The first two sessions, I didn’t care for. The psychiatrist I was seeing, I thought was too intense and I felt my mental illness was amateur compared to what he was used to dealing with. I was passed off to a resident doctor for my next session and the rest that followed. Good thing.
This therapy experience was different then any I’d had before. Partially because I had admitted defeat, and admitted that I needed help so every morning I went to Foothills, I had a clear mind. It was refreshing. Perhaps that helped. This wasn’t the typical “how do you feel” “why do you feel this way” interrogation. It was more of a conversation, more process driven with focus on a solution, a real solution.
Every week at 9:15am Sarah made sense of things for me. She organized my thoughts for me throughout every conversation. She categorized different emotions, and feelings I felt, this allowed me to just make sense of what I was feeling, and why I was hurting. I always thought I was just “that” way, but she’d explain to me “that” way was a real thing with a name, a word, a title, a classification. It doesn’t seem like much, but you have no idea how much that made a difference. Then she’d leave me with little exercises to do, and chapters of books to read throughout the week. This allowed me to keep in touch with my emotions, and feelings. I was able to recognize when I started feeling crappy, and recognize when I felt OK. From there, we were able to identify trends, and then at times based on trends we discovered, we changed the plan a little bit. But, one thing that always remained, there was a clear process in place every week we met. There was a goal at the end. This helped keep everything close for me, and kept me from getting overwhelmed. I couldn’t wait to jot down in my notebook the ebbs and flows of my days. What times I felt the peak of my day, and times I felt at the lowest. I’d reflect on it at the end of the week, and eventually things just made sense. Once I got to this point, I was able to identify the highs and lows a lot easier, and be more honest with myself.
I used to struggle so much with my own personal standards. I could never really make sense of it, or truly understand it but I just knew that nothing I did was ever good enough. Whether it was my income, or things I was able to buy with my income, nothing I had was ever enough. I needed more. Eventually, I’d get those things I felt I needed to be worthy, and instead of feeling satisfaction, or pride, I instead felt disgust that it took that long in to get whatever it was. Then there would be another level I needed to reach, another income bracket I needed to achieve. Newer vehicle, whatever it was. This just became a vicious cycle that I couldn’t escape. But, I just thought it was the way I was. I never ever felt any sort of self pride, or worth. This cycle made sure I didn’t. But, because I just thought this was how I was. I never associated this with my mental illness, I thought it was normal. Just the way it was. Then Sarah introduced me to these things called “Schemas” That was when I truly felt I was on the road to recovering, and learning who I really was.
Lifetraps; Unrelenting Standards & Failure
I think Sarah understood I was a visual person, and instead of calling these patterns a word as unsexy as “schemas” we called these “lifetraps”. From there, a switch went off when I heard those words. Everything changed then. Everything began to make sense. My mind instantly went from dark, and chaotic to bright, and clear. I felt so relieved, refreshed. It was one of the best days of my life.
We dove head first into these “lifetraps” We identified the ones that I had right away as Unrelenting Standards, and Failure.
Unrelenting Standards. This is an EMS characterized by a deep belief that you must meet incredibly high standards (performance/behavior) in order to avoid criticism. You may experience feelings of pressure, notice difficulty slowing down, and hypercriticalness/unrealistically high standards of yourself and others. This schema may present itself outwardly as perfectionism, excessive attention to detail, rigidity toward behavioral, moral, or ethical rules/standards, or a preoccupation with time and efficiency (in hopes of getting more accomplished).
Failure. This EMS is generally rooted in the sense that you have failed, will fail, or are fundamentally inadequate in comparison to others in areas of achievement. There are associated core beliefs of being stupid, ignorant, untalented, or inferior.
We read case-studies of real life people who experienced the same lifetraps. We categorized all of things that attributed to the unrelenting standard lifetrap, and the failure lifetrap. For the first time in my life, my thoughts were organized and the way I felt actually made sense to me, and I didn’t think it was just the way I was. I knew why I never thought I’d be good enough. I knew why I always thought I was a failure.
As I learned more about these lifetraps, and my own lifetraps. We began to formulate a plan to further identify them and break them down. Sarah even said I could use them constructively. I remember laughing at her when she said this. These lifetraps have tried for so long to tear me down, and you think I can use them to help me. She was right. Sarah would stress I needed to slow down, that was the first step, and became my golden rule. Slow Down. I wouldn’t be able to identify these traps if I didn’t slow down. She was right. I was excited because this was such a new way of thinking, it was so creative, but it was so hard. This was one of the biggest battles, or “games” I’ve ever been apart of. Every day, I identified these emotions, categorized them into the lifetrap, noted the “opposite” of that negative emotion. How to then use it as a positive. Suddenly I was able to turn my lifetraps into ambition, something I always thought I never had. This was an exhausting process, it was an exhausting game to play every day. But, like every great win, it takes it toll and is incredibly hard.
