When challenged with the always untimely task of having to face our own demons, how we draw the strength to fight will determine how we choose to live. Some people turn towards faith and religion, others are able to find the courage simply by looking inside themselves. For me the inspiration came from an unexpected place, Women’s Hockey.
Understandably it may be difficult to draw a parallel between Mental Illness and Women’s Sports, but I can assure you that it was much more than one of my regular delusions of grandeur. Mental Illness is a very heavily used term to cover a broad spectrum of diagnosis and symptoms, for me it has been a lifetime battle with Depression, Anxiety and eccentric behaviour. All of it building, and climaxing with a public mental and physical collapse.
As a husband and new father the fallout from such a visible interruption only added to the already deepening sadness. So much time lost in adjusting to new medications and to simply staring at walls, it became very difficult to even leave my own house. An illness that had been working its way into my everyday behaviour had now rendered me emotionally vacant and physically unresponsive. Recovery time was becoming longer, and therapy seems to have little to no effect, if I had ever truly been lonely this was the worst I had ever felt.
Returning to work should have been an achievement; however upon announcing my return (on the very same day) I was met with a demotion followed ultimately by dismissal. This was certainly unexpected and had a significant emotional impact. But fortunately it was around this same time that my young daughter began to show a very passionate interest in sports, and began playing hockey. It wasn’t just hockey she wanted to play; she wanted to play at a higher level. Deep pride was the first emotion I had truly felt in years.
It was her drive and determination that had her trying out for the local travel team as a 5 year old, she didn’t make that team but she left an impression. Her hard work and passion was apparent as she worked herself until she threw up between drills just trying to keep up with bigger faster girls. Then she went back on the ice.
The chance to play hockey seemed to motivate her, drive her, and give her some sort of purpose. She played hard and often, making the travel team the very next season. It was here that I met so many more girls like her and from all over our Province. Women’s Hockey was quickly evolving and it was catching on, the speed and thrill was incredible. These girls, and at a young age, were playing this game not because parents suggested it but rather because these girls needed to play.
This sport is one engrained in the Canadian Culture but usually conjures up images of toothless and bloodied men hitting hard and punching harder, and I believe that this has helped keep the true beauty of the game hidden for so very long. Just under the surface of the men’s sometimes barbaric display is a sport of skill, speed and calculated maneuvers that can only be performed when all team participants work towards the same end.
Female Hockey players certainly live their own lifestyles, and they speak their own language, yet the company they keep is not exclusive. Female Sports as a whole have always been extremely welcoming to anyone and everyone, and Women’s Hockey is no different. Their locker room culture is incredibly inviting and this has its roots in how the game is grown, they need each other for each and every game. One player is not going to be the difference on a Women’s Team; it is going to take everyone working as one to be successful.
With no tangible monetary return in the future, these women and young girls are being driven by something far deeper than the almighty dollar. Passion. It is in everything they do pretty much every day of the week, for no other reason than the fact that they are drawn to it. And I got hooked; with every goal being score there is a full team celebration, with every stopped shot there is a bench screaming in unison.
Girls and Women all over the globe have come out of the stands and onto the ice, inspired not by money, not by fame, but rather by an undeniable urge to be a part of something bigger. This is truly a piece in my own life that I had always been missing; it is the framework for trying, for succeeding and for living. Win or lose, effort is everything and we never need to do it alone.
Here in front of me, brought on by pride in my daughter, was a shining example of how to see the world through another perspective. It taught me that not only am I not alone, but that the journey is far more exciting than the destination. I never need to feel like I struggled because of something but rather that I am working towards something, and that something is always larger than I alone. Sounds a lot like the basic teachings of all the world’s religions, and here it is in Women’s Hockey.
Most of all I learned what it means to share a journey, with my wife, my daughter and with everyone who wants to wants to join. Never forcing a story, and always prepared to hear one. It is just as much listening and learning as it is speaking and teaching. As a man I grew up with the impression that individual pride was everything, challenging the world single handily. Never once did I realize the power of help, of encouragement and of the purity of teamwork.
The ongoing battle of Mental Illness has cost me friends, family, employment and mainstream society’s respect; but it will not take my dignity or passion. I know who I am and my power is in the written word; all of that I choose to give back to all the Girls and Women whose selfless showcase of drive, passion, beauty, and acceptance have given me the courage and strength to push myself, to share myself and to be myself above all else. So when I am at the rink, it is because I belong there too.
You don’t need to understand Hockey to understand Heart, nor should we judge how another sees the world.