Belfast Telegraph

Snapper Dessie Loughery's walk on the wild side

Focusing on nature helps ex-footballer's bipolar battle

Wildlife photographer Dessie Loughery
Wildlife photographer Dessie Loughery
Some of his images
Some of his images
Some of his images
Some of his images
Some of his images
Some of his images
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A former Irish League footballer and referee has told of how his unlikely passion for wildlife photography helped him cope with being bipolar.

Dessie Loughery (52), a married father-of-four and grandfather-of-five from Limavady, was known as a fierce competitor during his time with Ballymena United and Coleraine before enjoying a spell as a football and GAA referee.

With a compulsive need to be the best at whatever he tried, taking things slow never came easy. It wasn't until a suicide bid on the Foyle Bridge in his 40s that he discovered he was bipolar and started to receive help.

As far away from the relentless pace of football as possible, his stunning wildlife shots are the result of spending endless hours in wait for the perfect moment.

From befriending a fox for months to waiting hours to see birds of prey, many thought the patience needed was beyond him.

He said: "You get a rush out of it which is hard to explain. I would get into a hide I've made at 6am and still be there at 6pm and nothing turns up.

"If you told that to people they would think you were crazy. But it's my way of clearing my mind as I'm usually a 100 miles an hour with the bipolar."

His first success came after waiting eight hours to see a kingfisher.

"I got just four frames and he flew off. The excitement of getting those photographs was unreal, it was nearly the same as scoring a goal for Ballymena," Dessie added.

Still regularly working as a sports photographer covering football and GAA, he said his "ultimate dream" would be to travel to Canada to capture a brown bear fishing. He said an unhappy time at St Mary's High School in Limavady created a hunger to prove himself early on.

He added: "I don't blame the school, but in those days if you were disruptive you were kept in the corner and not allowed to do anything. That made me more determined and shaped the person I am today."

Recalling his near suicide, he said it gave him a greater understanding of the struggles faced by others.

"If I ever heard of people committing suicide in the past I thought they were selfish," he said.

"But I was standing on the Foyle Bridge and didn't even know it. If I had stepped over the edge I wouldn't even have realised. I was driving to Derry and the only thing I could do was stop the van and walk over to the rails.

"The only reason it didn't happen was because somebody beeped the horn at me as if to say: 'Get out of that state'."

He managed to drive back to the far side and call his wife Anne-Marie for help.

"I'm married 31 years now and I have the best wife, she's unreal.

"She never says a bad word to me, I have the longest leash on the planet. She always says I work by the Moon - when it's full I'm not wise."

After attending weekly cognitive behaviour therapy sessions for over two years, he now feels able to deal with his bad days.

"I always knew there was something wrong. I had all this energy and the energy had nowhere to go," he said.

"I still get days when I'm down, but now I just grab the camera and just sit down and relax. I always tell the wife where I am because I don't want her worrying. But if you meet me there's always a smile on my face. I've no exams but I can talk the leg off a donkey. I'm not a bit embarrassed to talk about it because it helps me and has really opened my mind."

If you, or anyone close to you, is affected by issues in this article, contact the Samaritans free on 116123 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000

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