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#BellLetsTalk: Fighting Anxiety With Hockey

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As part of #BellLetsTalk day, Sarah Hall from SBN's Coyote's blog Five For Howling talks about how hockey helps her deal with her mental health condition.

Washington Capitals v Colorado Avalanche

The lights, the crowds, the sound when your team scores. That’s what everyone goes to a hockey game for. The experience you have with 15,000 fans screaming at the goalie to get back into his crease. Hearing that goal horn and the goal song.

Not for me.

For me, that can be hell on my bad days, which I am starting to have more of than good.

I have a severe anxiety disorder, a bit off the charts. Appointments for medication, a lot of crying, a psychologist and a hospital visit because of anxiety-induced reactions.

This is my new normal.

Now I have to adapt how I approach my love of hockey.

You see, I go to hockey games because it is my happy place. The sounds of skates on the ice, the pucks off the blades of sticks. But those aren’t all you get at a hockey game.

The reality is, it’s lots of people you do not know in an arena that holds 17,000 people.

I’m grateful that I have amazing friends who are hockey fans, who are also season ticket holders. They see me starting to panic and get me out of the crowd and to a safe place.

The first time I had an anxiety attack at a hockey game was three years ago. I was overwhelmed when watching warm-ups on the Penguins side. It was the first time Sidney Crosby had ever played in Arizona. There were a lot of people down at the glass, more than I had encountered before.

After the warm-ups, I got up to the concourse and I panicked

Too much.

Too many people.

I had no space to breathe.

One of my friends told me to ‘calm down’ and ‘it was fine’.

I went and hid in my seat until game time.

That’s the thing about anxiety. Being told to ‘calm down’ makes it worse. There is no ‘calm’ when you are in the middle of an anxiety attack, and having one while surrounded by three thousand people that you don’t know makes it worse. I was still able to enjoy the game at least.

That was February 1st, 2014, and I can tell you every little detail about that game.

I am going into my 3rd season of being an Arizona Coyotes Season Ticket Holder. In Gila River Arena, I’ve made friends. From the girls in the store, to the security, to an usher who lets me come hide in her alcove or section when my anxiety gets too much and I’m by myself.

Last season, I sat with a lovely family, and it made it easier. Jason, Heather, and the kids made watching hockey fun again. The kids loved it. I was sitting up high where I had an escape route if my anxiety got too bad. If it did get too much, I would use the guise of ‘I have to go to work early’ or ‘this is too painful to watch’.

I left so many games early last season or skipped them in general because the team we were playing or the fan base made me anxious. (Looking at you Chicago, Kings, and strangely enough, Minnesota.)

Last season I started my podcast with my best friend, Liz. Low risk, high reward. We have grown the show into something I am very proud of, but it does suffer from my anxiety sometimes.

Last season I also started to write about the Coyotes at Five For Howling, the SB Nation site for the team. It was amazing at first.

Then I took on too much, too quickly. With my anxiety, if something isn’t being done, I will try to fix it right away. Because if I don’t, people start yelling about why isn’t it done — in my mind at least.

This was my mistake when I went to another site to write, to be ‘paid’. The pressure there was way too much for me. I was ‘let go’ because they were ‘going in a different direction’. If something feels wrong, or your editors don’t listen to you at all, think about looking elsewhere to write. I got that feeling in February and I was let go in March.

So I came back home to SB Nation and have a wonderful support base there. People had missed me. That’s a big thing when you think no one likes you anymore. SB Nation is a home for me now.

In June, I had the chance to cover the NHL Awards. I took it because it felt like a once in a lifetime experience for me.

Three weeks before the Awards, I decided that I needed anxiety medication in my life to function properly. That was a huge day for me.

I almost didn’t go. The night before I left, I could barely sleep. All I could think about was ‘what could go wrong’ while en route to and while in Las Vegas.

In Vegas, I talked to a few bloggers and journalists. Anxiety is a big thing to a few of them as well. It was so nice to know that I’m not alone.

I asked questions in my first media scrums and was able to cover the event my way. I was able to be as involved as I wanted to be and detached as I needed to be. It was great.

I had an anxiety attack the third day because of some drama with an SBN Blogger and the NHL. I almost packed and went home, but I didn’t. I couldn’t let my anxiety get the better of me. I met amazing contacts and it made me realize I love covering hockey.

I love this sport. I want to cover it for a living and I am not going to let my anxiety stop me.

As the summer wore on, I interviewed prospects at Coyotes Development Camp. I had an email Q&A with the COO of the Coyotes.

I wrote a piece about coming out for The Bloggers Tribune.

SB Nation brought on a women’s hockey site (The Ice Garden, check it out), my support network is even bigger because Hannah Bevis brought over a lot of familiar faces from the other site I wrote for.

I was able to interview Jakob Chychrun and Shane Doan. Radim Vrbata will forever be my favorite interview, he made me feel at ease, like I was talking to a friend.

I’ve needed to state my position within the hockey community and my writing.

I am loved where I write, and that means more than you know. I am able to write things that some people say have no place on a sports blog, but sometimes, it’s the exact right thing.

But…

In the real world, I am barely functioning as a human. I’m on lots of anxiety medication, I have lots triggers that no one expects, and my day job is in jeopardy.

My doctor told me to ‘take the time off until you find a new job,’ early last week. That’s just not an option for me. But the more I think about it, the more it may be the only option I have.

You see, what you see of me in my writing — confident, strong, and opinionated – what I want to be.

But in the real world, I’m quiet, meek and scared unless I am talking about hockey.

I don’t want to be cliché and say hockey has saved my life, but it has changed me for the better.

My anxiety is trying to run and ruin my life at the moment.

I’m trying desperately to not let that happen.

I can’t.

I won’t.

Thank you to my support team, there are too many of you to name from friends in the valley to my lovely online friends. You mean more to me than you even realize.

My email (sarahhhowling@gmail.com) is always open if you want to talk, so are my twitter DM’s.