Let’s talk. Let’s talk about how mental health is as painful and a problem as breaking your leg or getting cancer. How about we talk about the stigma around mental health and why the big cure to people not suffering with it is to “suck it up” is not a cure at all. Lets talk about the Bell let talk movement and how it helps create awareness for mental health.
Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression affect a lot of people. It affects people of all different races, genders, and age groups. Mental illness affects the wealthy and the poor, the most intelligent people with PhD’s and people just getting done with high school. Your friends, your family, and that stranger you walk past this morning on the sidewalk can all be affected by mental illness. The difference is, breaking a leg you can see, most the time you can see the side effects of cancer. Yet mental health, that’s unseen and you can’t tell it’s there even when it’s like a shadow following a person everywhere they go.
I started suffering with anxiety when I was in middle school; it was minor at the time. Maybe I was just an awkward teen trying to figure out where I was in life. Then I got to high school and thought things would change. Thankfully we really didn’t have a “click” or “bully” issue in our freshman group. We all were just kind of cool with one another. But I still felt the same scared, nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach I felt in middle school. I worried about everything, I worried about grades, how to fit in time for friends. I never told anyone about it because I figured it would go away eventually and that I would in fact be considered crazy if I told anyone.
Then sports came into the picture big time for me. I played sports year round. Softball in the spring and summer, then it was hockey in the fall and winter. It was a constant for me and leveled out that anxiety feeling I once had. But like any good demon anxiety came back and brought depression with it. I wasn’t a superstar by any means when it came to sports. I maybe could’ve played at the junior college level and been good. But we aren’t talking about my would’ve been sports skills.
My anxiety came back during hockey my freshman year when I was in mid season playing and got hurt. A much bigger kid came in and threw me into the boards, in pain I got up and got into fight. This chain of events cause me to mess up my jaw and shoulder. I was lost without hockey and sitting in the stands watching my team play was brutal on me. I got sad and down when I’d watch because I’d want to be out there. I’d act happy though, I’d smile after games and around the team but inside it wasn’t the same. Most nights after my homework and physical therapy was done and I’d go to bed and cry. I’d be sad, weekends when I didn’t go on the long road trips I’d stay in bed and do nothing.
My parents just chucked it up to being sick or tired from school and PT, but in reality it was depression.
The odd thing I try to explain to people is how you don’t always have both at the same time, that sometimes you have them apart, at the same time, a little of one a little of the other and to various degrees. To put is simply Depression and anxiety are a big cat playing with its food, and you are its food.
When I was healed up and back on the ice something felt off. I questioned everything I did. I wasn’t afraid to hit (which caused the injury in the first place) or block shots, I was steady on my feet and if you watched my practice you’d think I was back to normal. But mentally in my head I wasn’t. I felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I felt I wasn’t following plays the right way, which, in turn would cause my play to be bad.
Then our team got a new coach who loved to yell a lot. That’s when I worried a lot, afraid if I did something wrong he would rip into me like a mad dog and I’d be scratched or moved to the third or fourth line (it was his favorite form of motivation to move us down) and play less. I feared I’d get sad again and I didn’t want that. Finally my worrying caught up with me and I was sent to the fourth line. Junior year I got hurt again and everything hit me like a speeding train.
I grew increasingly depressed and not matter what I did I couldn’t stop being sad or anxious. I went down a dark road, self-medicating to make myself numb was the only way I could really feel normal in my mind.
That is when I took a break from hockey and went into a dark hole of self-pity while also pretending like everything was alright around people.
Then in my senior year of high school I learned about Rick Rypien and his story. His story had sounded a lot like mine. I watched every video I could about him and watched clips of him playing. His story made me sad, but with searching for information about Rick I found the Bell Let’s Talk site. It was in only it’s second year of life at the time, but it made an impact on me in a way. Reading through the site and what I had read about Rick gave me some courage to go to an old teammate and tell them how I felt.
From there I was told I wasn’t crazy or weird, I just struggled with mental health and that it was perfectly normal, nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t get judge by family or friends, I was encouraged to seek help and I was understood when I seemed off certain days. I got back out on the ice and for once felt like myself again. Finally I wasn’t depressed or anxious playing. Off the ice I found alternatives to self-medicating. I focused my life in the best light I could. I went to college, got into the film program and life was better. There were and still are hard days, but I kept and keep the best thoughts I could and can in my head.
I’ve always been very open about my cancer, which I found out about almost two years ago. Yet, my anxiety and depression I never really talked about publicly because it does have such a big stigma around it. I could discuss it with my friends and family, but unlike my cancer I didn’t go out promoting it and the awareness for it. Yet I do have this message for anyone who may be suffering with any form of mental illness; you are not alone, you are not a freak, you are not crazy and there is help for you.
I got to a pretty dark place in my life, it is hard and when people tell you to just suck it up it’s hard to not want to punch them, but if I had stayed on path to self destruction I would’ve missed out on so much in life. I would’ve missed out on all the cool stuff I do now. Never would I’ve gotten to see my photography on the front of the school’s paper, never have gotten to go to World Juniors, never met some of the coolest people I have. Yeah I got cancer but I never would have made the impacts on people lives that I have over the last two years with my fight against it.
You are not alone, you are not the only one, there is always hope.