This battle I engaged in went on for years, heck, there’s times I think it’s still ongoing four plus years later. I don’t know if I’ve totally won. I don’t know if you ever totally do win. But, I know that I have got myself to a point where I win more days then I lose now. Part of that is being able to slow down like Sarah always told me, and just take a deep breath.
If anyone else is reading this and thinking OMG yes, me too! I encourage you to spend some time research schemas, and check out the book “Reinventing Your Life”
I am forever grateful for those six months I spent apart of the PAS program. Sarah, and the PAS program gave me the strength, the confidence and the self worth to truly set out to battle my mental illness, and begin the homestretch on my pursuit of happiness.
The Home Stretch
I’d be remiss in saying I didn’t find myself sputtering around at any point following my time at the PAS Program. I certainly did, and I do still. The difference now though, is I believe tomorrow will be better. I don’t get overwhelmed by bad days, I don’t fear them anymore. I accept them as a bump, and I move on. Tomorrow will be better.
I began to work myself out of that dark maze after my six months at PAS. As my life became more clear, I was able to feel joy from so many more things. Relationships, Friends, Family, Sports, Activities… just life brought me more joy then ever before. As this happened, my life became more clear. It wasn’t so dark, and cluttered as I’d always felt before. I knew what I wanted finally. This was a weird feeling I remember. Literally went 24 years without ever feeling a true sense of clarity, and I didn’t know it until the day I walked into Executive Diamonds in Calgary. I knew I wanted to marry the girl who has stuck by my side through this entire story, and never ever gave up on me. I saw the ring, and everything just hit me. This was right. This was it. This was something I 100% wanted, and I knew would provide me years of happiness. Couple months later, I awkwardly did a few laps around the lobby of CopperPoint Resort doing some deep breathing, and self talk to myself like
“just do it, don’t be a chicken, just say something”
So I came back onto the patio, took a knee and in some mumbled form, I asked my best friend, and my savior to marry me.
Clarity was good.
My professional life would be the next place that needed that clarity. I knew I wanted to spend the my time and energy working in the game of hockey. The game that has also given so much to me, and saved me so many times. It just took a bit longer to get to the point of being able to achieve this, I hadn’t built up the strength, or self-worth yet. That would take more time. I lacked the clarity to create a plan.
As a result, for years, I bounced around different sales jobs. Each with their own unique experience, but through all of them I knew one thing. This isn’t me. But, I’d the money was guaranteed, and good so I hung my head and went about my day like a zombie, knowing I would hate it. Every day.
Finally, that clarity came. In July 2018, I started BAC Hockey. To be completely honest for no reason other then I knew I wanted to run my own hockey program, I always had. I have, and had no intentions on becoming super-wealthy off of BAC Hockey. That was never plan, and today is not the plan. Financial freedom was my plan bouncing around sales jobs, and I learned that didn’t equate happiness. So, in that moment of clarity, I realized I just wanted to get on the ice with the kids, and enjoy what I was doing. At the beginning, I didn’t even really have any expectations of BAC Hockey becoming a full-time thing.
Then, another moment of clarity hit sometime in January when I probably needed it most. I was on a bit of losing streak in my fight if you will. But, this time I was equipped with the strength to fight back. Before, I would just lie to myself, and I’d fall to a new rock bottom. This time, I saw it coming and I made changes. I needed to start living better, I needed to get healthier, and exercise more. It was hard to find the time for this with a full time job, coaching, scouting, and trying to run my own company. Oh yea, and then trying to be a supportive husband, which I had started to take for granted maybe a little bit. I’ve had these “epiphanies” before, and made changes but for never more then two weeks. Equipped with more creative ways to save myself, I came up with a creative challenge amongst myself and my coaching staff. Something that would last a month, and then some. I knew that if I had someone live better with me, then I’d have these guys to hold me accountable. It worked. I think it made us all better. I’ve lost weight which was needed, I’ve learned to eat better, and I’ve committed myself to spin class regularly. These have all become new habits that wouldn’t have lasted three weeks before.
Like Sarah always tried to tell me… Slow Down. I did just that. Even with so many things on my plate, I somehow found a way to organize everything, and just slow down. Unfortunately, it was my full-time job that ended up taking the hit. It was some spin class I was in where it hit me. I needed to somehow combine what I had started with BAC Hockey with mental illness. How can I do that. That’s how BAC4Hope came about. With the new lifestyle habits, and creating BAC4Hope, I felt pride, I was happy with myself for the work I was putting into myself. Then, I think it was the next spin class, I had another epiphany. I’ve been so happy the last few weeks after making these changes. Can I make this my life? That led to me submitting my 2 weeks notice at work, making the biggest bet of my life. Myself.
