Let me start this article by saying there will be no discussion of prospects or teams winning and losing. This is a wholly personal article. It’s one I hope connects with some fans out there; one I am sure others will deride. That’s all right. I’m not writing this article for them. I’m writing it for me, and I’m hoping there’s someone else out there who feels better for having read this piece.
Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Shona. I’m a competent, professional woman who loves hockey. I also suffer from depression, anxiety, unresolved trauma, and the urge to self-injure. I can be a passionate hockey fan, aspiring sports journalist, and sufferer of mental illness all at the same time. Trust me, somehow I manage.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my illness and seek help. I was afraid of who I was becoming, but I was more afraid I was defined by my illness. It remains a struggle not to be defined as someone who is mentally ill. I find the label of "hockey fan" far easier to bear then many of the derogatory labels associated with mental illness. It’s nice to trade labels and wear a more socially accepted one for a bit.
In fact, one of the reasons I am such a passionate hockey fan is that it takes me out of my own head. It allows a temporary escape from the weight of my illness. For that one evening or afternoon, I'm just the same as everyone else in the arena. I want my team to play well and win.
When I'm at a game or writing about a player, I'm not the same person I am when I’m huddled under the blankets at home trying to convince myself pain won’t actually make this all go away. I'm something more, someone stronger, and there’s a safety in being part of a larger group of people. There is a sense of there being more to the world than just this illness. Sometimes, when things look their very worst, it’s hard to remember there’s a world outside my head. Hockey reminds me of that. For the duration of the game, I have a different focus. For the duration of the game, I'm not so concerned with how the world views me. I am concerned with how my team plays.
More than that, it provides a brief sense of connection. Whether my team wins or loses (lately it’s been lose more than win), I still have that feeling of being part of something greater than myself. We’re a collective of fans, and I’m stronger for having been a part of it. I may often feel completely abnormal, but when I’m in an arena or researching a player, I’m reminded there are people out there who think like I do (about hockey at least), and I’m not as alone. It’s a respite to feel normal.
Another awesome aspect of being involved in hockey is that it surrounds me with people but doesn’t force me to interact with them. I find being around people to be comforting when I am at my worst, but often times I don’t have the mental resources to make conversation or small talk.
I can just image it.
"How are you today, Shona?"
"Well, I’m feeling a lot like slicing up my own arms because I feel like there’s an energy buzzing under them I can’t get rid of, and it’s driving me to distraction. It’s the effect of anxiety. Did you have a good day at work?"
Yeah, that sort of conversation would probably scare a good number of people. Hockey, though, provides a social outlet for me without requiring a more advanced level of social interaction. People come to hockey to watch hockey, allowing me to be with people and still be on my own. It’s a very comforting feeling. I can see I am not alone, but I'm able to interact on whichever level I feel capable of. Some games I feel fine, and others I feel like talking to no one. Both options are okay.
Finally, hockey reminds me that no matter how bad I feel two things are true. One, my record isn’t as bad as the Oilers. I haven’t been in a decade-long slump. Second, there's always the next game. A bad spell might be a losing game, but much like my hockey team, I have other games to play. I will have better days, and whatever dark cloud I am under will move on.
It’s like being an Oilers fan. You keep saying "this too will end, and happy days will return."
Hockey is my escape. It’s been a gift to me and at times a lifeline. It has been a constant in my life for several years. Personally, I feel like I'm better for having something so simple teach me so much about accepting what I can’t change, enduring what I must, and always coming back for the next game. There are many people without a safe escape from the pain and weight of mental illness. I feel lucky to have found mine.
Please forgive the multiple Oilers references. This article was originally intended to be posted in my home area, which is Edmonton. However, for personal reasons, that became impossible.