Tyler Bryden is a Web Developer & Designer, Content Creator, Artist, Former Hockey Player & Entrepreneur. A Western University graduate and a current Fanshawe College student, Tyler has roots deep within London. He was Assistant Captain of the London Nationals, a Junior B Hockey team in 2013, helping them to bring the Sutherland Cup home win for the first time in London’s history. He played competitive hockey his whole life growing up and was drafted to the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
However, Tyler’s journey was not easy. The summer after the Nationals won the Sutherland Cup, Tyler’s deteriorating mental health combined with the Championship celebrations caused him to spiral out of control. After several suicide attempts, Tyler was involuntarily admitted to the mental health ward at Victoria Hospital for two months of intense therapy. After a year of suicidal depression and an almost hundred pound weight gain, Tyler knew that he had to turn his life around and make the best of his situation. He enrolled back in school and quickly took inspiration from his courses and professors, developing his personal site, and beginning to freelance for several clients. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Tyler finally worked up the courage to publish his story online, and it was seen by thousands of people across the world.
Tyler understands the struggles that people go through while struggling with mental illness and wants to work hard to stop the stigma surrounding anyone suffering. He hopes that with his company, 65 Interactive, a portion of the budget of every website he builds can go towards mental health initiatives across Canada. More than just a business, 65 Interactive wants to be a symbol for hope for anyone who doesn’t believe they can be successful and fulfilled while struggling with mental illness.
Recently, just a week before America legalized gay marriage nationwide, Tyler also came out as bisexual in a post that was seen by thousands of people again. Tyler’s story of mental health issues, hockey and entrepreneurial success was featured on the front page of the London Free Press.
You had a successful run as a hockey player, playing for 15 years – which teams did you play for? And how did you get started in hockey?
Then one day you realized that hockey had turned into partying – “booze, cocaine, psychedelic drugs” and mental illness. What do you think led to this lifestyle for you?
I started drinking heavily at a young age; it’s part of the lifestyle of hockey players and I think it’s especially encouraged when you are a fit, popular and successful player here in Canada. I really had my first eye-opening experience at my rookie party as a London National; I was barely 16 years old partying with guys who were already 21. As I played Junior and lived on my own for the first time, things started to get out of control. We would drink every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and would try to make it out on Mondays and Thursdays too. These choices were easy to rationalize as a part of the lifestyle and being a young University student and hockey player.
The night we won the Sutherland Championship was the first night I ever did cocaine. I had seen it around for years but never thought I would touch it myself. All it took was that one time for me to lose control completely. I would say that almost every weekend that summer I was drinking and doing cocaine. But it wasn’t enough; I was completely lost and depressed after ending my hockey career and I turned to psychedelics to try to find some meaning in what I was doing.
The hockey culture is tough to accept, especially for talented young players. Your whole life you are told that you are special and that you will make it to the NHL. But, out of the 15 players that were drafted to the OHL on my Minor Midget AAA Chiefs team, only one player has played even one game in the NHL. You put years of your life into something you care so much about and realistically at 21, you have either made it, or your career is over. That is hard to stomach for most players, and I truly do think it is this culture that led to the emptiness I felt, and in turn the drug abuse and mental health issues.
One morning you asked your grandma to take you to the hospital, said you were going to kill yourself if you didn’t get help. Good for you for reaching out to someone! Would you agree that asking for help made all the difference for you?
Asking for help was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Not only do you have the culture of hockey which encourages you to grit your teeth and bear through, you are raised as a man to deal with issues yourself. And to this day, I didn’t really have a choice to ask for help; I was literally going to die if I didn’t. If anyone can take something away from this, it is to ask for help before you get to that point. There are always people out there who care about you, and I promise that you will never want to put the stress on people you care about like I did by letting myself get to where I did.
Asking for help and actually taking the help is also a whole different process together. It took me two very long sessions in the hospital for anything to change. In the end, the help is great, but you need to make the choice to help yourself before any of that matters.
