My father took his own life almost 21 years ago. He suffered from depression and alcoholism until the demons in his mind finally won a month before I turned five. I’ve never known a more brave person than my dad. He fought in one of the darkest battles there is, and though he could no longer fight, he passed the torch on to me—in honour of the fight he lost, I will never stop fighting for myself and for others to know that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of and that it is a war that can be won.
Before my dad died, he shared one of his greatest passions with me—the beautiful game of hockey. He was the first person to lace up my skates, and now I think of him every time I lace my own skates. I feel the closest to him when I’m on the ice. There’s comfort in knowing that he gave me the gift of loving the game that would save me, like he knew I’d need help fighting the same war he did.
For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression. This was the gift he didn’t mean to pass on. I choose to call it a gift because without it, I would never be able to understand what drove him to taking his own life. Because I have wanted to put an end to the war in my own head, I know why he put an end to his. Through hockey, though, I’ve been able to continue fighting the battle in my own mind.
While #BellLetsTalk Day is only a single day on the calendar, I view it as a chance to spark a conversation that should continue every single day of the year. People don’t just fight mental illness on one day, they fight it every day of their lives. I fight it every day of my life. When I’m in the crease, doing my job of stopping pucks, surrounded by my teammates, I feel like the battle is manageable. I finally feel like I’m more than mental illness—I’m a warrior, on and off the ice.
Hockey has given me a purpose: it’s my greatest passion, my career, my safety net, and the foundation on which I’ve met some of the greatest people in my life. Hockey isn’t just a game, it’s a saving grace for people fighting their demons. The hockey community has come together on multiple occasions to both mourn and celebrate the fighters who have lost their battle and the ones who are still fighting. It gives a platform to people, like me, so they can share their stories and spark a conversation that might save lives.
It’s easy to look in from the outside and assume that people can't be suffering because they “have it all”. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. We’ve lost multiple members of the hockey family (in all facets) to mental illness, and each time it spreads the realization that no matter who you are or what you have, mental illness still has the power to win. We need to take this power away from it; we need to talk, we need to listen, we need to get help, and we need to stop being naive and judgemental.
I have a pretty great life. I have a rewarding career that I’ve built for myself and I never feel like I’m “working”, I have an amazing group of family and friends that support me and love me, I have teammates who I consider to be family, I just moved into a beautiful new home with the man I love, and I’m perfectly content with my life. So, why did I spend yesterday crying until I couldn’t breathe, self-harming, and staring at the beautiful blue sky from my bed only seeing darkness because there was a sadness so deep inside of me that I couldn’t function normally? Because despite my amazing life, I still suffer from mental illness.
There isn’t anything in this world that I could achieve or come into possession of that would take away my mental illness. Instead, I’m forced to face it, to talk about it, to tell myself that it’s okay that I'm not always okay, and to work my way through it, so I can enjoy the days that it doesn’t overwhelm me. I don't punish myself for feeling sadness when I have everything I could ever want, because that doesn't automatically equal being mentally healthy.
If you take one thing from this year’s #BellLetsTalk Day, let it be this: mental illness doesn’t care who you are or what you have. Don’t equate power, money, or pure happiness with being exempt from mental illness. Your mind doesn’t care about those things, so why do we when we make judgements about who should and shouldn’t suffer from mental illness? If you’re lucky enough to be a part of the hockey community, use it if you’re suffering, and use it if you want to be an ally for someone who is suffering. Our words, our actions, and our presence have more power than most of us will ever know. Don’t forget that.
Photo credits: Katt Adachi and Tegan Thompson