I Think It’s More Than Just Hockey Pressure

Derek Boogaard died from a bad drug combination. Rick Rypien apparently was bi-polar. And Wade Belak, according to his mom, suffered from bouts of depression.

Now, the league is going to try and find out if an enforcer job leads to some sort of profound stress and pressure.

If all three suffered from bi-polar, then being a tough guy in the NHL has nothing to do with with what happened. Blame it on the disease. It’s a powerful evil.

I know someone with bi-polar, amd I can tell you that for her, life is a living hell, a life that makes no sense, and one where it seems the best thing to do is just bow out and the pain will finally be gone.

When I first met her, I thought she was just an over-the-top rebellious teenager. She’d become a serious drug addict and was busted for store theft. She’d get angry and punch walls. She dressed up at times in provocative clothes, which I hated. I didn’t get this gal at all.

Then I saw that she was afraid to work and just be around other people, and cried or screamed for no apparent reason. She cut her wrists many times. She told her mom she just wanted to die because life was a black hole, and she didn’t want to put her loved ones through any of this any more.

I would hear her crying in the middle of the night. She couldn’t sleep, and the demons were back.

She began to see specialists and it was discovered she was bi-polar and schizophrenic, somewhat like Rick Rypien. There’s no simple prescription to fix this either. This is a lifetime work-in-progress.  Doctors, specialists, therapists, and others, in some sort of guessing game, have been trying on my friend different drugs, different combinations, and over several years she’s slightly better. But even now I can talk to her in the morning and she’s bubbly and happy, and then I can talk to her several hours later and she’s just cut her wrists again, is crying, and calls out that she wants to die, that she can’t take it anymore.

She probably won’t ever be completely normal, but we’re hoping that over the long term, sometime down the long road, she’ll be happier, no longer have suicide thoughts, maybe work, maybe get married, and hopefully feel really good about herself. She’s a good girl with a big heart, and she doesn’t deserve this.

Rick Rypien had this horrible disease and it had nothing to do with being a fighter and surviving in this dog-eat-dog business of hockey. He was fortunate to have a skill, unlike the girl I know, and he could mask his problems probably better than her. But if he went through the same hell as her, I understand a little why he bowed out, and my heart aches for him. Now I hope he’s finally found happiness in another way.  

Was Derek Boogaard bi-polar and/or schizophrenic? Was Wade Belak? If they were, their deaths weren’t a result of their enforcer jobs, where they must fight, literally, to stay on the team. If they were bi-polar, they were in a living hell that we don’t understand and I think the pressure of big-league hockey doesn’t compare at all to the pressure of just trying to find some peace which most of us take for granted.

It’s a horrible disease, as nasty as it gets. I’ve been trying to understand it, even just a little, for a long time and I’ve gotten almost nowhere. It’s unpredictable, surprising, and doesn’t make the least bit of sense. But at least I came to realize that she wasn’t a rotten and unmanageable teenager. She was hurting more than most of us would ever understand.

Remember those times when you were depressed. Then multiply it by a thousand, maybe ten thousand, and it becomes hard-core  bi-polar. The NHL will never be able to cure players who have it, and I just pray that there aren’t many.

21 thoughts on “I Think It’s More Than Just Hockey Pressure”

  1. Thank you so much for this Dennis. Mental health is such a taboo subject but we need to understand that there are people suffering from diseases that are just as real as a broken arm or leg, only it’s inside of them. They need our help and support.
    To all the moms and dads and family and friends of the players who have recently passed away, our hearts go out to you.

  2. Thank you Dennis –

    Having a loved one with bi-polar disorder is not easy indeed – I have a loved one suffering from it. You just never know what is going to come out or what their thoughts are.

    They do indeed need our love and support.

  3. Hi Laura, all the best to your loved one, and to the family surrounding the loved one. It’s probably the most complicated thing I’ve ever seen in a person. It’s really hard to understand, impossible, and we can only try and do our best without making too many mistakes.

  4. the nhl is taking what they think is a politically correct position and covering their own asses. it is a distraction from how they won’t deal with issues that are within their jurisdiction. it is an insult to people who suffer from a situation or disease to merely pass it of as enforcer syn-drum. it’s all about drama. we all have far too much information………… mr. buttman and the nhl have never stooped so low. one more stupid thing like this and i’m out.

  5. Hobo, I hope you mean out of watching hockey and not out of reading here. I agree with you. It’s easy to pass it off as a fighter-type issue. It’s way more complicated than that.

  6. I do know that “simple” depression can be enough to send one into thoughts of suicide. I’ve been there myself. I’ve been dealing with depression since I was about 10 years old and I’ve gone through many periods where suicide was foremost in my mind. The worst bout was a few years ago when I was in such pain suicide felt like the “reasonable” thing to do. It was a pain I would never wish on my worst enemy.

    You can’t sleep. Everything agitates you. Things you like you can barely stand and barely have interest in. You feel like crying all the time and you take no joy in anything. Everything is bleak. You have no hope, no joy, and it takes all your effort just to function on a daily basis. You feel like you have nothing left to give anyone. If you can barely function, what can you provide your friends and loved ones? You often can’t see past the depression. You feel shamed, stupid, ugly, useless, and worthless. You “know” that you are a worthless human being who brings value to no one, much less yourself.

