We recently spoke to former Phantoms defenceman, James Hutchinson, who opened up about his battle with mental health throughout his life and hockey career.
Hutch had an established career in the game, icing over 100 times in the Elite League and over 300 times in the second division of British hockey. His hockey CV includes the Phantoms, Basingstoke, Hull (Stingrays and Pirates), Slough and Solway, whilst he also gained a number of Great Britain Junior caps in his early days.
But it wasn’t always easy for James, who struggled with anxiety and depression throughout the majority of his hockey career – something he recently opened up to us about.
“My earliest memories of battling anxiety and depression probably started way before I knew what was going on, I’d hazard a guess that I started suffering around the age of 13/14, but I had nothing diagnosed until I was 25/26 years old.” Hutch said.
He’s been battling his condition for many years, but now is in the best place he’s ever been and is enjoying his life more than ever.
“Right now, I am better than I ever have been before. I enjoy every single day of my life and it’s actually hard to believe the suffering & misery I had in the past. It almost seems like it happened to a different person and I watch the memories back.” Hutchinson said.
During the worst times, it was undoubtedly very tough for James, who had the weight of expectation that comes with being an athlete, paired with the overbearing thoughts going through his own mind.
James talks below, in his own words, about the battles he faced with his mental health throughout his playing career.
“I like to think that I kept my personal issues under my hat most of the time and even on the bad days where I was the worst player on the ice, I don’t think anyone suspected it was because I was depressed and anxious.
There is no doubting that sometimes that dark cloud would come over me and survival mode kicked in. There was no playing or contributing to my team on those days, it was just about getting through the game unnoticed. Hating every single minute, praying not to get put on the ice by coach, longing to be home, safe, away from anyone looking or judging me.
I remember playing in the Final Four weekend for Peterborough one year. I’d had a pretty bad week, mood wise, leading up to the finals. We had Guildford in the second semi-final. As we arrived to watch the end of the first semi-final, I was standing watching the game at the plexiglass. I was becoming distracted, my thinking started to speed up, I couldn’t hold a conversation with my teammates.
My legs had turned to lead, I could hardly take a breath and all I could think of was ‘how do I get out of this game, ‘I’m gonna let everyone down tonight, I can’t breathe’. I had to hide this sheer panic and debilitating physical symptoms, I was a big part of the team and our success that year, but right now, I knew I would hurt the team.
Because my mind and body were doing something, out of my control, that was making it impossible for me to skate, move my arms or think. I had to get away from the crowds of people.
I took myself off for a jog around Coventry city centre, tears streaming down my face. Hiding from the vast numbers of fans wandering the sunny streets – it was horrendous that day.
I wanted to run away. My legs barely able to carry me, my mind racing…
‘shall I get knocked over by a car? I won’t have to play then’
That was crazy illogical thinking, I loved the game, it was hurting me that my brain and body were giving up on such a big day.
I wanted to and was expected to thrive that day, ‘why? Why? Why?’, I thought.
We lost that game; I don’t remember too much about it other than the relief I felt once the final buzzer went. 40 beers right after the game put my issues to bed for a few hours but I knew right then that I needed help.
I’d change from being a positive vocal influence in the dressing room to a mute: scared anyone would expect conversation from me. This would happen at random. My polarising mood and behaviour was difficult to manage as an athlete.
That summer 2011 or 2012, I decided I get help.
I worked with a private psychiatrist and saw my GP for medication. I was taking medication up until Christmas 2018. It’s been a journey and a half but, in all honesty, I don’t think I would change a thing.
I have learned so much about myself and my condition. I know that every single day I have to be on top of my habits and behaviours to keep that dark cloud in its box.” Hutch said.
And, speaking from experience, James’ advice to those who may be struggling with their mental health, is this:
“Be aware of what you put in your body and what you expect to get out of it.
Be open and honest about how you are feeling, I’m sure I would have been a lot better had I shared my issues with my teammates.
There is so much support out there right now but if anyone reading this has had similar issues, my door is always open.
Its therapy to talk, its therapy to help out but the best therapy of all is to live your life in a kind and grateful manner.
As Hutch has said, talking to people is really important, whether it be a friend, family member of via one of the many mental health helplines available (details of which can be found here). It’s okay not to be okay, but don’t suffer in silence.
We’d like to thank James for taking the time to share his experiences with us and we wish him all the best!