(70) Winter Places of the Mind: Suicide prevention

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the family caregiver)


Ice Stones in the Paws 

With back-to-back snowstorms, Molly grows daily in her ability to maneuver through four-foot masses. Although she is a Saint Bernard and Great Pyrenees mix, her skill in the snow still fails miserably. The other night after calling Molly inside, she stumbled on the threshold and toppled over. She tried standing but slid on all four paws. Staggering when she walked, her eyes and gait cried for help.

After drying her off, I checked her paws and found large stones of ice frozen to the pads of her feet. I melted them with a hot cloth. After I finished, she sprung to life but still limped. Checking her paws again, I found more ice stones wedged deeply between her webbed toes.

Frozen Feelings 

Since my teen years, I view snowy scenes with a softness of heart and as places of safety even though I grew up in California and rarely experienced temperatures below 70 degrees. When I was a single mother of a two-year old, we were stalked by a student from my university. I froze my feelings of terror by retreating into a world of snowfalls and ice castles. I referred to this mental state as the “winter places of the mind.” Although it made handling difficult circumstances easier, I did not realize it kept me from dealing with the problem. In fact, I lived through nearly eighteen months of life walking on stones of ice, not realizing what damage they caused. Had I faced my fears, I likely would have been able to end the situation earlier.

Medical experts indicate that drugs and alcohol become common forms of self-medicating to numb the pains from war. While I have never used either nor have I served in war, I believe substance abuse falls into the same camp as retreating to the winter places of the mind. Drug and alcohol or retreating into another world are escapes that avoid dealing with the true problem.

VA Crisis Hotline 

In hopes of not sounding like a broken record, the VA offers help to Veterans with PTSD. The VA wants to help.

VA logoThis past week, we had need of the Crisis Hotline and found the counselor helpful. After talking with my husband, the counselor made contact with William’s psychiatrist. She scheduled him the following week to see his mental health doctor when he had not been successful scheduling an appointment over the past year. Unfortunately, 36 inches of snow kept William from keeping the appointment but when he called back, they were able to reschedule him a few days later.

When the hotline counselor asked William if he was suicidal at the beginning of his call, he said no. He shared with her that when he came home from Vietnam and experienced suicidal thoughts, his doctor told him that a parent committing suicide drastically increases the probability that one of the children will also commit suicide. That was enough to convince him never to take his own life. If suicidal, the counselor would have taken immediate action to help him.

While on the Crisis Hotline page on-line, I was reminded that the hotline also takes calls from and offers help to family members or friends of the Veteran. We can communicate with the VA by telephone, on-line, or by text message. The VA makes this resource easy to use and moves quickly to help the Veteran or family in crisis.

VA Crisis Hotline

1 800 273-8255, text to 838255, or on-line at http://www.Veteranscrisisline.net/

 Melting Ice Stones

In Molly’s case, the ice stones melt on their own. In our case, however, the pain stays with us until we get help.

Even when all seems hopeless, the VA really does want to help. The loss of even one Veteran to suicide is unthinkable.

Post your Comments: 

What might hold you back from contacting the VA Crisis Hotline if a Veteran mentioned to you he/she was having problems coping or spoke of harming himself/herself or others? Please comment below. 

About the blogger 

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