“You can’t be sad when there’s baby goats,” said Michael Ragan with a chuckle, feeding the aforementioned kids.
Ragan owns Hope Ranch in Sunnyland, which he bought recently and has big plans for.
“It was built in the late 1800’s, one of the original farmhouses here. It’s just going to be a great place to come out and find some healing.”
Ragan wants to build the ranch into an escape, of sorts: to provide a real, physical outlet for people dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He’ll be building a Native American medicine wheel, and plans to expand to art classes, botany and herbalism instruction, beekeeping, hiking, meditation, music and more.
“It’s kind of nice to just get your feet in the dirt, work with plants and just get reconnected with mother nature,” he quipped. “I find it to be very healing, probably one of the best things I’ve done.”
Ragan’s not the only one in the Heart of Illinois working to aid people with PTSD.
Over at Bradley University, a more measured approach: one that would offer treatments that don’t involve medication or invasive procedures.
“I want to give something back,” pledged principal investigator Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, PhD. “It just seems to me, if things aren’t working and we can find some techniques that are working, that would be so valuable.”
Dr. Russell-Chapin and her colleagues are investigating three potential treatments for PTSD.
They’re things that could be taught to veterans, to allow them to overcome episodes on their own at a moment’s notice.
“There’s so many things that they (veterans) are struggling with. If we can help them, we need to help them. It’s the right thing to do.”
Ragan and Dr. Russell-Chapin are just two people trying to tackle an immense problem.
The Sidran Institute reports an estimated 13 million Americans deal with PTSD every day.
The VA goes a step further, saying up to 20 percent of veterans are in that number.
“It’s almost like it’s counter-intuitive to people to think about going and talking about this stuff, and feeling everything associated with it,” said Dr. Stephanie Ericksen, PhD, the PTSD Clinic Coordinator for Danville’s VA clinic. “Especially if they’ve been dealing with it for a long time, and been avoiding it.”
That feeling of numbness is something known all to well by those going through the fight.
Ragan himself has PTSD, and deals with it through his art, but every day he sees the impacts it leaves in others.
“I don’t feel like there’s enough going on to help veterans,” he said solemnly. “I just lost a really good friend a little over a week ago, and have a funeral to go to tomorrow.”
Ragan wasn’t the only one developing Hope Ranch.
John Fuller, a good friend of his, planned to paint a mural atop the barn overlooking Bittersweet Road nearby.
He took his life in March, just days before Ragan’s interview was recorded.
“You have to feel the pain, sometimes,” Ragan said. “I think about things…John and I stood in this very field and talked about two places he wanted to do some art.”
“I’m gonna go forward with that.”
Getting people with PTSD to open up can be a monumental task, but one worth all the effort.
“I saw a veteran today who was feeling sadness and grief for losing a friend, and he ended by saying ‘there I go, being a sissy,'” recalled Dr. Ericksen. “No, you’re not being a sissy. You’re feeling human emotions. A really common theme is the veterans saying, ‘I’m broken. I will never get better.'”
Ragan agreed – but said it’s those experiences that result in a reason to live.
“I lived in Japan for seven years. There’s a concept called Kintsugi, taking a piece of broken pottery and putting it back together with gold lacquer, and something is more beautiful for having been broken.”
“And that’s a lot of veterans, you know?” he continued. “Something more beautiful can come from you being broken. And if we can share experiences and help each other through things…that’s what I want to do.”
Ragan has said anyone willing to help work on the Ranch and prepare it to be a more permanent institution is welcome to contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He will also be hosting a community build day for anyone who wants to help on Saturday, April 20th. Hope Ranch is located at 512 Bittersweet Road in Washington.
Dr. Russell-Chapin is also still searching for veteran volunteers to continue her research. The study is anonymous and confidential, and veterans will receive a $100 stipend for their time. Anyone interested should contact her at (309) 677-3186 during business hours, or (309) 671-8084 during off-hours.