Thank you to BAC Hockey for giving me an opportunity to share my story.
My name is Tyler Oswald, I’m 25 years old living in Calgary, currently in my last year of university, pursuing a career in hockey. I was an assistant coach with the Calgary Northstars Midget AAA team this year, and a scout for the Swift Current Broncos. This is my story about identity and depression. I can’t exactly pinpoint when my struggles with depression started, but it all came to a head earlier this year. I hope it will help anyone who reads this that is experiencing similar problems.
First, a brief background on myself as a hockey player to provide context. I experienced a decent amount of success as a younger player trying to break into the junior hockey world. I was drafted by the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League, signed by the time I was 16, and I was fortunate enough to play for Team West at the World U17 Hockey Challenge. As I experienced some success, I began to struggle with expectations, and the pressure I put on myself. For a variety of reasons, I did not end up being a good goalie at the next level. I was out of junior hockey before I turned 20. That’s all I will speak to on that subject, that’s not what this story is about.
I began to struggle with expectations, and the pressure I put on myself.
After my junior hockey career ended, I struggled with my personal identity. For as long as I could remember, all I cared about was hockey. I didn’t focus on school like I should have, or really think about any other serious interests. Then all of a sudden, I was no longer a hockey player. I was the guy who failed expectations and didn’t live up to my potential. It was how I identified myself for so long. And, whether it was or not, I thought it was how everyone else saw me. As I said, I am not sure when I exactly started struggling with depression, but I believe that this was one of the likely triggers. For any former hockey player struggling with their own identity, after devoting so much of their time and energy to the game, please reach out and talk to someone about it. It can be a very tough thing.
I was no longer a hockey player….
After a few years of floating through school as a part time student, and floating through work as a part time employee, I decided it was best for me to make a change. I had the maturity, and work ethic of a teenager and I was going nowhere fast; I moved to Calgary.
This brings me to the second part of my story. Fast forward to this year in November, roughly 6 years after I played my last junior hockey game, and 3 years after moving to Calgary. I had started to find my way, and I had a lot to be excited about – but it didn’t feel that way. I probably took too much on my plate this year. That, coupled with the stress of what I was going to do post-graduation was really starting to weigh on me. I now am able to admit that I was dealing with depression, and had been for some time.
It wasn’t that I was ashamed to admit that I had a problem. I think for me, I always heard of people struggling so much with depression that I didn’t feel like my problems with it were big enough to bring up. I didn’t want to be a burden, or draw attention to myself when there were people with far greater struggles. I always shrugged it off with being tired, or simple stress that everyone was going through. You always hear stories from people who do share what depression feels like and comparisons/analogies. It’s all true from what I experienced. For me, the best way I can describe it was like an anchor weighing me down both physically and mentally. I had no energy to actually do anything. Even worse was that I was in my own head constantly to the point that I often couldn’t even engage in a conversation with anyone.
Things continued to pile up on my mental health to the point of my darkest day. It was as I described above, just to an extreme level. I went about my day as normal, trying to grind through it, but it was a real struggle. I got home from practice that evening, and as I tried to bring myself to make dinner I got a simple text that I’ll never forget.
“You alright buddy?”
Our head coach, Blair Courchene must have noticed things were off with me at practice. I’m sure he does not even remember this day or this text but it had a massive impact on my life. Of course, true to form, I shrugged it off immediately replying that I was “fine, just tired”. Shortly thereafter though, I typed out a long text to Blair explaining that I was actually not fine and I hadn’t been fine for a long time. I battled with myself for a while that evening on whether to send it or not. I didn’t. It was the first time though, that I actually acknowledged to myself that I had a serious issue. It was an extremely emotional moment for me to say the least.
Almost immediately it felt like there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Just admitting it to myself helped so much. Since that day, I am much better. There are still days where I can feel it, but not even close to the extent that I did that day. I have been able to share my issues with a couple people very close to me and that has helped a lot as well. I am starting to feel bits of my personality come back that depression took from me.
Almost immediately it felt like there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders
I feel as though my story is a fairly common one for people trying to make their way in hockey, either as a player or otherwise, it is a stressful business. Whatever industry really, young people these days have a lot to worry about and finding your way in the world can take a toll mentally. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject at all, but there are a couple things I learned through my personal struggles. First, never underestimate your ability to impact someone’s life with a simple act of kindness such as a text or a phone call.
Secondly, it is okay to admit that you are struggling. You will not be a burden on anyone. Even if just admitting it to yourself is the first step, it will help.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Blair Courchene again for giving me this platform, and for sending that text. As he reads this story, it will be the first time he hears of the impact he had on me or the struggles I was going through. I always meant to thank him but I never could find the right time, or the right words. So I want to take this opportunity to say thanks, it changed my life.