Sometimes those with the biggest smiles go through the darkest days. Although it’s not always the easiest or most enjoyable thing to talk about, especially for young men, mental health and mental illness need to be discussed in order to break the stigma that surrounds it. You are not alone, you are not weak, you are a person fighting your own battles that your peers are also fighting (whether you realize it or not).

I started this fundraiser for a number of reasons: to honour the lives of friends that have lost their battles with mental illness, to support my friends currently strugging with their own mental health, to bring light to a topic that my peers and I often find difficult to talk about, to raise awareness about the suicide crisis currently happening in my best buddy’s community, to channel my own struggles into something positive, and to raise some money to make a difference in my home province of Saskatchewan. If we can make a positive impact on even one person’s life, or inspire even one person to open up about their struggles, this whole fundraiser will be a success in my eyes. When Kailum and I were sitting by the fire in my backyard brainstorming how we could pull this thing off, we never imagined we could raise the amount of money that has already come in.

For me, biking is an escape and a way to clear my mind. Although it’s not something I enjoy talking about or have even mentioned to many my closest friends, I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a number of years now. Back in the first grade, I remember going to the ‘Worry Club’ at school, which was really a cute nickname for chatting with a School Psychologist about anxiety. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized this was really an ‘Anxiety Club’, but I am thankful that at an early age I was able to participate in this program. Anxiety has always been part of my life, mainly in social settings, but I was able to manage it very well until moving away for University. That is really where my story with mental health begins.

Coming from an extrememly loving home and having a great group of friends and support system, you could argue that there is nothing that should be causing you to feel depressed. However, that is the thing about depression and mental illness – no matter what background you come from it can still be something you deal with. I believe many young men coming from the same situation can feel like they can’t speak up about their feelings because ‘there is nothing to be sad about’, however like I mentioned in the first sentence, sometimes those with the biggest smiles go through the darkest days.

I’m sure if you asked my peers about me they would say I’m a nice, happy, easy-going sort of guy – which I definitely am! However, there are days (or weeks) where I can barely get out of bed, where I can’t bring myself to see my friends, and where I stress myself out to the point of missing out on fun events, opportunities, and life. In University, as many others that struggle with anxiety could relate to, there were days where I would be at school and couldn’t bring myself to enter the classroom I was supposed to have class in. This could go on for a week sometimes. My mental health is also very strongly correlated to the weather, with the terrible -50 degree winter days being some of my lowest points. Although it may seem silly to feel sad when you have a great life and great support around you, my point is that you’re not alone when you’re feeling down. Others with the same situation are feeling the same way as you. 

If I were to go back in time and give advice to my past self, or even give advice to my future self, my suggestions would be as follows:

1. On your darkest days, reach out to someone.

A friend, family member, mental health resource – you are not alone and there are people that want to help you through it.

2. Open up to your friends, even when it’s not a dark day.

It’s important to be open with your support circle so they know what you’re dealing with. This is so important, and I need to do a better job of this as well (which is part of why I am sharing this story).

3. Find your escape.

For me, once I was finished playing competitive hockey I felt like there was a gaping hole in my life and it lacked meaning. My escape is biking, hanging out in a hockey dressing room, having some beers with my friends, or chatting with my family about anything. Find you escape, this is also so important. 

If you can take anything away from this post, I hope it is to reach out to someone if you are struggling and talk about what you’re going through. It is my goal to do more of this moving forward, and I promise you that it will help.

Thank you for reading!