Golf is, without question, the most difficult sport on the planet. It’s a test of a man or woman against themselves and against their own mental endurance in a way that challenges a person – more than any other sport. But for me, it’s a cake walk.
That said, the mental aspect of the game rarely gets to me. It cannot break me, nor cause me to falter. That’s because over 15 years ago I was diagnosed with depression, a battle that took a lifetime of mental anguish out of me, and got the best of me on multiple occasions. So compared to that, golf is easy.
I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario with a loving mother and father and two brothers. I was the middle child in a sports-driven family. My parents put each of us into our own sports that would allow us to excel. My older brother was in basketball, my younger brother played football, and for me it was baseball. Having individual sports allowed us to develop our own identities and have our own individual forums.
Wanting to keep us all close together despite our varied activities, my dad decided to teach us all how to golf. Now, this isn’t a story like Tiger and his father! Our father, bless his heart, isn’t the greatest golfer around. It was simply a way for us to be united.
The challenge of golf was a way to teach us to believe in ourselves, and for us to learn that we don’t always have to rely on others to succeed. We learned to golf by renting clubs at a driving range and hitting buckets of balls endlessly until we were good enough the tackle the daunting truck stop Par 3 Course, known in Hamilton as “Pros Golf Course”. It’s nine Par-3 holes, all very similar, but a great place to start nonetheless.
After years of truck stop golf, my dad was confident enough in our abilities to take us to a real course to see how we fared. And for me, it was instant love. For those couple of hours I felt free, like I could be whoever I wanted. I could challenge myself and never get down on myself. It was fun for me.
As much as I loved sports and my friends and family, the older I got, the more my life and thoughts started to turn. Things started to become darker. I became more distant from my brothers. I was always angry, always frustrated, and never really able to focus. It started just before high school: I was distracted all the time, and my thoughts started to constantly include violence towards myself, towards my brothers, towards anyone who was around me. I started to fear myself, so I shut off.
I would sit in my room, alone, for hours on end. Simple questions from my parents would result in anger and frustration, screaming, yelling, breaking things. I was upset all the time. Things really took a turn for me as I entered high school. My grandfather, someone who I admired with all my heart, who I idolized and wanted to be like was diagnosed with cancer. When I heard the news, things started to become unbearable. I blamed the world, I blamed myself, I blamed God. None of it could make sense to me. I started high school feeling completely separated from myself. I had good days and bad days like anyone else, but it never really seemed to me that the world would get better.
Two days before my 16th birthday, my grandfather passed away in his sleep. My thoughts changed from anger and frustration to one simple thought: “Wouldn’t you rather be with him, than here?” The thoughts pushed me every day, until one day I had finally had enough, and I felt like I was ready to see him again.
Only, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. I felt as though life wasn’t worth living, but it wasn’t worth taking either. I was in a very bad spot. It was around this time that my aunt noticed the drastic change in me. She noticed it because she had also gone through it herself.
Up until that point, I had never heard of, or understood depression. But my aunt could recognize that I needed help, and told me bluntly, “You’re too important to us all to not go talk to someone”. So I did. I made a doctor’s appointment, and I told my doctor everything. The thoughts, the anger, the fear, everything. I broke down and showed vulnerability, something I had a hard time doing with anyone. But in that moment, I saved myself. I saved my family and friends. I asked for help.
Over the next several months I went through counselling and was started on antidepressants. The toughest part of the whole process was the adjustments to the medication. It took months of trial and error to get the medication that helped me the most. But at the end of it all, it was worth it. As I started the process of taking medication, my counselor would always try to break new barriers with me. She was always trying to find a new way for me to express myself, to be happy with myself and proud of myself. She knew I loved sports and one day simply asked, “How does golf make you feel?”
I didn’t have an answer, or at least I thought I didn’t. She asked immediately after, “What about it just made you smile?”
When I think about golf I don’t think about the duffs or the shanks or the hooks. I think about family, I think about friends, I think about the sun shining, and the beauty of the rolling hills. When I think about golf, I’m at peace. Golf isn’t difficult for me. I’m not the best golfer, but for me, the course is where all the sadness goes away. Golf is where I can sit in the cart and actually talk with my brothers, dad, cousins, uncles or friends. It’s my own personal form of counselling. It’s a way for me to be me, unafraid of making a mistake, because one good shot could change your whole round.
Depression is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me. I won’t let it control me and I won’t be broken by it. I’m not perfect and I still have bad days like anyone else, but I’ve learned that it’s just a matter of how you handle it. The most important thing I’ve learned about depression is talking. Talk to your friends, talk to family, talk to anyone. You don’t even need to talk about your depression! Just talk!
When you talk, it means someone is listening, and that’s the most important thing: being heard. Having someone see you and being acknowledged is often the first step. Whether it’s on a golf course, during a car ride or through Facebook, don’t be afraid to talk. Talking can change your life forever.
The next time you’re on the course, take a minute, look at your playing partner, and just ask “How’s it going?”. You’ll be shocked at how far that can go. And always remember, you’re playing against yourself, both in life and golf. Never forget that. The only person who can beat you, is you. Believe in yourself, in golf, and in life, and things will always get a little bit easier. You CAN do it.
Farthest from the hole buys lunch…
If you are struggling with a depression or mental health crisis, please go to your local hospital, call 911, or contact a local helpline near you.