Then came the biggest unknown, and the biggest challenge of my hockey career. I moved to Calgary in August 2017 to centralize with Hockey Canada in hopes of being named to Canada’s Women’s Olympic Team for the 2018 Games in PyeongChang. Every day, I made sure to write in my journal anything I felt was important from that day; I found this helped immensely in dealing with the stress and anxiety I was feeling.
Truth be told, this was one of the toughest years of my life. I arrived to centralization out of shape and found myself playing catch-up and doing extra conditioning (stress level increases). Every day we needed to perform, regardless of how we were feeling both mentally and/or physically (stress level increases). Don’t get me wrong, centralization was one heck of an experience and I am so thankful I got to be a part of it. But as a first-time centralized athlete, I had no idea how to manage my anxiety and struggled to find balance. I was in constant contact with our mental performance coach and our doctor – I felt like the weight of my anxiety was becoming overwhelming.
But this wasn’t the time to deal with my mental health. It was the time to make the Olympics and put hockey first.
November 20, 2017. I can tell you every single detail about the day. That is the day I was released from centralization and sent home. My dreams of playing in the Olympics were gone, just like that. I felt like my world was ending. I remember Mel Davidson, our general manager, asking me if I was okay. I obviously wasn’t, but I knew she was concerned about my mental state, and she had every right to be. This news crushed me. I didn’t know how I could face my family. I felt like I had let them down. Within a day, I also lost the opportunity to be around my teammates and closest friends, and my ultimate goal of playing in the Olympics.
All of this changed in the blink of an eye and I found myself wondering who I wanted to be moving forward. It sounds dramatic, but I truly would not wish the pain I felt on my worst enemy. Knowing all you have worked your entire life for, the person you felt like everybody saw you as, was taken away from you so quickly. In response to my pain, I made a hard decision and moved my life to Montreal. I felt like I had to get away and get myself out of a dark place. Most importantly, I had to get out of it on my own. And I did just that.
What makes me even more proud is that I am happier with myself than I have ever been. I still struggle, immensely, with the daily grind of finding happiness. But I have learned and continue to learn to love me for who I am. Yes, I wear No. 23. Yes, I shoot right. Yes, I play defence. But I also wear my heart on my sleeve, I care about those around me and I value respect and loyalty. I am empathetic. I am goofy. I am a competitor. I am strong.
Oh, and I play hockey, too.
P.S. I’m not going to insinuate that I am an expert on anxiety and depression. But what I want people to know is that anybody can struggle. My mom, my sister and my nana are my inspiration; each one of them have not only lived their lives but have been BEYOND successful in everything they do while fighting this battle. I battle every day with anxiety and depression, as well as with believing and knowing that I am more than Erin Ambrose, the hockey player. So, whoever you are, whatever you are doing, know that you are more than what your job title makes you. You belong, you are amazing and you will be even better tomorrow.
About the author
Erin Ambrose made her debut with Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team in August 2009 as a 15-year-old and remains the youngest player to play for the U18 program, as well as its all-time leading scorer among defencemen. Her international career has included 81 games at every level of Canada’s National Women’s Program, two gold medals and a silver at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, and silver and bronze at the IIHF Women’s World Championship. She also won a pair of gold medals with Ontario Red at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship in 2009 and 2011, and added silver at the 2011 Canada Winter Games.