I woke up in a daze. There wasn’t a clock in the room. Just a security camera at the center of the ceiling, a dresser with a few shelves filled with nurse pants and shirts. My “roommate” was snoring away in the bed next to me, as I thought to myself “I came here to get some rest”.
Ironically, my first night at the hospital was restless, to say the least. But, what could I expect considering where I was staying.
I opened the loud steel door out of my room and walked into a long bright hallway. Still trying to find a clock, I walked down the hallway towards the nurses center. Finally. It was 4:30 am. I had not slept a single minute and was feeling worse than when I had admitted myself into the Oakville Trafalger Adult Pscyhiatric Ward.
At the hospital, I was medicated and counselled. Although I would like to thank the amazing doctors and nurses who aided me in my stay, the patients I met and talked to were the reason I was able to leave so quickly. I was discharged from the hospital exactly a week after I was admitted. Even though I was there on a voluntary basis, I thought additional time would be beneficial for my recovery.
You may be wondering, “What the hell happened!?” Well I’ll get to that, but first, more importantly, in sharing my story, I hope I can inspire others to do the same.
I admitted myself into the hospital because of suicidal thoughts. The stigma that having suicidal thoughts is not normal has to be dismissed, as many people suffer from depression and experience these thoughts daily. We need to talk about it. We need to understand it is ok to talk about it.
Heres my story:
September 1, 2014.
I had gotten used to the goodbyes. Living away from home at 16 prepared me early for the day I moved away to university. I had been drafted to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League in the second round, where I would have to move in with a billet family in the small American city of Erie Pennsylvania.
The following season, I had been preparing myself for a trade since October as I was told it was in the works and would finally be “dealt” to the prestigious Peterborough Petes on January 10th, an hour before the deadline.
I picked up my life and moved. It was a normal experience for any junior hockey player.
In Peterborough, we travelled to Ottawa quite a few times and I had always loved the city. I had a few friends who played on the Carleton University hockey team and it seemed like the perfect place for me to play and attend school.
(Oh right, I forgot to mention, my brother goes to school in Ottawa as well. Ever since I had moved away to play in the OHL, Jeff and I have always been in different cities.)
As I said, Carleton was the perfect fit, and that hasn’t changed either. I was practicing, and training, attending class and meeting new people. Our second exhibition game was against UPEI, and would be the first game we played at home that season. Although what I didn’t know is that it would be my last.
I can remember the hit like it was yesterday. Not because it was a huge hit, but because it would change my life path significantly.
The forearm of a player on UPEI struck me across the right side of my face. I got up and skated off the ice. Jill, my wonderful trainer came over and asked if I was ok.
(Before I continue, I must point out, Jill has been my rock throughout this whole experience and she deserves an award of some sort for being so unconditionally amazing.)
Of course I was ok, when have I ever let a hit keep me out of the game? I had been hit much harder by players in the past, but I guess the way his forearm hit my temple did more harm than I had anticipated.
I kept playing, as I had always done. As the period ended, I skated off the ice abruptly and was nauseous in the dressing room. Jill assessed me and I was clearly concussed.
It was my second exhibition game, after an intense summer of training at DNA fitness in Burlington and I was already sidelined. The excitement of a new season, a new city, a new opportunity to play hockey, quickly diminished.
I initially thought I’d be skating in a week. I had suffered concussions in the past, but this was something else. Light was blinding, walking was nauseating, and sleeping was impossible.
A few weeks went by, consisting of laying in a dark bedroom and staring at the wall. I couldn’t watch television because my eyes couldn’t focus, music wasn’t an option because I had persistent headaches. These days were very lonely, as I isolated myself from everyone. All of the people around me were very supportive, but I wanted to be alone; I knew something wasn’t right.
A few weeks went by and I started to feel a bit better, but I still couldn’t attend class as I couldn’t look at the bright screen the professor would display his slide notes on. I couldn’t read because it gave me a headache and writing wasn’t possible because I couldn’t focus my eyes long enough to write a word. By the time I had a word written, I would forget my idea completely. This became very frustrating and discouraging. However, I was making progress physically as I went through the return to play concussion process which consists of interval stationary bike riding.
Finally, after a month, I was back on the ice skating. Even though I was near 90 percent recovered, the last 10 percent is extremely tough to get back, as many functions of the body are affected by concussions.
On December 11 of the same year, I got tangled up with a teammate in practice and hit my head on the glass. Again, this wasn’t some huge dramatic body check, I merely banged my head on the glass. I could see stars twinkling in front of me and as I skated off the ice, my heart sank as I knew what had happened.
I proceeded to be nauseous, Jill came in the room as she had urgently heard what had happened. I collapsed into her arms as I began to sob and I couldn’t explain what had just happened, partly because I didn’t remember at the time but mainly because this feeling of anxiousness overwhelmed me. I began to worry about anything and everything, I thought my life was over.
I had my first of many panic attacks that day. I had worked so incredibly hard to get back to where I was in December, and I didn’t have the willpower to do it again. Again, I spent days and nights in my house. I began to feel depressed, and more than anything I felt disappointed in myself.
Weeks went by, and the constant head aches faded. Physically, I was starting to feel more like myself, however, internally, I was a nightmare.
