The recent tragedies in the NHL have been difficult to watch as relatively young men have lost their battles with unseen and largely unknowable demons. If there is a silver lining it is that it has spawned a lot of personal sharing that has highlighted the reality of depression. Tapeleg is the latest to share his personal experience with depression. Sadly, if there is a unifying thread to the stories it is that to the outside world it is next to impossible to know that someone needs help. A reader, dismayed with the immediate search for a pattern in Belak's death, sent in the following in response to that desire to find a pattern, a way to stop this from happening again.
I knew this girl once who used to cut herself. Nobody knew. She was always the life of the party -- bubbly and outgoing. She always had a smile on her face. I got her talking once and she pulled back her sleeves (nobody noticed she always wore long sleeves) and showed me her scars. She wasn't sad or mopey. She told me that she just needed to feel *something* and that having her blood spill was the only way she felt like she was really interacting with the outside world. She wasn't asking me for help or guidance. She wasn't crying or shaking like in a movie. She was dispassionate and calm. She just thought I'd understand. We can smell our own.
At the time, I was also the life of the party. Outgoing, quick to laughter, and quick to shrug off bad news, to everyone who knew me. I told her that she should use pins instead of knives because you get the same pain and blood without needing to cover yourself up. I'd spent the last six months desperately wanting to end my own life but failing to pull the trigger because death was the easy way out. I didn't deserve such an easy death. She said I was overreacting and that I easily deserved to die more than most of the people we knew. She smiled and we both just stared out into the night. Just breathing.
When people who have never been depressed talk about depression I cringe. Part of that is just that semantically it seems as though people are just sad. I know people have told me to "just cheer up" too many times. It's not the same for everyone either. Some people are actually really down while others, like myself and my friend above, are simply dead inside. It's not always about needing or wanting help. Sometimes it's just so normal that recognizing that anything is wrong is nearly impossible. For those of us who have lost friends to this terrible disease we sit in our chairs and pick apart old interactions, finding warning signs too late, blaming ourselves for not seeing them when we could have made a difference. Realistically though, those warning signs we see in hindsight are probably just our brains trying to make sense of it and we're likely building a pattern that doesn't really exist. Maybe those warnings existed and maybe they didn't, but by the time lives close all of those thoughts are irrelevant. Even considering them does injustice to the people we've lost.
So when I read articles on the internet talking about the deaths this offseason as a reason to stop hockey fights I get really, really angry. Rypien had a long history of depression and any effect his fighting may have had on his death is irrelevant. Fighting did not kill him. It's just as easy to say that fighting gave him life, like the girl who needed to see her blood hit the floor. When we start putting him in the conversation with fighting we are implying that we, the outside world, had control over his death. That we, those who do not protest hockey fights, are complicit in his death. We are making it about us when really he was his own person with his own problems who made his own decision. Especially since there's no public record of him ever having head injuries we are *making* a pattern. Making a pattern that doesn't exist and trying to cram it into place.
When I got out of the hospital after back surgery, it was rough going. I had my pain meds, but I wanted more. Lots more. Luckily, my doctor was responsible enough to forbid me from taking heavy painkillers longer than a week. The next two months were hell. Absolute hell. If I'd been in the American system I would easily have gotten more pain meds and there's no doubt in my mind that I would have been addicted to them in short order. If you've never been in that much pain for that long you don't understand how attractive that option is. Maybe Boogard had concussions that contributed to his death. Maybe. But addiction isn't related to fighting. It's addiction. I know I've been in enough pain to toss down a bottle of advil in a dose and I've been lucky enough not to die from it. But when you're talking about fighting, again, you're seeing patterns that don't exist.
Yesterday's news is tough. It could be as simple as somebody just not having a purpose in life because it's been taken away from him. It could be something much deeper than that, mentally. It could be CTE. We don't know and there's a good chance that we never will.
I think it's reasonable to ask for every professional athlete to have their brains donated to science after early deaths. I really do. But discussing fighting as a cause or contributor to anybody's cause of death without concrete evidence is demeaning. It treats these people like robots who just needed to have that gear greased or avoid that sandtrap. It treats their families and friends as though they just didn't help do the proper maintenance. It treats these people as though their entire lives were on the ice, where we could see them.
I don't expect people to "get" this. Not entirely, anyway. It's hard. Unless you've dealt with significant pain, depression, or having everything that you know how to do suddenly taken away from you, it's hard to understand how much that can affect your life. How much that can push you in one direction or another.
So with this girl, the one who needed to bleed, you didn't need to know what was going on in her life. You didn't need to know what directly or indirectly got her to where she was. If you'd stopped those things it may have fixed the problem or maybe there would just be other things to take their places. Ultimately, all you needed to know was where she was at, because that was the only thing that mattered. Everything else was just an explanation to make it make sense to an outside observer. But it was never about sense or rationality. It was about a feeling at the core of who she was. Anything else was just completely beside the point.