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Shane Doan Details His Drive for Mental Wellness

Famed Coyotes captain: Sadness should not be stigmatized

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Shane Doan didn't fully realize the challenge ahead when his playing career ended.

"I didn't really understand how to deal (with retirement)," Doan said. "When the game kind of ended, when it ended for me, when I quit playing -- and it was the right time, that wasn't the issue -- it was just the idea of something being gone from my life that I grieved."

Doan spoke with this week in connection with the Coyotes' annual "Hockey Talks" game, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Thursday night at Gila River Arena.

Doan's struggle with his life-altering situation led him to share his experience, while providing encouragement and some hope for those who battle with mental wellness. 

"Mental health has become such a hot topic," Doan said. "And that is probably as long overdue as anything that we've dealt with. It seems that we've gotten so much better at fixing the body. There's a saying, 'A broken spirit is the hardest thing to carry.' And the broken spirit mentally, it's too heavy for any one person to carry by themselves."

Doan, who was hired as the Coyotes' Chief Hockey Development Officer on January 11, retired in 2017 following 21 seasons and 1,540 regular season games with the Coyotes franchise. He is the franchise leader in games played (1,540), goals (402), assists (570), points (972), power-play goals (128) and game-winning goals (69).

He describes himself as pretty happy, go-lucky. However, once the game was gone, he faced a grieving process that carried a heavy weight.

"There were times when I was pretending it wasn't bothering me," he said. "'It's no big deal, it's easy, I'm so happy that I'm done.' And yet, that wasn't true. It was really, really hard. It was hard at times to be honest that I was grieving. There was a loss there, and I had to grieve it. I recognized that it would never be the same, ever again in my life."

Part of the problem, Doan says, is that sadness carries a stigma; it often is identified as weakness.

"When we bottle that up, it's just unhealthy," he said. "There needs to be an ability to talk to people, to be in relationships with people that you can have communications with, and sometimes you need to have someone listen.

"When you lose something like that, there is a grieving process that you have to go through," he said. "And if you don't go through that and accept that sadness isn't a bad thing, that it's part of a process, then you can get unhealthy, and you can get into an area that isn't balanced, and then all kinds of other things can come along."

Doan's family provided critical support. He and his wife, Andrea, have four children. It did take some time, however, for him to honestly open up to his family. 

"My wife would be like, 'Are you okay? Is something bothering you?' Doan said. "And I'd be like, 'No, I'm fine, what are you talking about? I'm totally fine.' And it just seemed to compound things and make it harder, than if I were to say to my wife, 'No. I'm working my way through this, it's a tough day, and I miss everything that is now gone, and I'm just kind of going through it.'

"For me, that was probably the best part. My wife would tell me, 'It's okay, be honest. Don't fake it. Be honest.' And too often, particularly as men, we want to act like we're tough and strong -- 'I'm fine, I never get sad, I'm never sad.' It sounds cliché, but the sadness is required, it needs to be there. There's a time of grieving. There's a time or season for everything."

Athletic careers tend to be very well structured. One of the most difficult things for Doan was trying to adapt to a life with less structure.

"Everything felt disoriented and kind of chaotic," he said. "I felt like that was scary and bad. It's okay that it's not all lined up the way you want it to be. Things were different than what I wanted."

In addition to restructuring, part of his struggle was with his identity.

"A job change can be one of the more stressful things in your life," he said. "We get so much identity from what we do instead of who we are that you sometimes have to be careful. Obviously, I probably let (my hockey career) become more of my identity than I ever wanted it to be because I had done it for so long, and that's understandable. There's an element that kind of has to go away and be gone, and that's not a comforting feeling."

A confidant also struggling with mental wellness reminded Doan of the value of physical activity.

"He's like, 'I have to do 20 minutes of cardio every day. I don't care what it is, I just have to.'" Doan said. "'And if I do that, it just clears my head so I can function and think much clearer.' You and your body are designed to feel like you accomplished something. And when you're able to do 20 minutes of cardio every day - I don't care if it's just going for a walk - just to not think about everything else, to get your head out of the space that you're in and go somewhere. We are designed to accomplish things. We feel better when we accomplish things."

And sometimes, it's the small things. 

"It's the reason why -- and this sounds cheesy but it's part of it - it's the reason why you make your bed. It sounds so simple. But you make your bed, and you go for a run or a walk, a hike or a bike ride or whatever, and you feel like, 'Okay, I'm putting together a good day.' And then you can face your day."

Doan believes the focus on mental wellness is a progressive movement among hockey players - and athletes in general. 

"I think the mental side of the game has become so much more important," Doan said. "People are starting to recognize and realize, 'I've got to take care of this, I can't just assume that it's going to work out. I'm going to have to have a plan and a process.' I think for a long time it was like, 'Yeah, that will take care of itself, I'll just make it through my day and that'll take care of itself.'

"As I talk to the younger guys that are coming into the league, they all seem to have mental coaches or people that they can talk to, people that they can be open and honest with that will give them the feedback that is important for them to understand what's going on in their head and how communication goes back and forth between people. I think that's huge. Communication and a process that's intentional, and you give yourself an opportunity to be successful in this field, in this area of mental health."

Doan puts his challenge in perspective.

"People deal with huge, huge mental issues that are much, much bigger than anything I had," he said. "But it was just the idea of going through a grieving process, figuring that out, it's not easy."

Doan continued: "We were designed to cry for a reason. There's a time and a season for everything, and sometimes that's the time for that to happen, and you deal with it. If you don't, and you let that build, then you get unhealthy, and that's when things kind of get sideways on you even more. You need people to talk to, you need relationships, relationships that are genuine and real.

"You need somebody that knows you enough to say, 'Hey, are you okay? I need to check in on you and make sure you're okay.'"

Lead Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Fourth Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Fifth Photo Credit: Michael Martin - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - NHLI via Getty Images

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