steady inside sound.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:48 PM on July 21, 2009

It also sounds like you might have a bit of PTSD, and maybe there's some kind of book or therapy that might help?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:50 PM on July 21, 2009

I can't stand firecrackers and other loud fireworks after a while myself. I used to have neighbors who would set them off every day for weeks. Boom! Boom! Boom! all the time. It gets old after a few days. In this same area there were occasional distant explosions (non-war-related) that were easy to ignore, but the fireworks were not. Didn't like having to clean up the trash from the bottle rockets in my yard either.

Maybe it's helpful to know that it's normal to be on edge after your neighbors have been randomly making loud noises all the time. This is a really, really annoying thing to have neighbors doing, even if it is culturally acceptable for them to do it. I don't think it's unique to having lived in a war zone.
posted by yohko at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2009

You asked for a different way to think about it. Try this: These children are gaining mastery of something scary (loud bangs) by producing a similar sound that it is totally under their control. The fireworks are a way for the children to act out and work through the trauma of war in their own child-like way as part of their play.
posted by metahawk at 8:19 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Move to a more rural location? Distance and surrounding geography (mountains, buildings) all impact how sound travels, reverbrates. Living out in the wood/jungle/farm/field can make a big difference, and potentially makes you less of a target.
posted by furtive at 8:45 PM on July 21, 2009

Get a dog. Dogs generally fear loud, irregular noise like fireworks, and appreciate being reassured/petted by their owners when the banging starts. I think you'll find that reassuring and comforting a somewhat nervous animal quickly becomes a means of mutual reassurance; you start by trying to convince the dog that everything is fine, and quickly believe it yourself, thereby allaying your own anxiety.

Several years ago, when my new hometown was hosting the Super Bowl, my dog and I happened to drive into town, just as the biggest pre-game fireworks display (over $10 million cost) ever staged around a Super Bowl went off. Hundreds of people simply passing through town, literally pulled off on the sides of I-95 and got out of their cars to watch as over 2 miles of the river that goes through town seemed to throw up several hundred exploding shells a minute. My poor dog freaked out completely, cowering in the passenger footwell of my truck, and crying piteously. But when I pulled over, too, and went around and drug him out, and petted him, and started acting like I was enjoying this strange spectacle, he relaxed and began jumping around and barking, too.

And so, he and I, and a few hundred others, "happy danced," pointed, and yelled and barked like crazy, as we watched $10 million go up in beautiful light and copious smoke, over the next half-hour, there on the shoulders of Interstate 95. And when it was over, we all got back in our vehicles, and went our much merrier ways...
posted by paulsc at 11:51 PM on July 21, 2009

I currently live in a scary neighborhood (six people were shot yesterday; three were DOA) and have heard gunfire right outside my bedroom window twice (the first shooting killed one, critically wounded another; the other resulted in a woman screaming, "NO! Not my baby!" until the ambulance and police arrived, that kind of wail is the sort of sound that I hope to never, ever hear again. Just remembering it makes my throat close and my skin prickle).

Fourth of July freaked me right the hell out. The folks in this neighborhood played with firecrackers all day on the Fourth and then, sporadically, for several days afterward. Every time those things went off, my heart jumped and the only way I could calm down was to think: "It's okay. I'm on the fourth floor and they can't hit me up here."

Perhaps a similar mantra would work for you.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 12:17 AM on July 22, 2009

I'm an expat living in a foreign country where war / political strife isn't uncommon and fireworks are often the entertainment du jour for many of the frequent celebrations. Do I qualify?

I'm seconding the first answer to your question, in a sense: immersion therapy. The best thing I think you can do is go out, buy a lot of fireworks, wait for the next festival, and then get out there and light a bunch off yourself. Get comfortable with them, handling them, lighting / setting them off correctly. Get to know what different ones look and sound like. Get used to them. Pretty soon they won't have nearly the fear-of-the-unknown qualities that they currently have for you, they'll just be some cleverly designed paper and gunpowder concoctions that really can't do much harm as long as you're not holding it when you set it off.

Getting used to guns and the sound they make can also be helpful in that your brain will hopefully get to a point where it hears a firework and says "Hey, not a gun, just those punk neighbor kids, no biggie."

Of course, it will never get to be *that* trivial and it shouldn't - your jumpy reaction is part of your natural survival skills, and for at least the first few fireworks of any given celebration, its a good thing that you react that way. You need to learn how to chill a bit and be expecting the next cracks and pops and whatnot and know before you hear them that they are likely harmless.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:27 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

umm, maybe don't take up paanta's advice (that of getting a gun to familiarise yourself with guns) if the country in which you live does not have the same gun-laws as the USA. As an expat you might also stand out in regard to guns etc.

fireworks- knowing the difference between gunshots, fireworks, (even dynamite and truck tyres blowing out on the highway) helps. You jump, then you go "yep, firework. all cool now." You must tell your brain this. The emotions hit first, but your conscious brain can win. Telling yourself what it is and that it is safe is good.
posted by titanium_geek at 2:44 AM on July 22, 2009

Sounds like we're neighbors!

Knowing that they're fireworks [by the sound of them] and not gunshots might help, but it definitely doesn't reduce the irritation factor [they're loud, really loud, usually nearby, and the kids never seem to know how to set them off with a nice beat or rhythm!]

Have you considered some basic soundproofing? Close the windows, get the double paned stuff, put on a loud movie [Platoon should drown them out nicely]

Alternatively: leave. They don't usually last for more than a couple of hours and aren't too late at night, chances there are areas nearby which aren't joining in the celebrations so rigorously and might provide a nice quiet sanctuary till it calms down.

You definitely aren't alone in feeling this way, I know a handful of people who grew up during wars and still get panic attacks when a barrage of loud fireworks sets off... good luck!
posted by xqwzts at 3:27 AM on July 22, 2009

« Older How do I stop resenting my boyfriend?   |   stalemate? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.