Love you so much
It makes me sick
Come on over
And do the twist
Beat me out of me (beat up, beat up)
Beat me out of me
Nirvana, Aneurysm#16 Trevor Linden is my favorite hockey player and the cause of my most recent depression. (It wasn't really his fault.) The playoffs started on April 9, and my beloved Canucks were not among the playoff teams. (The Kings weren't either, but everyone knew they wouldn't make it since January.) That's not why I was depressed, though, even though that's a perfectly good reason to be depressed. There's a good chance Linden will retire before next season. This got me really, really depressed. Like, not being able to sleep, crying, worried about myself depressed. As much as I love Trevor as a hockey player, I knew this was about something else because I don't love him that much.
I first became a hockey fan in the early 90's. The sport intrigued me. I like the competitiveness and strategy of team sports, and how everyone on the team has to work together in ways that are sometimes hard to understand and achieve. I played soccer in high school but I don't like watching as much as playing it. Hockey is almost like soccer on ice, in terms of how it is played, the positions, and the rules, but faster and more physical. I love to watch them zip around the ice, fly around the net, crash into the boards, fall down, and yes, I like the fights. It's an intense game.
What really amazes me is the skill it takes- as fast as the players skate to the puck, they can stop on a dime and go the other way, skate backwards and sideways, control the puck and shoot it exactly where they want it in the net, and the goalie, with everyone skating in front of the net and the puck darting around, has the reflexes to block it, sometimes catching it. Now that I'm playing hockey myself I'm even more impressed with how easy they make it look. Believe me, it's not easy. Watching Wayne Gretzky play, it seemed like he always knew where everyone was on the ice, as if he could float out of his body and look over the game like an angel (a hockey angel). He knew exactly where to pass the puck so that it would be where his teammate was going to be when the puck got there, which as fast as they go, could be anywhere. I have no idea how he did that. His assists were just as impressive as his own goals. It seemed like he could get anyone to score just by passing him the puck.
I had a boyfriend who was sort of casually into the L.A. Kings when Gretzky played for them, but I got really into it. I watched games every weekend and checked the scores almost every day. I knew at least something about every team in the NHL and their major players. I even had statistics memorized. I knew way more about hockey than anyone I knew. Despite its proximity to Canada, Seattle is not a hockey town. The biggest personal connection I had to the sport was that my mom is from a small town in Minnesota, on the border of Ontario. I have a lot of respect for Canada, probably more than your average American. As someone who likes to cheer for the underdog and do my own thing, being a hockey fan in the U.S. is right up my alley.
Back then, I never considered learning to play. I never heard of anyone even ice skating in Seattle, besides the guys on the Seattle Thunderbirds (the minor league team). Vancouver, British Columbia is 2-3 hours north of Seattle though, and man did I love the Vancouver Canucks. Trevor Linden was their captain from 1991 to 1997, and took them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 (where they lost to the New York Rangers, my most hated team). As crushing as that loss was, the 1997-1998 season was much worse. Linden gave up his captaincy to Mark Messier from the Rangers, and was subsequently traded to the New York Islanders. As devastating as that was, it hardly mattered to me at the time. Just before the 1997-1998 season, life as I knew it ended when my brother killed himself.
I was so angry at myself. I felt stupid, naive, and worthless because I hadn't stopped it from happening. My whole life up until that point seemed idiotic, pointless. If I couldn't save the person who meant the most to me, what good was I? How could I love someone so much, and yet it didn't matter, didn't do any good, and I still lost him? I felt nothing but cold, heavy, terrifying grief, and everything my life had been lost all meaning. Hockey, something that I had been so enthusiastic about and enjoyed so much, seemed completely trivial. I don't think I felt I deserved that release anymore. It seemed like an indulgence. In fact, what I saw as "wallowing" in my feelings at all seemed like an indulgence.
Before Jeff's death, I had been struggling with depression as well. I had no idea that I had PTSD or even what PTSD was, and didn't understand that the emotional scars from living on the streets, being raped, and being abused for 14 years didn't just go away because I was in college and I wanted it to be over. I had dropped two winter quarters because I was so depressed that I could hardly get out of bed, but my problems now seemed stupid in comparison to what drove my brother to take his life. I didn't see my life in terms of how well I had done considering everything that I was up against, that my problems were probably comparable to my brother's problems, and I had managed to get off the streets (which was not easy), get into college, and was going to graduate the following June.
Besides the guilt that prevented me from experiencing and working through the grief, I was afraid that grief would worsen the depression, and depression would sabotage my last year of college and everything I had worked so hard for. I truly believe that I could leave my past behind me if I could just become a different person than the one who had been abused and had been so confused and hurt by the way I was treated. I thought that I was a loser who deserved abuse, but if I could be successful, have a "normal" life, and prove to everyone that I wasn't less than everyone else, they would treat me differently. Jeff's death made that fantasy of the "normal" life seem even more improbable, but that just drove me harder. I had even more to prove because not only was I a loser, I was a failure as well. I failed my brother. I was supposed to take care of him, and I didn't.
