(20) A Hermit’s Life: The preference for isolation

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

Are all dogs extroverted, loving the social experience? They always seem to wag their tails when seeing another dog. They love being around people, too. On the other hand, studies suggest that the veteran with PTSD prefers isolation and withdraws when encountering loud noise, crowds, or enclosed areas.

Vietnam Veterans returned home, crashing into war protestors. They faced a national hatred for the war they had sacrificed everything for in service to their country. Long lasting impact of the horrors they lived through caused many to retreat from society, pulling further into themselves. Consequently, many lived lives of hermits, preferring isolation to community.

If my veteran spouse could choose, he would head to rural America and live off-grid where directions would include, “turn at the fence post, drive 25 miles to the oak tree to the top of the mountain.” I would visit him occasionally, preferring city life near a university. Molly, his service dog would follow him and stay firmly attached to his side.

Withdrawal registers high on the list of symptoms of PTSD. When the Vietnam Veterans returned, the medical experts tested many for signs of battle fatigue and found minimal trauma. As the years passed, they saw tens of thousands of veterans commit suicide and others suffer severe signs of delayed trauma.

In the early 1980s, the experts tested the first veterans for mental disorders to understand what was happening to them in the post-war environment.

William agreed to be a guinea pig for tests as a way of helping others. The tests they subjected him to included use of hallucinogenic drugs and shock therapy. He refused to tell me what else he endured but I watched him shiver, recalling that time of life.

When the VA informed him they had lost all of his test results and would have to repeat them, he refused. Although he refused to repeat the tests, the VA awarded him the first diagnosis of PTSD at a compensable level of 30 percent. He and others braved through the testing to legitimize post-traumatic stress as a disease. Finally, with new data in hand, the experts were able to add it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in the revision to the third manual. This made possible care for warriors returning from war, who experienced severe trauma and the need for psychological help. This opened the door for further research to help veterans and find effective treatments.

My husband shared with me the story of Ruth, a Vietnam Veteran health professional, who helped veterans living in rural areas of California. She shared with him that hundreds of veterans in a vast area of the countryside lived in shacks and old mine shafts by themselves. Her job included reaching these veterans and helping them connect with services. Once a month they would come down to meet her, collect their disability payment, and get a shower. Then they returned to their homes in isolation.

In researching PTSD and the Vietnam War, I learn what the men and women of war Molly and William resting on couchsuffered. I understand the need to withdraw and yet the need to engage with others, who understand their trauma and do not judge them for their role in Vietnam or for having PTSD. Acknowledging the need for isolation, I will work at becoming my husband’s cohort in hermit-ness. Molly, however, is and always has been his constant companion with total acceptance of his condition—non-judgmental and loyal to the bone!

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If you could go anywhere to live and not worry about money, where would you go? Please share your thoughts below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “(20) A Hermit’s Life: The preference for isolation

  1. Don river rat

    Dear Penny and comrads. I do live on the ollsho.a rivers. Its the only peace I find. 31 years married guess I got the best of the best. Yes my guilt hurts that Im mot there for her but settle since I know Im no longer. Threat to society. The noise, traffic, flat roofs and selfish people have nothing to offer. Oneday each of us will be equal and answer for our role. For what you do, thnx.

    • Penelope Culbreth-Graft Post author

      Thank you, Don, for sharing your story with us. Thank you, too, for the sacrifices you made to serve our country and for your service. My husband, Molly, and I hope you continue to find peace where you are on the river. I believe your story will help others. God bless you! The Molly Blog Team

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