I’m Not Brave at All

ROMAN KNERTSER/THE PLAYERS' TRIBUNE

Name: Corey Hirsch

Age: 47

Battle: Pure obsessive-compulsive disorder

Backstory: Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark

If I had to sum up my journey in two sentences, I would say this: The very thing that I was most afraid of for the first half of my life turned out to be, in reality, the exact opposite. Showing weakness is actually a sign of monumental strength.

If I could go back in time to my lowest moment, I’d ask myself to really imagine what would have happened after I drove my car off that cliff. What would’ve happened if I had succeeded in killing myself? At my funeral, would all my buddies have said, “Wow, what a courageous guy. He suffered in silence, and he went out like a man.” Hell no! They would’ve been saying, “Oh my God, I wish he would’ve said something. I just wish he would have talked to me. Why didn’t he say something?”

We were always taught that masculinity means never, ever showing vulnerability. Especially in the hockey world. But it’s all such b.s. I still do stereotypical hockey-guy stuff. I still drink beer and fix stuff and get into dumb scraps in adult league. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less of a “man.”

The biggest lesson that I learned after I told my story was just how many people are suffering in silence. It was literally staggering to me how many current and former athletes — and just regular people — have reached out to me and said, “Hey, I need help.”

The second biggest lesson is that you have to set boundaries on social media. Even if 99.9% of your interactions are positive, if you struggle with your mental health, all it takes is one or two cruel comments to ruin your day. I have 47 years of life experience as my armor, and it can still put me into a bad place. Think of all the kids out there who experience this kind of toxicity.

The one stigma that still won’t seem to go away is this misconception that talking about suicide with young people actually creates more suicides. In fact, the opposite is true. But for all the progress we’ve made as a society, so many parents are still afraid of talking about mental health with their kids. We can’t be learning this stuff for the first time when we’re in middle age. We need mental-health classes in our public schools. The kids today want it. It’s the parents who are the hardest to change.

At the pro level, we still need more active players to come forward and share their struggles. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. People tell me all the time, “Man, you’re so brave for telling your story,” and I always tell them the same thing: I’m not brave at all. It took me 20 years to do it, and even then I was scared of how people would view me. So I understand why active players are hesitant.

Just look at Robin Lehner, who was so courageous in stepping up and talking about his battles with addiction and bipolar disorder. And what happened? On the ice, he was stronger for it. I’m sure he felt free. The guy was a Vezina finalist. And yet he was only rewarded with a one-year deal. A lucrative one–year deal, sure, but still only one year? To me, that shows that we still have a ways to go as a sport when it comes to these labels.

When I open my eyes and I know it’s going to be a bad day, I do three simple things. 1) Get out of bed. If I stay in bed, I know I’m going to be bombarded with thoughts. Getting up is half the battle. 2) I shower. Never skip this step! 3) If I’m still not feeling well, I remind myself that the storm will pass. It’s alright to lock down for a while and just do some self-care. I mess around on my guitar, or maybe (don’t laugh at me!) I do a jigsaw puzzle. I just allow myself to zone out for a bit without feeling bad about it.

I 100% guarantee that I would not be here today without medication. It didn’t cure my OCD by itself, but it helped take the edge off so that my brain could take in the therapy I needed. It also kept me away from self-medicating, which I really worry about for all the people out there who are suffering in this time of quarantine and isolation. There should never be shame or embarrassment in taking medication.

“Suicide” is still a taboo word in our society, and it shouldn’t be. If someone you know comes to you in pain, it’s O.K. to ask them if they are thinking of harming themselves. As hard as it might be, getting this information might just save their life.

For anyone who is struggling in silence right now, my best advice is to seek professional help. Self-care is great. Meditation is great. Motivational videos on YouTube are great. Eating healthy and getting active is great. But you can’t walk off depression. You can’t walk off obsessive compulsive disorder. If you’re really suffering and you can’t find a way out, the answer is not on YouTube. The answer is to reach out for professional help.

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