By Ellen Tsaprailis
Photos by Justin Tang

“Doing it alone isn’t possible. You need to seek help.”

Kendra Fisher delivered a low-key yet powerful speech to students, staff and faculty on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 describing her journey—from hiding her true self and hoping she had a physical ailment to a mental illness diagnosis and active recovery.

A standing ovation and a robust question-and-answer period followed Fisher’s Bell Let’s Talk: Beyond the Words event held in collaboration with Carleton’s Thrive Week, a series of events focused on building positive mental health on campus.

An elite Canadian hockey player and founder of mentallyfit (a movement aimed at presenting hope, education and a safe place for people struggling with mental illness), Fisher was candid about her struggles and feeling that “tomorrow wasn’t going to come.”

Chest pains. Constant fearful thoughts. Eating becoming painful. Pressure in her brain that was hard to describe.

After years of medical doctors telling her there was nothing physically wrong with her, Fisher reached a breaking point when it came time to try out for her dream team, Team Canada. Despite making the team in 1999, which would have gotten her to the Olympics, she had to bow out because she could not hide the symptoms anymore.

“I spent my whole life becoming the hockey player,” said Fisher. “Hockey was the only break I got from being me and sport was my only safe place. I could play and it said everything about me I wanted to say.”

Her symptoms became so debilitating that Fisher could not be left alone. Scared to sleep for fear of not waking up, Fisher finally met with a sports psychologist that Team Canada coaches recommended. In the following weeks, Fisher was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder coupled with severe panic attacks, depression, agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Medicine and therapy were a starting point, but it has taken 10 years for Fisher to figure out what she needs to stay in active recovery and feel better. A combination of physical exercise, yoga, clean eating, enough sleep, medicine that works for her and deep breathing exercises help stave off the disorders that she will live with for the rest of her life.

In years past, Fisher thought her greatest achievement was being able to hide her mental state. Then she realized she was a part of the problem in not speaking out. Fisher’s takeaway message is that people need to look out for those who are suffering and let them know about the help that is available.

“Everyone needs to know that it takes (just) one person to be there to let them know they are not alone in that moment,” said Fisher.

“We can live with this. I am proof.”

Fisher was the first female hockey player in the history of the Grey-Bruce Highlanders Minor “AAA” program during the 1995-96 season. An elite goalie, she competed in the Esso Women’s Nationals in 2002, 2004 and 2005. During the 2009-10 season, Fisher competed for the Vaughan Flames. She competed for the Toronto Furies in their inaugural season of 2010-11. Currently an inline hockey player, Fisher started in net for Canada in the gold medal game at the 2016 World Inline Hockey Championships.

Thursday, February 1, 2018 in
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