Canterbury truck driver building pot people to help deal with depression

Dean Rockhouse. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Dean Rockhouse. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Dean Rockhouse suffers from depression. But the 47-year-old truck driver and craftsman from Rolleston has found a way to deal with it. He has a message for anyone else falling victim to the mental illness – talk about your feelings and be your own strongest advocate when it comes to seeking help. He talks to Susan Sandys...

Tell me a little bit about yourself
I have a family of three – two beautiful teenage kids, one boy, one girl, and a lovely wife. I work five days with Mini-Tankers, it is an onsite diesel refuelling business. I go round to all the subdivisions and fill earthworks machinery, like diggers and rollers. They can’t go to the petrol station down the road, that would upset a lot of people, breaking up the roads.

So your weekdays are busy?
I start at five in the morning and I finish about three o’clock in the afternoon. I come home, have a coffee, say hi to all the animals. It’s like the Rolleston zoo out here. We have got three aviaries. We’ve probably got between 20 to 30 birds – budgies, cockatiels and ringnecks. We have 16 guinea pigs. Oh my god, and he won’t be able to help me, five are in each aviary and we’ve got one that’s running around enjoying life. We have got two cats and two dogs and ponds full of goldfish.

What do you do after your tour of the zoo?
In the afternoons, until about six or seven o’clock, I make my little woodworking pot people. Millgate Woodworks Garden Pot People – it’s only a small business, where it’s rewarding. I only sell local, I go to the markets. I would probably sell two or three a week.

That’s a huge day
I like keeping busy, it actually keeps your mind off these horrible thoughts and it gives you the will to carry on. Your mind is constantly on something, instead of sitting down watching TV and becoming really down, bored and agitated. I have been diagnosed with severe depression, where I have suicide thoughts. 

How did you come upon the idea of making pot people?
I started making indoor furniture. It got to a point where I wasn’t selling anything. I had a friend coming to me and saying they needed something for their garden, and asked if I could make them a little man. When you are a truck driver by day, your mind is constantly ticking over about what sort of design you can actually do. That’s why I’ve got 78 designs in pot people. And people love them. I get very, very busy at Christmas.

How do you make them?
I Googled imaged garden men, and I found one and it all built from there. I’ve just redesigned, they are unique. I think nobody in this country actually makes them other than me. They are pretty much made out of round wood, Mitre 10 and Bunnings sell the stuff for firewood. I buy the pots from the garden centre. For the arms and the legs, I get them from sites I go to. So instead of the timber going into landfill, or going into a pile where it is going to get burnt, I like to recycle. As they say, there is only one planet that we live on.

How long have you suffered from depression?
Five years now. 

What were your first symptoms?
Just feeling down. Some people are different, they are just having a bad day. But if it’s in you – mood swings, feeling down, wanting to be by yourself all the time – don’t let it build up. I made that mistake. I let it build up for about half a year, where it got to the point where I was getting suicide thoughts, and then I went to get help. I went to the doctor.

Dean Rockhouse and his cat Lucky. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Dean Rockhouse and his cat Lucky. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Was it hard for you to seek help?
I felt ashamed. I felt like: ‘Oh s**t, what are people going to think of me?’ With mental illness, you don’t want to feel ashamed. I mean I would have a small cry. Men cry, you feel a lot better. It relieves a lot of the horrible stuff. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I feel good. If people want to get nasty, if they want to talk behind your back, they can go back and crawl under the rock they came out from.

Was there a particular cause for your depression?
Pressure of life, I think it was just how people treat you, I have grown up without a dad. Depression runs through my family. I don’t want to do the same to my family and do something stupid. It’s going to affect them in life, I don’t want them to go through what I am going through.

What are some of the ways you have dealt with your illness?
I’m not a quitter, be strong, fight your inner demons, just open up, get help and talk. I found talking to someone is good. If somebody isn’t interested in your problems, then they are not worth it. It’s easier to talk to a friend, family member, somebody who has got depression already. I find that a lot easier than talking to a complete stranger, because they don’t know you. Don’t over do it, but do something you enjoy. Taking up a hobby like I am doing, it works wonders. I am going to have depression all my life. That is one thing that I have to accept. I have to accept I am going to be on my medication all my life. 

Is it a hidden illness?
It can be. If someone comes to you, and they are quite rude and look a little bit down, don’t judge. Don’t judge until you have done your homework. If you know somebody who is feeling down and has the symptoms of depression, talk to them, ask them how has their day been, or are they okay. ‘Are you okay?’ are the words to actually start talking to somebody with depression.

Rockhouse sells his Millgate Woodworks Garden Pot People at local markets. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Rockhouse sells his Millgate Woodworks Garden Pot People at local markets. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Your mental health message is similar to that of rugby great John Kirwan. What do you think of him as a role model?
He is great, because he cares. I think, as a whole country, we are realising what mental illness is. I mean, years ago if you got a tattoo, people would think of you as Satan’s son. Tattoos now are just a way of life. More people are doing it, and more people are understanding depression.

Do you have tattoos?
I have a whole arm.

How old when you got your first tattoo?
I would have been 16. I was young and stupid. I got a skull with a snake going through it, on my arm. But the tattoos now are things that are meaningful to you, like I have got my kids’ names on my arm.

Do you have any regrets with any of your tattoos?
No, I don’t have any regerts! My tattoos are things that mean something to me.

Where did you grow up?
Upper Riccarton. My grandparents brought me up as their own. As a child, I was sent to two different locations in state care, which didn’t really help the cause of a good life. My grandparents were so hurt every time they came to see me, they decided to pull me out of state care. They were concerned about what sort of person I would become, or where I would end up at. It was awesome being brought up by them, I see them as more of a mum and dad than as my grandparents.