I have been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder by numerous psychiatrists and they believe I have been dealing with this mental illness all of my life. For some reason, after I sustained my second concussion, my anxiety would be my worst enemy, as it prevented me from leaving my house, and doing anything else for that matter. Being alone all the time, and reminiscing constantly about the year I was missing out on gradually took a hold of my mind. These negative thoughts consumed every moment of my day and I was utterly depressed. I dealt with the depression by crying in my bed while I listened to sad music. I’d make myself cry constantly because I had convinced myself it was my fault all of this was happening. I felt like a failure, as I let down my coaches, my teammates, my family and myself. These thoughts started to formulate rhythmically in my head, repeating the same thought over and over until I literally had to tell myself to shut up. Then another thought would take hold and yeah, you get the picture.
To this day, I still deal with this issue. One doctor labeled it as PTSD, and the first thing I thought of was the army. The only people I have ever heard of getting PTSD were army veterans, because of the emotional and sometimes physical trauma they suffer.
Well, as the doctor explained to me, it was almost like people were trying to hurt me. Hockey is a beautiful game, but it is also violent and takes a toll on you mentally and physically. I have great respect for all the hockey players out there who battle this mental battle, who are told to be tough and do their job. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
Anyways, the PTSD, GAD and depression were being dealt with by talking to psychologists, but the sadness, the emptiness, the lack of appetite or motivation overwhelmed me and I would discontinue seeking help as nothing seemed to actually be helping.
My Doctor, Dr. Taylor at Carleton University, whom alongside Jill has been my backbone throughout this experience, discussed medication with me. This topic was very touchy as I had always been against any kind of medication. My biggest worry wasn’t what other people would think, it was the idea that I may feel this way forever.
Weeks went by, and the search for the right medication was looking poor. You see, different medications work differently for everyone. Finding the correct dosage of medication for a specific individual is done by a series of trial and error procedures. The problem is, these medications take weeks to fully kick in, so observation takes weeks, and weeks I did not have.
The depression was at a breaking point; I can remember waking up one morning, and I thought to myself, “Why am I here anymore? What’s the point?” These thoughts continued to get darker as I isolated myself from the world. I wouldn’t talk to anyone about how I felt because at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. There were two options; I can either kill myself, or get some serious help.
I close my eyes, and I see my mom and dad, my brother and sister, the endless memories I have of them fill my heart at the darkest times. Need I say more why I admitted myself into the hospital?
At that time, I got the medical help I needed for them, because I know how much it would hurt them if I was gone. They are my everything, and to still be the same unconditionally loving parents and siblings they have always been after the year I went through, means more than they’ll ever know. I love you guys.
At that time, I did it for them, but as my stay in the hospital lengthened, I realized I also did it for myself. I owe it to myself to find happiness, to find health, to find myself again. Head injuries can completely change how you feel, and who you are, as mine did to me.
At the hospital, I learned different coping strategies for my anxiety. I was medicated for anxiety and depression and I talked about my history with professionals who could analyse and interpret what I had been going through the past 8 years of my life. I was victim to emotional abuse, physical assault, once leading to a concussion in June of 2014, which would be my first of three concussions in 6 months, as well as many other psychological traumas from past relationships with specific people. All of these underlying problems were just brought to light more immensely because of the amount of physical head trauma I have sustained throughout my hockey career.
I got out of the hospital feeling like a new person, with a new purpose. At this time, I didn’t know if I’d ever play hockey again, but after meeting all the other patients in the hospital who had the same mental illnesses as me, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to speak up for all the voices that go unheard because they are worried about what people would say. Why not talk about it? Why not share my experience, and hope just maybe one person will read this and think, if he can get through this, so can I. The first step is always reaching out, saying “hey, I’m thinking about killing myself” and it is an awkward thing to say, but it shouldn’t be. It needs to be said.
I started up my life again back in Ottawa. I was working out with no problems. This was a major step in my recovery as for anyone who knows me personally, knows I love to be in the gym.
I began to go to the gym twice a day. Maybe this was a little excessive, but I was just so excited to be able to do something, anything, again. For weeks, I trained and as the summer months came and went – which consisted of working, cottage visits with my family, and a solid training routine – I am now back at Carleton University.
Although my concussion symptoms no longer persist, I have decided to take the first semester off of hockey, as I will continue to train and attend class. My objective is to be ready to play in January of 2016. The love I have for the game still burns deep inside of me, and I am extra excited to get back to such a talented group of guys.
There is still lots of progress to be made in dealing with my anxiety, but I’ve come to realize that life is easier when you take it day by day. My dad always reminds me, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” so I hope I can continue to have that approach to life. I hope you will follow me on my path back to the ice. Until next time….
Please take a look at the link below. Did you know, approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives? Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds and that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age? Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. Mental illnesses can be treated effectively. Let’s talk about it…
Special Thanks to: Mom, Dad, Jeff, Jaclyn, Jill Stockton, Dr. Taryn Taylor and the ladies at the clinic, my Coaches, Marty, Medzy and Vanner, my trainers Nick and Alexis, all the boys on the team, and Andrew Latty for giving me the opportunity to share my story and progress. There are many other people who have helped me along the way, and I thank you all as well.
If you or someone you know has a similar story and is in need of help, click here for services in the area.