You can taste the electricity in the air. Hearts pump with excitement and nervous jitters. Your skin vibrates with loud pumping music.
The charged crowd at Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Las Vegas Golden Knights versus Washington Capitals, feels the thrill of energy flowing throughout their bodies.
All eyes are on the ice.
Fans captivated by each play sit on the edge of their seat and rise slightly with each pass of the puck. Their unconscious minds think, is this the play that scores the next goal? Will this play change the trajectory of the game?
There’s never a dull moment in playoff hockey. It’s fast, complex. You wonder how players move with the flow, grace, and hard-hitting determination wrapped in one.
I stir, waiting for that next big hit.
On the large jumbo screen, a Vegas Knights fan raises a sign that says, “Hockey Heals” with a picture of both teams and the prized Stanley Cup.
I take a deep breath and let out a small sigh. My eyes gently swell with tears. All I can think to myself — hockey is what healed me twenty-five years ago.
It was an escape. I went to every Washington Capitals regular season and playoff game for five straight years as a pre-teen and teenager. The now-demolished Capital Centre Arena is where I found community after my father suddenly died.
Seven other season ticket holders loved me like I was their own daughter. They bought me Dove ice cream bars when we were down a goal. We cheered together and threw popcorn at each other in fun play.
We yelled at opposing Patrick Division fans, referees, and even caught pucks that came over the plexiglass behind the goal. They drove me to games before I had a driver’s license. It was my family.
Steve, Karen, Bob, Priscilla, Jim, Detra, and Elaina will always have a special place in my heart.
I hid my pain from these seven lovely souls. Deep inside I was a lonely, severely depressed young woman that was on the brink of suicide. I was Daddy’s little girl and felt abandoned by his death.
He was my first male connection. I lost the person that took me on school field trips, hugged me and smothered me with attention. I was only eleven years old when he died; when you are that young, you do not really know what depression is or how to cope with it.
I slowly withdrew from life. I did not want to play and found friendships difficult to maintain, especially as my hormones were also changing. I hid in my bedroom.
I became unfocused in school and my grades quickly plummeted in parallel. I isolated myself which only drew me deeper down into the spiral of depression.
I once took a swig of my mother’s Crown Royal whiskey; that sat on the kitchen counter next to the window. I was knocked out cold with a fast onset drunkenness and only to wake-up in time for dinner with a hangover.
I thought suicide was my way out of this deep pain that I could not describe. I would sit on my bed contemplating whether I should take a bottle of pills. I wondered, how many pills do I need to take to not feel this anymore? Would this make it all go away?
I did not know how to communicate my sorrow. My mother was emotionally unavailable and I did not feel I could talk to her. I did speak up once and she found a child therapist for me; but this was only a band-aid for a deep wound that required special care.
And to top it off, halfway through high school, I lost my best friend unexpectedly in a car accident. Such loss of connection with loved ones haunted me in my younger years. When my home-life was chaotic, hockey games were my place of peace and calm; hockey is where I found my own community of supporters. I was fortunate that my older brother who played hockey turned me into a raging Caps fan.
This turned into my safety net.
A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Karen and Steve, who I’ve stayed in touch with for almost 30 years now. I thanked them for all their kindness, love, and support. Karen wanted to send the letter to the Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonis, but I said no at the time. I was still too embarrassed to tell my story. This is the first I’m writing about depression and suicidal thoughts.
As I saw the sign, “Hockey Heals”, I thought of what the city of Las Vegas endured only months before. A sudden loss of life with a shooter at a music festival. This tragedy broke so many hearts.
It all happened at the beginning of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season. The team helped the city recover and gain strength; the city, in turn, rallied behind their new ice hockey team. Hockey became a unifying community to support Vegas’ tragedy. While I wasn’t rooting for the Golden Knights, I had a respect for why the fans came together so quickly.
It’s funny how sporting events bring people together. It doesn’t matter your race or gender. You’re at the game to root for and support your team. This is how countries come together and break past the political nonsense to cheer on their home athletes in the Olympics. Its why millions watch the Super Bowl.
For those precious hours during the game, hearts-open and people come together for one cause. There’s an excitement in the air that may not be in their daily lives. Demons disappear. You forget about the person that pissed you off that day or the situation you don’t know how to solve. Your focus becomes razor sharp with full attention only on the game.
Nothing else matters. It’s just you, your fellow fans, your team and the game to be played. All feels right in the world.
While my Capitals lost a hard-fought Game 1, fellow Caps fans rallied around each other. High fives were still to be had; hugs were given to all who needed them. Yes, with complete strangers.
Capitals fans are a family. It’s been twenty years since we’ve reached the Stanley Cup finals. Fans have endured the pain of Game 7 losses and cheers of overtime wins. In our heart, we know it’s our time.
Whether you are a player or a fan, let’s come together. Our world suffers from a lack of human connection.
What community are you building with your own passion?
How can you bring that community together with love, support, and non-judgment?
The world needs more fans to rally behind their unique passions. One day you may never know what impact you had on someone like my fellow season ticket holders had on me. I conquered depression and suicide.
It’s time to create a ripple effect in your own community. It’s time to forge your own courageous path and foster true community.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, there is help available. 1-800-273-8255
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