Beyond rituals: Hockey player learns to control his OCD
Opening up about mental illness can be difficult, especially in a hockey locker room.
Former Detroit Red Wings draft pick Philippe Hudon knows that all too well. His fixation with order, cleanliness and perfection spun out of control until he spoke up.
Hudon tapes his stick with perfect precision and symmetry, one of his many pregame rituals.
“I like my laces when they overlap. They all overlap the same way,” he explains.
Many hockey players have rituals, but Hudon's need for cleanliness, order and symmetry goes well beyond the locker room.
“I basically grew up as a kid that was very organized, that made his bed every morning, that always had his room clean and neat,” said Hudon, who now plays hockey for the Concordia Stingers. “I wasn't pushed by my parents to have all these things in order. It was really all in me and the type of person I was.”
His perfectionism translated to the ice, too. By 2011, he was at the top of his game, drafted by the Detroit Red Wings.
The straight A student was also enrolled at Cornell University when things began to fall apart.
“At its worst, I would take up to six hours cleaning out my room. I was living in a dorm back then, cleaning out my room, taking everything out. All of my belongings would go out of my room and into the hallway and I’d bring them back one piece at a time. That would take six hours. It beats me that I had to do that to actually function during the day,” he said.
Hudon was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The repetitive tasks were his way of dealing with anxiety, but they only made things worse.
Soon after, he left Cornell to return home and pursue treatment.
“It just got to the point where I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything. I was stranded in a little hole that I felt like I wasn't seeing light at the end of the tunnel. That's basically the turning point,” he said.
Even in the darkest times, he said his love of hockey never left him, so while going to therapy and taking medication, he got back on the ice. He began playing in Victoriaville and now for the Concordia Stingers.
Part of his ongoing recovery is sharing his story.
“Just lending an ear, talking, is the single most important step in the process that can soothe just about everything,” he said.
Hudon has taken part in Bell Let's Talk Day for the last few years to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness. That's not easy to do, especially in a hockey locker room, where conformity is the culture and differences stick out.
“Some of our teammates like to fool around a little bit in his stall because it's all neat and clean and everything has his place,” said Stingers captain Olivier Hinse.
Now that they understand what's behind it, they've come alongside his cause.
“For sure since knowing him I'm more aware of it and I totally understand what he goes through, and I'm there to support him,” said Hinse.
Part of that means giving him some time and space apart from the team to prepare for games – a little calm before the storm of competition.
His coach Marc-Andre Element keeps an eye on him to ensure he's managing the stress of play.
“Phil is just a guy who's on track. In practices or games he works really, really hard. He's always focused, he's always well prepared, always structured, so for me it's really, really easy,” he said.
As for the rituals: they're still there and likely always will be.The difference now, Hudon explained, is they don't run his life. He's learned how to let things go.
“That's just how I like it to be,” he said.