Lift the Mask: Unknowingly Talking

Sometimes you talk about your struggles without knowing you are doing it. I’ve been talking about my struggles on and off the ice for a long time without having to seek out help.

I come from an Irish Catholic family. If you know anything about Irish Catholics you know we talk a lot, but just not about our feelings. We keep them bottled up until we reach a boiling point. Not the healthiest way, but somehow I was surrounding by people who wouldn’t let that happen.

My freshman year of high school my coach was a grad student working on his Phd in psychology. My dad was a fireman so he worked 24 hour shifts every third day, and my mom worked full time. My coach lived a few blocks away, so when needed he’d pick me up for games and practice. Little did I know, but those car rides together were almost mini therapy sessions. After tough games, which most of them were with our team, my coach did a great job of getting me to talk about my frustrations, and reminding me that at the end of the day it is just a game so that by the time we got to the house I was ready to tackle the rest of the day with a good attitude.

My coach later joked that he could have written his senior thesis about me.

I’ve kept in contact with that coach through the years, reaching out to him when I knew I needed to talk, or advice on handling difficult situations. Thanks to social media, he’s also reached out to me at times just to see how I am doing.

Once in college, I came across another person talking to. While home on breaks I’d skate at Johnny’s Ice House’s late morning rat hockey. I always get to the rink an hour early, and there was another guy who got to the rink early – Father Murray. Fr. Murray was/is a retired Navy Chaplin who at the time was in his early 70s and still playing hockey. There was the joke that if you went into the corners to get the puck from Fr. Murray you better watch yourself when you left the rink as a lightning bolt might strike you down.

A good priest, Fr. Murray started asking me questions, and I’d say we were holding mass in our own way before taking the ice. He would ask how things were going in my life, what was bothering me, etc. I can even say the weirdest place I’ve ever had confession was in a locker room. Some of the lessons I learned from Fr. Murray are ones I think about almost 20 years later when I’m encountering different challenges spiritually, personalty or mentally.

Also in college I’d hang out in my coach’s office. Like a good therapist’s office, my coach had a couch in his office that I’d lay down on, and start talking. While in college I was learning how to be a backup who rarely got playing time. Not easy for somebody who was used to getting the bulk of playing time. My junior year I was dealing with my then fiance, now wife, having been diagnosed with cancer, and my dad going to New York to dig for his missing brothers at Ground Zero. It was also in college that I had a few concussions, so my coach liked me to come to the office to talk so, as I look back at it now, he could get an idea of where my head was at post concussion.

These are all examples of times that I talked to others about what I was encountering, often times without going to them to do so. They were all trusted people that knew me well enough to dig deeper when they noticed things might be off and ask tougher questions. I was then, and am now an open book so I didn’t shy away when questions were asked of me. I believe that was the key. When somebody is asking the questions know they’re asking because they care. Don’t get mad at them, appreciate them and talk.


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