    The sad thing is most people cover it up and pretend everything is fine. I bet Belak was suffering terribly but would never show it – not even to his wife. He may have told her a little but I would bet he didn’t tell her all. Sometimes you’re afraid to open up.

    A part of the problem is shame. People sometimes feel weak for feeling like this. Other times it’s people who make depressed people feel even worse. They may mean well but some people will laugh at you when you say you’re depressed – they aren’t necessarily laughing at you to make you feel bad but are attempting to lighten the mood and hopefully cheer you up. Sadly it often makes the depressed person feel even worse.

    There are people who will try to make you feel stupid and guilty for it. They’ll say stuff like ‘What have YOU got to be depressed about? There are people who really have it bad and you’re complaining?” Which is one of the worst things you could say to a person who is depressed.

    A problem with depression is that unless one has lived it (or been around someone with a severe case of it), it’s hard to really grasp. Many people simply think it’s just a case of the blues and you’re making too much of things. People don’t understand the pain. It’s something that is very hard to describe without having a common frame of reference. It’s like describing snow to someone who lives in a desert. They may get an idea of what snow is but until they’ve experienced it then they really don’t know it well.

    To kind of give an idea of how it feels – imagine the worst day of your life (we’ve all had one). Say someone died, you lost something, etc. Remember how terrible that felt. Now picture a lifetime of bad days shoved into one single day. And that’s your life, day in and day out. The torment is unbearable.

    It’s a spiritual pain that you constantly feel you are drowning in. You can never feel ‘normal’. You never feel like you connect with anyone. It’s like your soul is dead. It’s a bleak and lonely feeling. Suicide does feel like a good idea. You just want the pain to end.

    I didn’t mean to ramble or take over this subject but that’s a general idea of depression (least from some of my experience). Bi-polar issues is a completely other issue and I can’t really say much about that.

  7. Taking hits to the head isn’t good for the brain and can’t be beneficial for those already suffering from mental health disorders. There is more to come on this subject as we are still learning how the brain works. Fighting can’t be simply dismissed as a potential exacerbating element.

  8. Homme, I had a look at the list of players over the years who have died during their careers and it doesn’t seem at all that the tough guy is in the majority. Three in one year is terrible, but it could be just a huge fluke.

  9. That’s such a great comment, Darth. Thank you for sharing this. Depression is a horrible thing and although I haven’t had much experience with it, I know during my divorce that things were so dark I didn’t think it was ever going to get better. And that’s only a tiny thing compared to what you and my friend and so many others experiemce far too often. She would even dredge up memories of grade school when someone was mean to her, and it would set her off on another wrist-cutting or whatever. Thanks a lot for taking the time and describing what you’ve described. I respect you and thank you again for what you’ve said here.

  10. Great posts by both Darth and you! Thanks for sharing, it’s posts like those that make this a special place to visit.

  11. Thanks, Mike. We did the best we could to screw up our brains when we were teenagers but luckily dodged a bullet.

  12. Have a look at the other sports and their lists. This is a problem that isn’t going to go away. Football. Boxing. Length of life. Slurred speech. Brain damage. And so forth. The puzzle makes more sense once more pieces are looked at. It’s better to err towards the side of caution, regardless.

    I remember the resistance to saying that smoking “might” be bad. Similar refrains. One has to ask oneself … is there a reason I feel resistant to examining this issue? May not apply to you in particular, Dennis, as you try and keep an open mind. But.



  13. I do try and keep an open mind, Homme, and I’m not saying fighting doesn’t effect the brain. All I was trying to get across was the bipolar thing. Rypien was bipolar and as you can see from my story, I have first-hand knowledge of what it’s all about and it isn’t pretty. So then I ask myself if Boogaard and Belak were also bipolar, because if they were, I don’t think it was fighting that triggered something.

  14. Dennis, I agree that I don’t think fighting caused the depression, bi-polar disorder and even the suicides. But I still wonder if the reverse can be said. What role did their problems have in them fighting and becoming enforcers? Is the NHL taking advantage of them rather than getting them the treatment they need?
    It can’t be good for one’s mental health to accept a role whose primary responsibility is to beat up others. On the other hand, a reluctant enforcer like Laraque wasn’t much use for the team either.

  15. Chris, you bring up such an important point. What role did their problems have in them fighting? It’s a great question. Because I think that these tough guys, or most orf them, had other issues away from the rink and did as they came up through the ranks. Many personal problems having nothing to do with hockey. Kordic, Probert and such. And right, if Georges wasn’t all that keen on fighting and didn’t fight very much or got angry and didn’t scare the heck out of players, then he wasn’t much use.

  16. Dennis, great write up. Certainly alot more to it then just their fighter roles.

    I’m sure the pressure is huge I’m sure… no one would doubt that. To blame the fighter role and it’s pressures would be contempt prior to investigation.

    I’m sure there is much more to each player’s situation then was publicly known.

    Ultimately, these are people…. in every case I was in total shock. I can’t believe that these 3 guys are no longer with us.

  17. It’s so damn complicated, Yves. It’s always such a bummer when we hear of a player dying in the prime of his life. It’s very sad.

  18. Thanks, Danno. A good story by Landsberg. I can remember seeing Belak on Off The Record more than once, and he was always an interesting and charming fellow. You would never think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *