Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Feeling connected calms the mental health seas

Ryan Holfeld, left, and myself during a social time.
    When he coached the Medicine Hat Tigers, Willie Desjardins often told his players one of the best places to be was at the rink.
    For me, that can expand to the football field, a basketball court, volleyball court, soccer pitch or even a UFC octagon ring. The reason those places are the best places to be are the people that are there.
    The athletes, coaches, trainers, staff, facility attendants and even the fans in the stands make those places enjoyable.
    In my life, I have found the athletes, coaches and staffers to be the most genuine and real people I know. It is the main reason I continue to be a regular at the Rutherford Rink and the Physical Activity Complex on the University of Saskatchewan campus, Saskatoon Minor Football field and so far a handful of WHL rinks.
    Since November of 2012, I have known I have had issues dealing with anxiety. The issues rose due to a mental health issue I discovered in my workplace at the time, which was the Medicine Hat News, and that resulted in a whole host of spinoff problems.
    There is still a stigma around mental health issues, and they are unfortunately still treated as the elephant in the room in too many circles.
    From the start of my mental health journey, the one constant group of forward thinking backers I have had have been the young athletes that have played either in the WHL, the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks or the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association. I have found they have always been the most open minded and genuinely positive in helping on the mental health front.
    I remember talking about a few of these young adults with former Medicine Hat College Rattlers men’s volleyball head coach Steve Russell during a coffee chat, and he said their support on the mental health front is fitting because these are our future leaders.
    If I tried to make a list of all the people I have leaned on, I fear I might leave someone out.
    The first group of people that knew about what I was going through included Tigers grads Brennan Bosch, Ryan Holfeld and David Schlemko. From Bosch and Holfeld, the group quickly expanded to the members of the 2012-13 University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team. Bosch and Holfeld were in the middles of their CIS careers with the Dogs at that time.
    The early list also included Talayna Tremblay and Kelsey Konihowski, who were both still with the Medicine Hat College Rattlers women’s volleyball team at the time. All of five of those people were key in helping me make my initial steps forward.
The Hilltops win in the Canadian Bowl was a good time.
    Since those beginnings, the list has greatly expanded. Over the past eight months the conversations haven’t been about mental health, when I have been at sporting venues or visiting my friends that are involved in high-level sports. The visits mainly revolve around regular talks you have every day on a variety of topics.
    When I am in those moments, I feel most normal. Actually, I usually don’t even think about my anxiety battles until I am home or I am spending time alone.
    Connectivity is the main reason I remain around the sports scene.
    That connectivity can be viewed at an obvious time like when the Saskatoon Hilltops won their 18th Canadian Junior Football League title back on Nov. 7, 2015. I think everyone that was at Saskatoon Minor Football Field that day felt connected to what went on at that Canadian Bowl championship game.
    Connectivity also comes during a more quiet time like last Sunday at the Agriplace Arena. After watching the Saskatoon Stars fall 3-2 to the Prince Albert A & W Bears in a Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League game, I spent a lengthy time visiting with University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team members Kaitlin and Morgan Willoughby and their mother, Dinah.
    Our conversation ventured through all sorts of subjects including mutual friends, memories from sports and the Edmonton Oilers from Wayne Gretzky’s days.
    This season, I decided I would get my Canadian Hockey League pass in order to work a little more on the major junior circuit again. In those travels, I have felt a renewed connectivity to a vast network of people I got to know covering the WHL as a beat reporter for 15 seasons. Even Red Deer Rebels head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter smiled when he saw me during pre-game before his squad took to the ice to face the Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre. (Side note: Sutter does smile and he does so more than you think).
Being on the WHL trail allowed me to have a great visit with Jaeger White.
    On Saturday night, I had a great visit and talk with Brandon Wheat Kings centre Jaeger White, who is the step son of current Medicine Hat Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston. I’ve known White since his bantam hockey days, and I was impressed with how mature he was during our talk that I almost forgot he is 17-years-old.
    Connectivity is the thing for me that makes all the bad stuff with anxiety wash away.
    Actually, the more connected someone with a mental illness feels with their community and surroundings the better off he or she will be. As this is Bell Let’s Talk day, I hope everyone remembers how powerful connectivity can be.
    When you have visits with someone who is battling a mental illness, the talk doesn’t necessarily have to be about that subject. It can be about any topic of mutual interest.
    The key is to visit and to visit in person, because those visits can go a long way to improving your overall mental health.

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