What helped you to cope with suicidal thoughts and feelings? How did you realize your life was valuable and worth living?
I always find this is an interesting question people ask me. They often seem to think you have this Eureka moment where all the sudden everything is okay and you are back to normal. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. At my lowest, every single second of my day was consumed by suicidal thoughts. Everything I looked at was a weapon to harm myself and every window in the top floors of the hospital was a door to what I thought was peace at last.
Slowly, with the help of medication, doctors, and my family, not every second was dedicated on how I would kill myself. It would be a couple seconds, and then a minute, and then an hour, and finally a day I wouldn’t have a suicidal thought. It took me over a year to get to what I believe was a comfortable place in life again.
Today, I am completely fulfilled and satisfied with everything I do. At your lowest, life is absolutely worthless, but as you recover you learn that there is nothing more important, and I truly believe that I cherish life more now than I ever did before.
You managed to climb out of the dark place you were in and get a fresh start. You started your own business, 65 Interactive, a web development company, and you have expressed hopes that it “becomes a symbol for those who have struggled with mental illness”. As someone who has been there, what do you want to say to a young person struggling or feeling hopeless?
To anyone out there struggling, know that you are not alone. There are people out there who have been through what you are going through and never want to see another person suffer like they had to. There are some amazing initiatives out there dedicated to helping people who are feeling hopeless, and the people who run these truly do care about every single one of you.
Being with your friends and family is one of the best things you can do. The little things they do can remind you of what is important and why you should keep fighting on. I promise you, as a survivor myself, that no matter how much it hurts right now, with time, it can and it will get better.
Although you are running your own business, you have not forgotten your passion for hockey. You want to start breaking down barriers to mental health for athletes and men in general, acknowledging that our value of “manly guys who can’t admit something’s wrong”, isn’t working for us. How can we start changing these attitudes?
I truly do think we are on the right path to changing these issues. To this day, admitting I had something wrong with me was the most courageous thing I have ever done. You should never consider yourself weak for asking for help, and I guarantee some of the most successful people you have met have had to ask for help at some point in their life.
You also struggled with weight / body issues and being bisexual. What helped you to achieve self-acceptance and self-love?
In terms of sexuality, for me, this took a lot of time and self-discovery. I can’t say enough about people who are comfortable with themselves at a young age and have the courage to be who they truly are. Even though I knew for a long time that I was bisexual, I was too scared of the backlash I would face from family and friends, especially being a successful hockey player. After everything I went through, I realized that life is too short to not be myself, and I finally found peace and the courage to tell people who I really am.
One thing that a lot of people think is that sexuality defines you. However, to me, being bisexual is just a small part of who I am and if people can’t look through that, then they aren’t worth having in my life. If any of you have the same feeling, know that some friends come and go but others will stay there for you no matter what, and those are the relationships worth keeping.
How important is support from others to your own mental health?
For a long time I thought I could do everything alone. The truth is that most people can’t. Not only with mental health, but with anything, you need support from people you can trust and you know care about you. If you ever feel overwhelmed or low, go to these people and I promise you that you will feel better. Nothing is better for your health then talking over the issues you are having with someone close to you.
Fav hockey player?
I respect any hockey player who uses their wealth and platform for the good of the world. There are a ton of players who have started their own organizations or give back in a multitude of ways. This, combined with a true passion and willingness to compete for the sport makes me happy to be alive and gives me reassurance that we are heading in the right direction. Some of the most admirable hockey players I can think of today are PK Subban, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Pavel Datsyuk.
Any words to live by?
Be yourself. Don’t just do what is expected of you. Anyone who has truly made a change in the world didn’t listen to the people trying to limit them. You are at your best when you are being yourself and are doing what makes you happy. We all provide insights and have experiences that no one else has, and I promise you that if you embrace them, you will find success.
And if any of you out there are struggling and have no one to turn to, I am here for you. I never want anyone to feel as alone as I did and I will do absolutely everything I can to show you that the pain is temporary, but life is forever worth living.
I love you all!
All the best,