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For Marshall Fire victims, the 'anniversary effect' is starting to take hold

"Weekend of Healing" planned by community leaders
Marshall Fire
Posted at 8:42 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-09 22:42:28-05

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — We are approaching the one year anniversary of the Marshall Fire, which damaged and destroyed more than a thousand homes and turned many lives in our community upside down. The date approaching can intensify existing trauma and cause new symptoms to arise, which is why community leaders in Boulder County have organized several events for a “Weekend of Healing.”

“I used to love the wind,” survivor Dana Kogler said after concluding the planned Walk of Reflection. “But as you go through, there’s triggers… The smell of smoke, the wind in your face, sometimes are triggers for a lot of us that have gone through this.”

Psychologists refer to it as the anniversary effect: a form of PTSD that is triggered the same time of year as a past traumatic event. For survivors of the Marshall Fire, the one year anniversary of their traumatic event is approaching, along with the Colorado December weather that surrounded it. A gust of wind, then, or even a faint scent of smoke can be especially triggering at this time.

“The brain is built to keep us safe,” said Dr. Amanda N’zi, a licensed psychologist with Growing Together Child and Family Therapy in Denver. “And so, the brain is like, ‘This was a dangerous time of the year. This is something where something traumatic happened again.’ And so, it revs the body and the brain back into that fight or flight mode.”

Marshall Fire survivors have extra reminders the time is close. Not only do the calendars and weather offer reminders, but so do the signs of the season normally meant to bring peace and joy.

“I think it’s a little bit more difficult with having the Marshall Fire happening so close to Christmas and the New Year,” Kogler said, explaining that it's been challenging for her own kids and others. “Trying to decorate for the holiday season, and not having all those historical things or their stockings that they grew up with, are emotional times for them.”

But even as trauma lingers, the Marshall Fire’s path is filled with signs of rebuilding and mending, as well. Dec. 8 through Dec. 11 has been dubbed the Weekend of Healing by community leaders, and will include ceremonies, meals, guided meditations and walks for reflection.

“I think the benefit from the walk is just stopping and taking time to be able to feel those emotions,” Kogler said of Friday afternoon’s walk. “Just giving some time and space just to be and feel whatever you’re feeling is priceless.”

You can learn more about the Weekend of Healing events on the Boulder County website. They are free of cost, but some do require participants to register beforehand.

If you are experiencing anxiety or grief that is impacting your sleep or your ability to complete your normal tasks throughout the day, Dr. Amanda N’zi said these are signs you should consider receiving professional help. You can find services specifically for Marshall Fire victims here.