Colin Wilson opens up about OCD diagnosis, treatment in The Players’ Tribune

Former Colorado Avalanche centre Colin Wilson (22) has announced his retirement from the NHL at age 31. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

It’s been a year since Colin Wilson last skated in an NHL game. As he wrote in a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune, he’s coming to terms with the fact that game may have been his last. While Wilson, 31, has been recovering from a pair of double hip surgeries, the forward has also been living with, learning about, and treating his mental health.

“I’ve been an NHL player for 11 years. And until very recently, I’ve had untreated obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD as we commonly know it,” Wilson revealed in the piece, titled The Things you Can’t See, published Thursday.

“There is simply no way to overstate the impact it’s had on my career, and on my life,” he continued. “It controlled me, it almost broke me for good. And there were times when I thought I might never be able to tell a story like this. But I’m here, and I am.”

In the piece, Wilson opens up about how OCD has affected his life, from an initial diagnosis as an NHL rookie he shrugged off, to hitting rock bottom during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and seeking treatment through therapy and alternative medicines. He also writes of the difficult times this past year has brought — both in terms of his mental and physical health.

“This last year has been tough. I had to have double hip surgery in December 2019 because of issues that came from the groin problems I’ve had since I was a kid. But my hips haven’t healed properly, and I haven’t been able to walk normally all year, so I just had to have it done again. It’s hard because I haven’t been on the ice in a long, long time. I haven’t had much control,” he said. “I don’t know when I will again, either.

“If I’m being honest, I think my days of playing hockey are probably over,” Wilson wrote. “I haven’t quite come to terms with it fully. But that is the truth.”

Here are some excerpts from his personal story:

On trying to play through his OCD as its effects worsened:
“To this day, I honestly have no damn clue how I scored 20 goals in the 2014–15 season. I played each game, for years, in this state of panic because my OCD had begun to take over every element of my life. I went from obsessing over injuries off the ice to thinking I was going to get hurt every time I stepped on it — thinking I’d get hurt every shift. Or feeling like my skates weren’t tied properly. I’d have to stay in the locker room and tie them over and over again, as tight as I could, until my hands bled. And that was just a short-term fix. For years, I felt like I was skating on stilts because my skates never felt right. But I just got into this terrible state, like a petrified animal trapped in a corner. I was almost unconscious on the ice, in a way.”

On his rock bottom:
“…during the Stanley Cup finals in 2017, when we were playing the Penguins — I hit bottom. My brain blew up. I was a shell of the person I am today. For the three or so years leading up to that point, I had been taking Xanax and Seroquel to help me sleep. One is addictive and gets you high, the other I would refer to as a horse tranquilizer, because it would knock me out. One night I would take Xanax, the next Seroquel. During that playoff run, I had started partying more as well, to numb the pain. The combination of those pills, mixed with alcohol, and years of untreated OCD … I found rock bottom.”

On his sessions with an OCD specialist, which began after he reached out to the NHLPA for help in 2019:
“Since I started with the specialist, I’ve learned to develop a sense of self-compassion that I didn’t have before. It’s so difficult to not blame myself when I feel my mind going to … that place. So now I do my best to be aware, to tell myself that things like that will happen from time to time, and to just assure myself that it’s going to be O.K.

“I knew my OCD wouldn’t go away just because somebody could see it for what it was. And I won’t lie to you … every day since then has been hard. I still have an internal alarm that goes off when I feel like I need to be in control. It can be exhausting to deal with. But every day since that meeting last year, it has also gotten easier.”

On his future:
“I’ve done a lot to prepare for my next step in life. I’m completely sober. I’m back at school in Boston working on a psychology major. The last few years I’ve been working with a new, more traditional talk therapist who has been one of the pillars that I lean on as I transition toward life after hockey. They’ve helped me think through everything and see the next chapter of my life in a positive light.

“I’m also working with a group of people I got connected with over the last three years of getting help, and we’re going to open a space in Austin for alternative medicines and approaches to mental health issues — OCD included … I want people to know that there are spaces where you can be yourself, where you can feel understood and loved and know that there is help there for you. I want that to be what you take out of this story.”

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