Training the black dog - learning to live with depression

Alan Raggett pictured outside Rothe House last Thursday. Photo: Pat Moore.
A Kilkenny artist has spoken out about living with depression and feeling suicidal in the hope that by doing so his story will help those who are in pain and struggling.

A Kilkenny artist has spoken out about living with depression and feeling suicidal in the hope that by doing so his story will help those who are in pain and struggling.

Alan Raggett posted on the social media site Facebook about his experience of depression and how 13 years ago he found himself in a river, close to his family home wanting to end his life. Since he shared the post he has been inundated with messages of support and thanks.

He is ever thankful to his family and friends, without whom he says he would not be here.

He tells his story in the hope that it will help others and to raise awareness.

“I would like people to reach out to someone who might be feeling down or suffering from depression. A friendly word, a smile, a text or phone call might just turn someone’s year around.

“And for anyone who is feeling down? You can get through it. This is a period of depression, know that this period will pass and you can get stronger,” he said.

However this month 13 years ago a younger Alan Raggett walked into the KingsRiver wanting to end his life.

“Leaving the house that night I was pretty sure of what I wanted to do but not sure if I would be able to. It had got to the stage where I could not see any other way out. Depression clouds your mind a lot. It is scary when you realise that you don’t trust yourself completely.”

Thankfully something ‘snapped’ in his mind and he collapsed into the swollen river. He went home and signed himself into St Canice’s Hospital.

He spent three weeks in hospital and several months on prescribed medication.

“I was on medication for eight or nine months. I was constantly lethargic and bloated and I wasn’t myself at all. There was a constant false happiness and it didn’t do anything to address the cause of the depression, it just glossed over it. Medication does help for some people but it was not a long term solution for me.”

In hindsight and through therapy Alan now realises he was depressed from his early teens and identifies finding the right therapist as one the main turning points in how he learned to deal with depression.

“One of the biggest things is finding the right type of therapy that works for you. For me it was NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), meditation and hypnotherapy.It is also about being aware of what we tell ourselves we are.That is the power that we all have and it depends on whether you focus your thoughts positively or negatively.

“It is still there from time to time but now I know how to cope. I manage it through meditation, exercise, a clean diet with little processed food and watching my alcohol intake.” he said.

“When the black dog comes to visit now I sit with him. We’re not friends but I know him well, he will sit and expect to be petted, I do this because I know he can be vicious, I do it with confidence and without fear.”

“The biggest step is facing up to and accepting the fact that you are depressed and then knowing that you can get through it and that it will be okay.

The stigma and silence that surrounds depression still exists and part of Alan’s motivation is also to break down these walls.

“Part of depression is that it is an internal dialogue and that makes it hard to bring it out into the room. You have to try to verbalize and externalize what is happening internally. It is from a lost place that you can start to build strong foundations.

“A few years ago, while in therapy, I realised that I was what I told myself

I was .I had always been told that I suffered from depression and in turn I told myself that. I decided that I was going to live with my depression and not suffer from it.

“I found a sketchbook recently where I had written about the events of that night in December 2000 and I thought this was a good time to do something. I had wanted to do it a few years ago but the sketchbook with that entry was missing.

“I have always wanted to do something about depression to highlight it and to reach out to people. If doing this helps one person then it was a winner. I did not expect the reaction that I got and some people have even contacted me and shared their experiences. I am completely blown away by the reaction. It is humbling that sharing my story has resonated with so many people.”

He also explained that Christmas was often a particularly tough time of the year for him and hopes that by being honest in his own personal experience might help others.

“Christmas and depression went hand in hand for me. People find themselves under all sorts of pressures and everyone is expected to be happy. I know a lot of people feel this way too. The time of goodwill and cheer is also a time of hopelessness and fear for some people.”

Alan also believes that emotional intelligence should be on the school curriculum and that from a young age we should be shown the tools needed to cope with depression.

“Over 500 families have been affected by suicide this year. People need to talk and share their experiences and we need to teach young people how to be strong and positive,” he said.

Alan is one of the founding members of Endangered Studios. He also runs his own company NAIL2NAIL which installs visual art exhibitions and is also completing his Masters degree in Preventive Conservation of Contemporary and Historical Art Works. He lives in Co Kilkenny with his girlfriend and their dog.