Ending the stigma around talking about our mental health is one of the greatest issues we face today. So many of us feel scared to speak about our issues for fear of judgement and what others might think. For the sake of our health and well-being, that is something that really needs to change.
And that is why tomorrow is such an important day.
Tomorrow is #BellLetsTalk day.
For every social media post that contains the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell (and others) will donate money to various mental health initiatives. Over the years, they have raised millions of dollars through this creative strategy benefitting a number of mental health programs.
But in my opinion, the more important aspect of this experience focuses around RAISING AWARENESS about mental health and attempting to end the stigma around talking about it. To me, that is what reaches more people and is the greatest value of the #BellLetsTalk campaign.
And that is why I will spend all day tomorrow tweeting and retweeting every post I possibly can.
But if we truly want to end the stigma around talking about our mental health, hashtags can only take us so far. At the end of the day, it’s going to take more people with a voice coming forward about their struggles and how they sought out help to embrace them.
Only then will more people take comfort in pursuing support for the difficulties they face in their lives. Which is why today, there is something that I’d like to share with anybody struggling:
This fall…I made the choice to seek professional help.
I am not embarrassed or ashamed about it. And at the end of the day, I am so happy I did it.
Here’s the background:
Almost two years ago now, I left my dream job coaching at Cornell to be able to spend more time with my family. It was an agonizing decision to say the least, but being around family was something that was important to me. Emotionally, I couldn’t spend 200 days a year on the road recruiting while being the dad and husband I aspired to be.
I have to admit that when I made the decision, it felt like there was this big weight lifted off my shoulders. It was freeing to know that I could better be there for the people I loved.
But as time passed on, I started to lose my sense of purpose.
Being an athlete or coach was all I’d ever known. The routine I developed (and was a slave to) was gone and I struggled to find a way to be productive throughout the day. I often sat around trying to figure out my next step, but the harder I tried to find it…the more I would find myself back at square one.
On and on it went…and eventually the anxiety and self-doubt crept in.
The tightening of the chest. The little-sleep nights and lethargic mornings. The whirlwind of thoughts around how I was letting people down and not living up to the person I was born to be.
It was exhausting. It’s almost like having no stress was stressing me out!
I thought about going to see a therapist for weeks, but couldn’t quite make the move. I thought I could figure it out on my own. My hockey-machismo had willed me through issues I’d had before…I could do it again, right?
And what would people think if they found out I was seeing a therapist? That was a scary feeling in itself.
But eventually, I realized I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed an ear to vent to and a resource to learn from. And when I came to that understanding, I finally made the plunge. And like I said before…I am so grateful that I did.
The woman I spoke with helped me in so many ways. She helped me recognize the value of being grateful instead of worrying about the expectations of others. She helped me focus on the present instead of beating myself up about the past and worrying about the future. And she helped me fully appreciate that I had a lot of great things going for me that I couldn’t see through the fog.
I only went to see her five times and…Man, do I feel refreshed. I have some cool things in the works in the hockey world, my relationships are more meaningful, and I finally feel like I’ve found my purpose and voice again.
Just talking with someone that I knew wasn’t going to judge me for my thoughts and feelings ended up being a powerful, powerful experience. And here’s the thing:
As a hockey player, I was never afraid to ask for help physically. When I needed help with certain skills, I asked my coach. When I needed help with getting stronger, I asked our strength coach. When I needed help recovering from injury, I asked our trainer.
But as athletes, when we need help mentally and emotionally…we don’t reach out because it makes us seem weak. And weak is not a word we want to be associated with. But let me tell you this:
Asking for help does NOT mean you are weak. Asking for help proves that you are STRONG. It takes a lot of inner strength to be vulnerable and put yourself out there…and any time you ask for help is a time you are building your inner fortitude.
So if you are hurting….if you feel lost…if you are anxious and can’t seem to find a way out of it – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I am so thankful of the decision I made…and grateful for the experience that helped me get out of a funk and back into myself again. I truly hope that you can too.
Last week, we lost another great guy from our hockey community to suicide. Andrew Carroll was an incredible person and his passing has left the hockey world shaken. For many of us that interacted with him, it’s hard to process because of the person he was and the impact he had on others.
He was the ultimate competitor. An ideal teammate. An incredible role model and a player beloved by the communities he served. I just read that he was a given a captaincy during his freshman year at UMD…a feat I have never heard of and probably never will again. He will be sorely missed by the many people he touched.
My hope in writing this blog is to give a human touch to this ever-so-important issue and showing that asking for help is not as big of a leap as many may think. No matter how severe your issues, sitting and speaking with someone that is not going to judge you allows you to open up and discover things about yourself and your relationships that can lead to major personal growth.
There are so many people who struggle with mental issues, especially athletes in transition, that don’t seek help because of the stigma associated with it. In sharing my story, I can only hope that those people feel a little bit more empowered to make that initial leap into the light.