Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Crazy Game by Clint Malarchuk

Not being a huge hockey fan, I knew very little about Clint Malarchuk, an NHL goalie in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  This book looked at his career but the focus was really on his struggle with mental health issues.

Even as a child Malarchuk struggled with depression, anxiety and OCD - however, at the time it wasn't diagnosed or talked about.  And he used his obsessive behaviours to his advantage in out working everyone until he ended up in the NHL.

Unfortunately the stress of the game made his anxiety worse and impacted his personal relationships - he was married 4 times and had one child with each of the first 3 wives.  But everything was really exacerbated when he took a skate to the jugular during a game and almost died.  No one talked about the potential psychological impact of the accident - it was only years later that it was recognized as PTSD.  Instead through sheer will he went back to playing, but never at the same level.  He also took to self medicating with alcohol which only made things worse.

After his playing days he tells the story of his mental health issues, his marital problems, a suicide attempt, rehab and his struggle to stay both sober and stable.  His fourth wife and her parents, as well as his mother and siblings, were tremendous supports.  He was also supported by some of his coaches and the NHLPA, eventually.

It was really interesting to watch the progression in the NHL on how mental health issues were dealt with (or even acknowledged at all).  While the league has come a long way, there's still work to be done.  Malarchuk speculates whether concussions may have exacerbated his mental health issues, but this is not something adequately recognized by the league yet.

While the book is not terribly well written, it does tell an interesting and important story.  By being so open, I'm sure Malarchuk will help many current and future athletes and others struggling with mental health issues.

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