Lone hotel room in middle of Waco, Texas. Traveling from Dallas to Austin between games as a hockey scout. 2pm in the afternoon, bright sunny day, but it was the darkest day and hotel room I can ever remember.
“He is so mental!” “He is crazy!”
When I was growing up, being “mental” was a derogatory term.
Why would I ever say I had mental issues?
I would never have admitted or even understood that I suffered from a mental illness. It took me 40 years to start to comprehend how my brain works. Forty years is a long time to be lost, confused or without help.
Do I have a mental condition? Yes.
Do I know which one? No.
It takes time to diagnose and find the right treatment plan for the many different types of mental health issues out there.
Learning about myself
I recently went through the worst year of my life. At age 40, I felt like I had no control over what I did or what I was thinking. I lost everything that I spent my life trying to build.
I was lost in a cloud of darkness and I couldn’t find my way out.
Just after high school, I started my run of not being able to sleep. Mind racing, never able to relax or be all right with things around me. This continued and continued.
I became obsessed with sleep, and my day would be affected by my desire to sleep. I would be antisocial, passed up great life events, just in the hope I would sleep that night, but I rarely did. Consistent, regular sleep was out of reach, but I craved the time where I would so my mind would just stop.
The great life that I created started to crumble little by little. I was unable to hold it together. Underlying issues took control. I avoided the truth, always thinking I would fix things later, or it was just a moment in my life.
24 years of lack of sleep, anxiety, obsessive behaviors and etc takes a toll. My mind and body wasn’t able to keep up. I set myself up for a major crash. And it happened.
I lost everything I worked so hard to achieve. Darkness set in. I was unable to gain control.
I always wanted to have a wife and two kids with a big house on a cul-de-sac with nice cars in front. I wanted a career in hockey. I worked my ass off to become the youngest coach in the NHL at 26.
Nothing was going to stop me. I had it all.
A girl, a boy, a great wife who supported me. Had just finished my 17th year in hockey. In my spare time, I was able to grow a successful real estate company. Hell, I even liked my in-laws.
Anxiety started to creep into my life more and more around the age of 30.
Or maybe it was fear.
I was never able to put a finger on what caused me to be anxious. One small thing snowballed into a big thing. A weird breath and pain made me think I was having a heart attack. A sore throat and swollen gland made me convinced I had cancer.
I never sought help. I know now I was setting myself up for depression down the road. Unable to be the person I wanted to be. I was never able to be comfortable in my own skin, or in this case, my own head.
Our brains create things and control so much. I was unable to understand how strong it is. Unable to determine what was real and what wasn’t.
What causes mental illness?
It has nothing to do with mental strength, I can tell you that! I now believe the ones that struggle most are often the strongest mentally.
Every day can be struggle that takes strength, courage, and stamina to overcome.
There is no single cause for mental illness, and a number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as:
- Your genes and family history
- Your life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, especially if they happen in childhood
- Biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain
- A traumatic brain injury
- A mother’s exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals while pregnant
- Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
- Having a serious medical condition like cancer
- Having few friends, and feeling lonely or isolated.
Coping with my struggles
How did my disorder find me?
Was it too many hits to the head in hockey?
I can blame my brother for accidentally on purpose dropping a log on my head when I was eight.
Twelve years ago, a doctor found a lesion on my brain.
It is still there: fortunately, it was noncancerous.
However, it does show signs that my brain has had some trauma in the past.
I don’t know if this is the cause: it means to me, and should mean to others, that mental health struggles can be a result of outside factors.
I could have been just wired at a young age, and the wiring created who I became as an adult.
I lost control of everything. I loved my family, I loved my job, I ran 750 miles a year. I worked hard all week just to enjoy NFL Red Zone for three hours on Sundays. I lost all of that.
Recently, Michael Landsberg mentioned that depression can block motivation and ambition. This speaks so loudly to me. #sicknotweak
I was unable to focus. Day after day was filled with darkness. Unable to be present in my life, unable to love my family to its fullest, unable to run a mile. I didn’t watch one snap of football the entire season. I was unable to live my life. My wife suffered, my kids suffered, my job suffered. I suffered.
How was I supposed to say I needed help?
How was I supposed to tell my boss?
In a tough sport like hockey, I was afraid to lose my job: why would they pay someone who was struggling mentally?
Why would someone hire me again?
I was ashamed. Embarrassed of who I was. That made things worse. The hole got deeper, the darkness got darker.
My turning point
At the end of my 16th year in the NHL and my 5th with my current team, things started to get worse for me.
Many, many of those years contained personal sacrifices for work and for the sake of the team.
But now, I needed help and I was unable to say it or ask for it.
I am sure my performance dropped: how could it not?
I was lost, the 22 years of hiding and living behind a wall had caught up to me. The wall was cracking and was about to fall down.
The help I needed didn’t come from my employer. They cared about performance and not the performer. I heard, “Let us know if we need someone to cover your area.” I was on my own and made to feel as though I needed to perform at the top of my game or I’d lose my job.
Not one of my superiors asked “How are you, Scott?”
This made me think I was failing, that I should suck it up, be a man, go to work, pay the bills. Eat, sleep, repeat.
A few fellow scouts, people I can truly call friends, noticed and asked. I will always remember those moments. The support made me feel important. It was small, but it made a difference.
I now know and understand the meaning and importance of asking… “how are you?”
Reaching out for help
That Friday afternoon in Texas turned into night and I called for help. I reached out to a therapist I recently started to see in Denver.
We talked for a little while. I don’t remember how long. I reached out, and it helped.
The journey is long and the cure is not a magic pill or a winning lottery ticket. It takes strength to ask and seek help.
I have learned so much from my hockey friends Clint Malarchuk, Eric Kussion, Corey Hirsch, and the Do It For Daron Foundation in Ottawa. People and organizations that have made a difference.
I look up to these great hockey people and families – not for their great accomplishments on the ice, but in the difference they have made in the lives of other people.
Last year I ran a 10K (6.2 miles) every day until we raised $10,000 for mental health awareness. 10K to 10k!
I choose running because I am not a good runner.
It is physically hard for me, just like mental health is hard for so many people. At times, every mile is a struggle.
My running stride resembles an elephant more than a gazelle.
During the campaign, numerous friends and strangers alike reached out and there was a common theme in their message… “Same Here”. I was scared to share such a personal story, one that I was believed to be not common, a story that was full of pain.
Turns out my story is quite common and I am excited and honored to team up with #SameHere.
I want to raise money for mental health awareness and hopefully help others understand that mental health is important. it’s ok to be not ok.
It’s ok to talk about it. It’s ok to seek professional help.
I have a mental illness but I am mentally strong as f***.
Just like 50 million other North Americans.
Mental health advocate
1 Million Steps in May for #SameHere. Ran 78 straight 10K’s for Mental Health Awareness. Owner of Masters Real Estate Group. Professional Hockey Advisor. Father.
Learn more about Scott’s 1 Million Steps for #samehere mental health month at http://mastersreg.com/millionsteps/