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Ulmer On Rick Rypien And Depression

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I never met Rick Rypien. He is an athlete, I am anything but.

He fought people for a living. I don’t possess the bloodlust to cast a fishing line. The joke among sportswriters is that we interview the people who beat us up in high school.

You couldn’t find two more disparate people from more disparate backgrounds but he is dead and I am alive. I survived and survive depression. Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you.

I wasn’t going to comment on Rick Rypien who may well have died from his own hand or for that matter the depression and ultimate suicides of pitchers Hideki Irabu, Donnie Moore and snowboarder Speedy Peterson. Same deal for star German goalie Robert Enke and NFL player Jeff Alm and just this February former Chicago Bear star Dave Duerson or Doug Ault, the man who hit the Jays first home run.

But then the Toronto Star retracted the word ‘crazy’ it had earlier attached to a quote from Mike Gillis. The Vancouver GM was describing his connection with Rypien, a undersized fighter who had been treated on and off for depression.

Yep, crazy.

We should all be as crazy as Duerson, who shot himself in the stomach to make sure his brain could be studied. Imagine a person in enough pain to end his own life but cognizant enough to spare his brain for others. How much awareness of his own pain would Duane Duerson have lived with?  Lucky is the person who, as Susan Sarandon said in Bull Durham, lives unburdened by the curse of introspection. You know who you are. Actually, you don’t.

Crazy is a bit of a career killer. It’s hard to depend on or promote a crazy person. Those who bare their names hurl themselves against a world that is at best indifferent to them. For them, it is skin against stone.

Here goes.

The only thing a depressed person knows for sure is that there is no escape from his condition and he cannot continue without relief. That both assumptions are patently wrong will be continually discovered and rediscovered…but only by the lucky ones.

Rypien himself understood the stigma any acknowledgment of his illness would unsheathe.

“It’s a personal matter. It’s not a public issue, “he said. “It has taken me away from the game I love.”

It’s easy to see how well that worked.

It’s a dicey choice: unveiling yourself as emotionally defective or aid the closeted at the expense of your own relationships and career.

So put me on the list of the crazy, the same crazy that got Rick Rypien but know the admitted crazies are often the most brilliant and accomplished members of our society, the same crazies who find the uncharted strength it takes to lift the pickup truck that sits every morning on their chest, the same crazies responsible for the highest forms of words, music, architecture and art.

Rick Rypien got it wrong. A profoundly depressed person was devoured by a disease that uses isolation like a scythe.

His death brings an aching, private grief for loved ones left behind. But it is necessarily public for the legions of the broken-hearted shuffling in a lineup that just moved up one.
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