He laced up my skates for the first time when I was four years old.
It was the beginning of a beautiful father-daughter relationship; he was supposed to take me to my early morning practices and weekend tournaments, he was supposed to coach my teams, he was supposed to give me guidance on the car rides home, he was supposed to the proud face I looked up to from the ice, he was supposed to be my biggest supporter. He was supposed to be my hockey dad.
A few months after he laced up my skates for the first time, he took his own life.
Mental illness took my hockey dad from me.
What mental illness didn’t take from me, though, was my love for the game and the bond I’ll always have with my hockey dad, no matter where he is. Instead, the game gave me a way to deal with what mental illness had taken from me and a way to handle my own mental illness.
My dad might not be in the stands cheering me on, but the ice gives me comfort. It gives me an outlet. It gives me a family. It gives me my identity. It gives me the courage, power, and will to work through everything that mental illness throws at me.
From a very young age I’ve struggled with severe anxiety. As a child, I couldn’t go on sleepovers, I’d get nervous before big tests and big games, I’d be hyper-sensitive to criticism, especially from coaches, and I’d worry endlessly about everything.
I also fell into multiple bouts of depression where I didn’t have the capability to dream, I didn’t feel excited about anything, especially my future, and there were times where I debated following in my dad’s footsteps.
Throughout all of this, though, I could turn to hockey.
I could turn to the exercise that helped fuel my brain. I could turn to my teammates and hockey family. I could turn to the distraction from everything going on in my world outside of the rink. I could turn to having a place where I belonged. I could turn to the game that never let me down.
Hockey couldn’t save my dad, but I truly believe that hockey saved me, and continues to save me.
Hockey is a powerful sport. Whether you play it, coach it, are a fan, or involved in some other way, it’s almost guaranteed that for most of us, hockey has a deeper meaning than the game on the ice.
This Bell Let’s Talk Day, I encourage you to share your stories. I encourage you to talk to your teammates, and listen to your teammates. I encourage you to check in with those around you, and more importantly, yourself. I encourage you to be easy on yourself and those around you. I encourage you to think about and talk about mental illness without shame.
There is no shame in being sick.
If my dad had realized this, he could have gotten the help he needed, and maybe he’d still be sitting in the stands. My hope for this world is that no one has to look into the stands and miss the person that mental illness took from them.
My hockey dad was taken far too soon by the demons in his own mind, but before he left, he made sure to give me hockey, and for that I am forever grateful, because maybe in a way, he knew it could help me one day when he couldn’t.
Today, and every day, please talk about your mental health. We all have the power to be the solution: it starts with talking, listening, and asking for help and it evolves into a world where the stigma is shed and we stop losing people far too soon.
Be the change; you never know whose life you may save.