Ex-NHLer shares story of suicide attempt, mental illness in new book
Many people remember Clint Malarchuk from his ten-year National Hockey League career and, unfortunately, from a horrific on-ice accident that nearly cost him his life.
As shocking as it was, the accident was just one of many traumatic moments in Malarchuk’s life, which he has chronicled in his compelling autobiography called ‘The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond.’
Malarchuk says his struggles with mental illness began during his childhood in Alberta.
“I thank God because I was so into hockey. It was all I thought about. I spent so much time in the outdoor rinks they had to tell me to go home, they wanted to turn the lights out and get rid of me because I didn't want to go home.”
In Malarchuk’s words, home was anxiety.
He talks of his father’s alcohol-fueled rage, which led to the end of his parents’ marriage.
“It wasn't long after that, maybe a month or two, I was hospitalized,” says Malarchuk. “I was maybe 10 or 12 and I had episodes of uncontrollable crying, anxiety through the roof, and I remember them saying, ‘What's wrong? Talk to us.' I couldn't tell them. I had no idea.”
Ironically, Malarchuk’s early struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder helped him reach the peak of his sport.
“I don't think I had the most skill, but I would overcome it with hard work. That was my attitude and I thought if I worked harder than anybody, maybe I would gain ground and pass them and it got me to the NHL. That work ethic and that OCD mind and it kept me there. Eventually it was my undoing.”
Malarchuk is best known for a horrific incident in 1989, when his carotid artery was cut during a game in Buffalo.
He survived the ordeal and played again just ten days later. However, it was the beginning of the end of his career.
“I think the jugular vein incident pushed that to the uncontrollable phase, to where I couldn't even leave the house. The anxiety and depression that would hit and not knowing what the heck is wrong.”
After a stint in the minors, Malarchuk settled in Nevada and sought help for his mental illnesses.
By 2008, almost 20 years had passed since that horrible night in Buffalo and Malarchuk thought he had put that chapter of his life behind him. But another horrible on-ice injury in Buffalo brought the trauma back.
Florida’s Richard Zednik suffered a similar injury and also survived, but it sent Malarchuk into a spiral.
“Unchecked for all those years, it seemed like it caught up with me and resulted in a suicide attempt,” he says.
That same year, Malarchuk shot himself in the face in front of his wife Joanie.
“What's very graphic in the book is when I shot myself. I didn't lose consciousness. I was walking around and bleeding profusely and I blamed her. That is so cruel, so wrong and that's how sick I was and far gone.”
“You're married to your best friend. You hang out together every day. Watching him struggle and go through this stuff, it wasn't him,” says Joanie.
While in hospital, Malarchuk was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Because I had already been diagnosed with OCD, depression and anxiety, great, now you want to give me PTSD? I'm not going to take that one. You guys can have it,” says Malarchuk.
Malarchuk says he is grateful his wife stood by him through all the turmoil.
“The degree that I was mean and angry and acting out. She hung in there and she never faltered,” says Malarchuk.
“It just never crossed my mind to walk away. I was going to see it through to the end and I was going to help him through it. I know he would have done the same for me,” says Joanie.
“You know, we are inseparable. She knew the good Clint. She saw the bad Clint, lived with him and we conquered it together. She stuck in there and that's the incredible, I mean the book is as much about her and her tribulations as it is about mine,” says Malarchuk.
“To see him get better and want to get better and really work on it, it's great. It's great and I can't believe how far he's come. He's the same person I married back in 06,” says Joanie.
‘The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond’ is available in bookstores everywhere.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter