Corey Hirsch: You Are Not Alone

Below is an excerpt of Corey Hirsch’s follow up story on The Players’ Tribune as he writes to all those who suffer from mental illness.

By Corey Hirsch, Retired Professional Hockey Player

Honestly, I was prepared to never work in hockey again. When I went public with my story about struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression last year, I was terrified that people wouldn’t understand. I was worried that no one would want to hire me ever again, and that doors would close on me — and maybe worst of all, that people in the hockey community would look at me like I was damaged goods, that I would never work in hockey again.

I mean, I wrote about trying to kill myself. I wrote about struggling daily with dark thoughts that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. I wrote about feeling weak and confused and sad, which is something that hockey players of my generation — and honestly, anyone of my generation — were told was for “crazy people.” In my day, you simply did not talk about mental health. Ever.

So before I published my story, I honestly was prepared for the worst. But I shared it with my family and with my kids, and they gave me their blessing and support. I was tired of holding everything inside. I wanted people to know the real me and why I was like that when I was younger. After the story went out into the world, well … my fears couldn’t have been further from reality. I was absolutely blown away by how many people reached out to me through text and email and Twitter to say that they’d struggled with similar thoughts and feelings for years — sometimes decades — and either they didn’t know what was wrong with them, or they were afraid to talk to someone about it.

Well, I’m not alone. We’re not alone. Mental health awareness is an enormous, unspoken problem — not just in hockey in Canada and the United States, and not just in sports in general, but also across all other spectrums of society.

Almost one in five … think about that. About twenty percent of the adult population suffers from mental illness, and just because you are a professional athlete or a doctor or a lawyer does not grant you immunity. Anyone at anytime can suffer from a mental health issue and it can strike at any time.

There’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. We’re all just trying to get through the day. So let’s be open. Let’s talk about it.

In the past year I’ve been at golf tournaments and other events, and 40- and 50-year-old men have walked up to me right out of the blue, with tears in their eyes, and said, “Thank you. You gave me a voice. I went through it, too. Sometimes I still go through it.”

They don’t want me to fix them. They don’t want me to cure them. They know I’m not qualified to do that. They just want me to listen.

I spent years trapped in a cycle of shame and disgust and depression — not telling a single soul what was really going on with me — before I finally reached out and was properly diagnosed with true OCD. It was like the weight of the world fell from my shoulders. I wasn’t cured. But I finally knew what was causing all of my relentless thoughts.

Read the rest of the Corey Hirsch’s story on The Players’ Tribune.