Phil Kessel would probably be nervous right now, and I can’t blame him.
He’s a very shy young man with a simple job: he gets around on ice skates, collects a little black thing and puts it in the back of a net. He doesn’t know if he’s good at much in the world, but he thinks he’s good at that, and that’s what he loves to do – preferably with a minimum of fuss.
He has just been told that the pressure is going to be on at work for the next couple of weeks. They really need him to do his job and do it well. Not only that, but the media is just outside and they’d like to talk to him about it. They’d like to talk to him about how the pressure’s on his shoulders, about history and how things that happened 10 years ago are now his problems to fix – not his boss’, not his colleagues’, his.
The media are going to tell him that, over the next couple of weeks, a man who stands six foot nine tall is going to come to his work, find him and hit him. He’ll be going about his business and a frickin’ huge man is going to come and knock him over, just to stop him doing whatever he is doing. He’s going to be told that 10 million people or more are watching his every move. He’s going to be reminded that many of them are bitter at him just because he took a job offer from a rival company – in fact, because one company took him from another, and paid it quite handsomely for him (as you may have heard), while all he did was stick to doing his job: putting little black things in a net.
So I could understand if Phil Kessel were anxious. I could understand if Phil Kessel did not want to speak with the media. I understand if he wants to stick to working out, hanging out with his buddies and trying not to think about the crushing weight that everyone is so keen to remind him is just around the corner.
I can understand Phil Kessel being anxious.
I’ve lived with anxiety for I don’t know how long. I was able to give it a name a year ago when I realised just what the force was that most of the time was absent, but sometimes kept me from sleeping properly, kept me from eating properly, kept me from doing things or made them that much harder – even when it was a simple task. Even when all you have to do is put a little black thing in a net. Anxiety is a force to be reckoned with, even if you don’t realise it.
I couldn’t blame Phil Kessel for being anxious. I’m anxious, and I’m just going to be watching, from the other side of the world, no less.
But there are ways to get through it.
For me, giving anxiety a name was half the battle. Now that I know what I’m dealing with I know how to identify symptoms. You know when to say to the doubting voice in your head: "that’s ridiculous, bugger off".
You can have anxiety and still live a normal life, or whatever normal is for you. You can have anxiety and still be good at your job. You can have anxiety and still be an outgoing person or a shy person or whatever you want to be.
I’m not telling Phil Kessel to put everything out of his mind – playoffs, the Trade, the fans. I’m not saying "she’ll be right, mate".
I’m not asking Phil Kessel to forget about speaking to the media, because I know what we’re like as well. We’re just doing our own simple job: writing about what’s happening, writing about what’s going to happen. Maybe I’m an idealist who often makes fun of the journalists from the big city in my state – let alone those in a city 10 times bigger again – because it seems the higher up the chain you go, the greedier you get for the quote or the fact that will make your story stand out. But they’re just trying to do their job. I’m not saying that never the twain should meet.
I guess that if we want this young man to stay in Toronto and keep doing his simple job – a job he does extremely well, better than almost anyone else in the world – we need to make his workplace an accommodating one. Not one that gives him special privileges like not talking to the media, because he’ll need to do that sooner or later; but one that lifts him up. I know sports fans, and I think we’re pretty good at that at times.
Let’s just remember that despite all the storylines (if you’re a journo), all the history (if you’re a fan), all the one-on-one battles (if you’re a coach) and all the advanced stats (if you’re a blogger), these guys are just regular people playing a game with a big audience.
So go down to the Air Canada Centre or, if you’re not a millionaire, just yell it at your TV. Every time that kid scores I want to hear "thank you Kessel", genuine thanks. But even when he doesn’t, cheer for him anyway. It’s his sport, he’s our hero for a few hours a night – egg him on. Cheer for him to dodge that big bastard. Cheer for him to find the right words when he steps in front of a microphone. Cheer for him just to be able to lace up his skates and keep doing what he does, because he is very good at it. Go Kessel go – or, as we Aussies might say it, carn you Kessel.
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, visit www.beyondblue.org.au (or a North American equivalent with which I would not be familiar).
(This fanpost came from a late night rant I recorded while half asleep. It shows, and I know posts that tell stories and aren't backed up by fancy stats are unfashionable, but hey. All in.)