Even after the 2 years of mental health struggles, I’m still striving for my dream no matter how far out of reach it may seem.

I first experienced Mental Illness in November of 2017. My coach at the time Mike Johnston pulled me aside before hockey practice and asked me

“Is everything okay?”

During this meeting I was confused as to why he was asking me this. Out of nowhere I just replied

“I don’t know what’s wrong”

That was my first reaction to what he had asked me. At the time I really didn’t know that my coach had noticed something different about me that I hadn’t even yet noticed. I was depressed, I felt lost and confused. I wasn’t enjoying hockey like I used to. I had been struggling which eventually got into my head. For the first time I asked myself if I really wanted to play hockey anymore. It was my first year of NHL draft eligibility. I remember how bad I wanted to be drafted and how hard I worked for it but, depression and frustration put me in a dark place. I couldn’t focus or play to my full capability.

In January of 2018 I was then dealt to the Prince George Cougars at the trade deadline. I was in complete shock and was not expecting to be moved. That day was tough, because Portland was home to me and how close I was with my teammates. I was looking forward to playing for PG. I looked at it as a fresh start and a chance to reset my mind but the sudden change did not mix in well. I found myself frustrated for being traded. I looked at being traded as a negative, which at the time I had no control over what I was thinking. At this point I was second guessing everything and expected the worst out of every situation. I was close with one player on Prince George and his name was Liam Ryan. We grew up playing hockey together and were very close. Although he didn’t know what I was going through, he helped me get through a lot of difficult days after I had been traded. The following season I was not drafted over the summer. I was in Portland visiting a friend and followed the draft through its entirety. I wasn’t frustrated after getting passed up but I was more motivated.

I was depressed, I felt lost and confused.

In October of 2018 I suffered from a concussion. I was torn as I would miss the next month and a half. Before the injury I felt great, I was my normal self and was enjoying life. However after the recovery I found myself creating the same negative energy. I have had 2 serious concussions previously and was experiencing severe trauma. During my recovery my depression was reaching a point to where I felt attacked. I was lonely, as all I could do was lay in bed for the next 2 weeks. I questioned my existence and I wanted to kill myself. I felt my presence was not needed and that I would only hurt people with the negative energy I was creating. I had no control of anything. What came out is what I was truly thinking at the time. I remember crying in my bed, night after night. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared of my own mind and was worried for myself. It was like there was another person in the room trying to harm me. I didn’t know how to deal with it, it was horrifying.

I was scared of my own mind and was worried for myself.

After I recovered I would play my first game back against Victoria. I had a goal and 2 assists as we won 5-1. After the game I couldn’t help myself to get excited or happy. Again I felt like I had no control over my emotions. I was acting like we had just lost or something. A month later I was injured on New Year’s Eve, I knew it right away. I ran back to the dressing room and broke my stick against the wall with a separated shoulder. I was clearly frustrated, part of the frustration was that I knew I would face that dangerous mindset again. At this point I wanted to help myself. I still wasn’t comfortable with sharing how I was feeling in my mind. During the recovery I started writing journals and poems. It was a way to express how I was feeling, while still keeping my feelings to myself. That made the week go by fast, I had also made a fast recovery as I was back in 2 weeks.

When I returned from this injury it was hard just to enjoy hockey. Everytime I went on the ice it was a fight with myself just to compete. My depression felt paralyzing, like I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t giving my full effort on the ice, which wasn’t fair to my team. That’s when I decided I needed to put my Mental Health before hockey. I made a decision to leave my team and not finish my 3rd season, I didn’t want my mind to take me to the wrong path. It was something I had to do. I knew I was throwing away my chance to be drafted but some things are bigger than hockey.

My friend Abby Zawada had posted her mental health story on social media. At 3:30am on the bus floor I found myself in tears because of how much I related to her story. As soon as I finished reading her article I knew I needed to get help. I was struggling and fighting like this for 2 years and never said a word to anyone. All along I was motivated by the wrong thing. I was trying to prove a point to myself, that I was stronger than my mind and could fight back.

During the recovery I started writing journals and poems. It was a way to express how I was feeling, while still keeping my feelings to myself.

I share my story to prevent others from making my mistake. Which was holding it in for so long, I acknowledge those who are staying quiet because I know how hard it is. If you are reading this and struggling with mental health please speak up as soon as possible.

It wasn’t easy sharing my experiences and feelings but it was the start of bettering myself. I hope you can find the will to share also. I hope my story shows people that Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a real thing we have in our world today. It’s okay to show emotion and be real.

To Blair Courchene, thank you for giving me a chance to share. I hope together we can help those who are suffering.

Ilijah Colina

Click here to read more stories about #MentalHealth on #BAC4Hope

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