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How hockey and the Flyers have helped me deal with anxiety and depression

Vancouver Canucks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Growing up in Philadelphia or in the suburbs of Philadelphia or even just in the household of a Philadelphia sports fan, something runs through your blood whether you want it to or not.

You are a Philadelphia sports fan. A card carrying member. No fees, no forms. It just appears in your wallet one day, all pristine and plastic. No expiration date, either. You're in this shit for life like the rest of us. Deal with it.

Even if you don't care deeply about sports, even if you think they're useless and vapid, important moments in Philadelphia sports history are burned into your brain.

I was one of those annoying people who think they're special for not caring about sports. That was until I started following the Flyers and became a raging lunatic (in both the literal and metaphorical sense).

I fell into the fandom inelegantly as I limped my way through my final year of college, feeling every bit as broken down as Danny Briere looked in that, his final year wearing a Flyers jersey. (I'm sorry, Danny. I promise that I defended you to the very end, even when people wanted to buy you out.)

Anxiety had always been a part of my life, moving through me as natural as air since I can remember. Depression settled comfortably in my brain during college. It colored everything I did. I would vacillate wildly, from worrying about everything to not caring about anything.

I knew jack shit about hockey before I started watching as a way to forget about all the shit I was worried about. Escapism is real, man. I read about the sport voraciously, watched the sport voraciously, finding new purpose as I poured myself into it. My family made fun of me, actually. It was such a dramatic change of pace for me, so out of character. I’m sure most of them figured I’d leave it behind within a year or two. Boy, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

Where I had only been able to go between apathy and distress before, hockey gave me passion again. Life was suddenly bearable again. I had a range of emotions again, not just clicking between depressed and tired and anxious and tired.

I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my first Flyers win live. I walked out of the building surrounded by individuals, both sober and drunk, who were so lighthearted and exuberant that I couldn’t help but revel in it. And it wasn’t just a good mood because our team won. I mean, of course, it was that but it felt like so much more. It felt like electricity running through everyone, a joined moment that I got to experience as part of the whole. That’s something mental illness had taken away from me for a long time, that feeling like I was a part of something.

Even if you don't care deeply about sports, even if you think they're useless and vapid, important moments in Philadelphia sports history are burned into your brain.

I remember my dad moving our television outside so we and the neighbors could watch the Sixers series against the Lakers outside, my arms getting all chewed up by mosquitoes even with the smell of citronella thick in the air. I remember the cafeteria in middle school booming with "Fly Eagles Fly" every afternoon for a week before Super Bowl XXXIX. I remember standing at my kitchen counter, my house bathed in an eerie, peaceful silence, my hands clasped in prayer as I watched the final pitch zip over the plate and name the Phillies champions again.

Proximity is enough. Brad Lidge's history becomes your history. Donovan McNabb's history becomes your history. Allen Iverson's history becomes your history. Some of the biggest, most joyful, most crashing moments of your life are because of sports, and you didn't even feel it happening.

Depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental illnesses and personality disorders seek to isolate. Isolation is the only way they survive. The serrated edges saw at the ties that bind you, cutting you off from the things that make you happy, the things that connect you to other people and the human experience. They’re selfish that way. They demand all of your attention. That’s the dichotomy, at the end of the day. Isolation versus connection.

Hockey, and sports in general, have served to connect me to more people than I thought possible. Hell, the first account I followed on Flyers twitter was the Broad Street Hockey account, quickly followed by Charlie and Kurt. Writing for this site has given me a creative outlet and an opportunity to write some truly fun pieces, sharing my voice with thousands of people I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to reach. Not everyone likes what I write, but some people do. (I’ve always been more of an acquired taste anyway.) The friendships I’ve made through hockey have been life-changing and are constantly heartening, because they remind me that I’m still able to make friends, that people like me enough to tolerate me.

Insidious thoughts (you aren’t good, you aren’t funny, you’re not talented, you’re not beautiful, people are only being nice because they feel bad for you, you’ve faked your way here, you’ve fooled them into thinking you belong, you do not deserve happiness, on and on in your brain like a thumping bass line) can be quieted or at least dulled.

I can’t forget these thoughts. I can’t make them go away for good. What I can do, however, is prove them wrong. What started off as escapism has developed into coping.

Hockey is not some bastion of good feelings where nothing is ever bad and we get to ignore reality. Hockey sucks a lot. Even when you remove the widespread cultural and institutional issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism from the sport, there are still so many problems within. You can’t escape into this world, because it’s not a perfect world. It’s not even close.

I don’t mean to imply that hockey will save you. It won’t.

Sometimes, though, it can help.

Go Flyers.


If you feel helpless or suicidal, please do remember there is help available to you. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and the online chat is available here. If your mental illness prevents you from speaking to a professional, lean on your support system. If you don’t feel like you have a support system, let me be a part of it. You are very important, and your life matters. Be well.