I even blamed myself for being depressed before Jeff's death because I thought if I had been more focused on him I could have prevented it. Instead of having sympathy for myself, I interpreted my feelings and struggles as evidence that I was too self-involved. It was selfish to pay attention to my feelings. It was selfish to let myself grieve, and it was selfish to alleviate the pain with things I enjoyed or with happy memories. The only "indulgence" I felt like I could allow myself was The Simpsons, but even that was self-flagellation because The Simpsons was my brother's favorite show so in watching it I was both honoring his memory and chastising myself. Writing poetry became a form of torture, a way to prove my worth rather than something I enjoyed. Everything I did had to have some higher purpose, a way to justify it as making me a better, more worthy person. I was struggling to prove to myself that my life had meaning, that I deserved to live in the same world my brother had been driven out of.
I rejected myself, and became very disconnected from who I was before Jeff's death. It almost felt like my memories and everything that had happened to me actually happened to someone else, someone I shared a body with but not a life. The one thing I retained was self-hatred. It has been less than 3 years since I realized just how numb I was, how disconnected I was from my feelings. I was going through life like I was sleepwalking, like I was a mummy hiding myself in layers and layers of self-reproach. It has been quite a process to unwrap all the layers of repression, diversions, attempts to focus on other people's problems to alleviate my guilt, ways of thinking about myself that were unfair and mean, trying to punish and torture myself, to beat me out of me. I don't know what I was trying to turn myself into, just someone different with different memories and different feelings about myself. How ironic, then, that in dealing with those memories and feelings I tried so hard to distance myself from, now I do feel different about myself. I am starting to like myself, or at least not hate myself. Accept myself for who I am, good or bad.
Which brings me back to hockey. I have no Sherman Alexie style argument for how hockey makes me a better person, how it has some higher purpose or demonstrates some great truth. I just like it. It’s so unpretentious and fun. The personalities of the players don't overwhelm the game and it doesn't suffer from the same celebrity overexposure that some sports suffer from, sports that I have lost interest in because of all the drama. It’s the most exciting to watch, fast paced, physical, never boring. It’s also surprisingly intelligent. There are reasons for all that fighting. It’s actually very strategic. If you watch a playoff series between closely matched teams with a history, or a history between certain players, you come to appreciate just how mental the game is. Just watch the activity in front of the goalie. The goalie has the toughest job, and it’s not just because he has pucks flying at him. What really sets hockey apart from other sports are the fans, though. I love the fans (mostly).
In 2001, after playing with the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Washington Capitals, Trevor Linden was traded back to the Vancouver Canucks, where he's played for the last seven years. I, however, took longer to make my way back to hockey. I had gone to a couple of Seattle Thunderbird games over the years, but last March I saw the L.A. Kings play the Ottawa Senators, and four days later (thanks to my cousin and his connections) I sat in the 7th row behind the goal when the Kings played the Canucks. (Unfortunately Linden was a healthy scratch for that game so I missed my chance to see him up close and in person.) I took hockey lessons and played on the ice at the Staples Center after a game. Something inside of me started to thaw. I started to remember how hockey made me feel back then, how it felt like something that was mine. It was a part of my life that wasn't dictated to me, that wasn't about my family, it wasn't to impress anyone or fit in with a group of people, it wasn't an activity I shared with some boyfriend, it was about me. I liked it and that's why I was a fan. It was something that no one could take from me, no one, apparently, but me.
When I realized that Trevor Linden might retire this year, it felt like the end of an era. Of course, it would be the end of an era for him, but for me, it has been a difficult and challenging transition from my teens to my twenties and thirties. I got off the streets, graduated from college and grad school, moved a couple of times, and landed in my dream job and a city that I love. I also lost my brother and my immediate family, and spent years punishing and hating myself; years that I wish I had been kinder and more forgiving to myself. It's a hard cycle to break, beating myself up for beating myself up.
When the depression hit me, I felt that fear coming back. I thought I might sink into a depression with no end in sight, that the grief would wash over me, overwhelming my life and all the progress I've made. It did feel like grief- I was transported to the time right after my brother died. It really felt like I was there, emotionally. But I did something that I never used to do, I called some friends and talked about how I was feeling. I felt exhausted but surprisingly better. I reassured myself that I could handle it. I cried, and felt bad, and couldn't sleep for a couple days. And then it passed. It was the fastest recovery I've ever had from a depression. I'm surprised; I don't understand it, but I've been trying to let myself feel what I feel and talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable, unpleasant, or threatening those feelings are. When I stop fighting it, they seem to wash over me like a wave and then slide back down the beach, leaving me upright and breathing. I still feel like pounding on the beach and yelling at the ocean, why why why, but I'm not drowning. I can feel the sand between my toes and I'm standing (in a hockey jersey).