Thus far, while it’s been stressful at times not having that regular paycheck I’d had for so long. In the process of turning my unrelenting standards into ambition, it turns our that it’s happiness I desperately seek instead of money and materials. I need to love what I am doing, and I’m there now, finally. I love my job now. Sharing mental health stories. Working with great coaches. Working with players. Every day I look forward to getting better, and to learning. I’ve never experienced that feeling with any other job I’ve had. I was just there to get paid. Now, I’m here to get better, help others and do the right thing. This has left me with a sense of pride, joy and self-worth I almost never though possible. I know I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. That’s an incredible feeling.
When I look back, and I reflect on where I’ve come from, and what I’ve been through. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. I’m proud now, I really am, and I know that my family, and sister are proud of me too, and that feeling is worth a million dollars in itself. I don’t wonder anymore if my family is proud of me, if my sister would be proud of me. When you know you’re doing the right thing, the rest of it falls into place.
As hard as things have been for me along the way, and as rocky as this road has been. I don’t regret much of it anymore. Of course there are things I’d change, I’d give everything up to spend one more day with Jen on Hornby Island, or playing Playmobil, or listening to music. I’d give everything up for just one more hour with my sister. Hell, I’d give it up just to see her smile, and hear her laugh. I really would.
But, I know I don’t have that opportunity, and perhaps now my grief has phased finally from anger, and depression to just acceptance. As I come to terms with myself, like I said everything else seems to fall in place around me. I’ve made peace with my life, and all that has come with it.
Throughout my experience at PAS, one of the best tools I came away with was learning how to turn different emotions, or traits that were destructive into a positive. This allowed me to use the experiences in my life to create a better me. The arrogance, dishonesty, the selfishness. All of those things that used to be who I was, and made up the bad version of myself. I learned to use those things constructively to become a better version of myself. So, instead of trying to completely change who I am, which I learned is impossible. Instead, I’ve learned to work with who I am and manipulate those traits, or experiences into becoming the best me possible. I don’t think I’d ever be able to do this without going through the life experiences I have gone though. I literally turned obstacle into opportunity. It just took a long, long time, and it was incredibly hard.
I’ve learned to turn that arrogance that used to tarnish relationships with friends and family into confidence, and believing I am capable of doing anything I want. I used this to bet on myself. There was the selfishness that I possessed that used to isolate me from everyone important to me. I turned this to focus on myself, but for the better. I manipulated this trait also to find the people who are good to me, and allow them in. Now, I am still selfish, but it’s for the right reasons, to be a better, more supportive me for myself, and for those around me who I owe so much too.
I’ve learned the true meaning of struggle, of challenge. I’ve used that to help get me through bad days, lost games, lost deals, broken down vehicle, exams, projects when I was at MRU. Etc. All these things that we go through every day, every year that sometimes don’t go our way. I see it beat up most people, and it causes them so much stress, but for me. I’ve learned what it really is to struggle, and all of those things are not it. They are just inconveniences that you’ll forget about soon enough. I know this one drives my wife nuts, when she comes home with a scrape on her vehicle because someone hit her in the parking lot, and my response is usually, “ya that sucks, but hey not the worst thing” But, this helps me get through a lot of otherwise difficult things, and stay level-headed.
I’ve learned the importance of being real, and being honest. Especially with yourself. This was what allowed me to finally admit I needed help, and to grab the hands that kept reaching out to pick me up. Now, I don’t have a lying bone in my body. Amanda laughs at me because I am completely incapable of telling a lie, even a little white one. Sometimes this gets me in trouble in different parts of my life whether it’s at home, or at hockey, but I believe in being honest with people, and being real. It’s one of the values I have built BAC Hockey upon. It’ll be real. I won’t tell guys things they want to hear just to get paid, and get a registration. I’ll push guys, challenge them, create struggle, and uncomfortable situations. With that, I am sure I am missing out on a lot of money, but it’s not important to me. Sticking to my values is what is important, and part of that is believing in struggle, being real and being honest. I’d rather see a player work his way out of something difficult, then coast through something easy, and comfortable or avoid adversity all together.
I could have done that at any point of hitting rock bottom, but I never did, and am I ever grateful for that. I don’t think I was able to make those decisions without the strong support network I have around me. But, for anyone else who is willing to embrace struggle, whether it’s in life, school, work, sports… it doesn’t matter, I am on your support team. Always know that.
I’ve learned to find the silver lining, and I’ve learned to see the big picture. I’ve learned slow down and see life before I see red.
A few years ago, I was hanging on by a thread, I was just about done. I had nothing left. I couldn’t have imagined days like I have today when I woke up on that kitchen floor and Amanda told me my mom was coming, or when I held the phone to my ear while my dad begged for me to fight. I used to think I would never make 25 years old. I certainly couldn’t fathom 30, I never thought about it because I just didn’t think there was any chance. But, with a willingness to accept help, the courage to dive head first into a nasty fight against mental illness. You never know where you may end up.
So while, this story may have been about hardship, loss, grief, and struggle. This story is also about triumph.
This is also a story about a pursuit of happiness… and finding what you were searching for.