The name Clint Malarchuk* may not mean much to you. In the hockey world an older generation will remember him as the young man whose throat was cut by a skate in the middle of a game in 1989.
Few people understood that for years he had battled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD. He used his OCD to create a work ethic that landed him in the NHL. As a goalie, he would create as many moves to stop a puck as he could, practicing for hours a day. His OCD also linked him to what nearly took his life.
It was early in the game and Clint was at his post. An opponent drew up close to score. He fell, and his left skate severed Clint’s jugular vein and carotid artery. Blood streamed onto the ice as Clint clutched his throat. Blood loss like that can cause death within one minute.
Clint thought he was going to die and whispered to the equipment manager who was gripping his hand, “Call my mom and tell her I love her.” A trainer applied heavy pressure to the source of bleeding, and Clint survived all the way to the hospital.
There he underwent immediate surgery, and unbelievably was back on the ice in eleven days. He had lost one-third of his body’s blood supply.
Looking back, he now says he wishes he could have rested as the doctors had told him to do. His OCD called him back to play and he had obeyed. It began to overtake his life. What was once an exceptionally good work ethic was becoming a beast that expressed itself in part through clinical depression.
No one had figured out he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is what it sounds like – unquenchable stress as a result of unprocessed trauma. His depression nearly kept him home, and when he played his performance suffered. Clint’s struggle included angry outbursts and physically attacking other players- a change in personality that soon ended his hockey career.
He moved to the middle of nowhere and took up ranching. He felt he was doing well enough emotionally until the unthinkable happened. Another hockey player was sliced by a skate through his jugular vein. Clint’s PTSD burst into full gear. While the newly injured young man received counseling and returned to his sport slowly, Clint was falling apart.
Obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors joined his deepening depression until one day his wife found him sitting on a bench behind an out building. He picked up a gun and shot himself in the face.
This suicide attempt broke his chin, teeth, cheekbone and eye socket into little pieces. He lived for six months in a psychiatric facility. Finally, his PTSD had been diagnosed and he received appropriate medical and emotional help.
This took place twenty years after his hockey injury, and he lives now with a new sense of purpose. He coaches and is an inspiration to many. He wants to spend his life combatting stigma against mental illness wherever he can.
There are many stories I want to tell, inspiring tales of strength and power over mental health challenges. In the meantime, remember Clint. He thought he was hopeless, out of control, and had no reason to live anymore because of emotional pain. He was wrong, wasn’t he? It may be a long road, but seeking help as early as possible is important. None if us will ever be as young as we are today. Tomorrow can be a fresh start.
* For a video of Clint Malarchuk telling his own story, click http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9255400
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
*picture from Qulaitystockphotos.com