‘I felt lost’: Flames’ Oliver Kylington sheds light on his mental-health battle

Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington participates in practice on Jan. 22, 2024. (Calgary Flames)

NEW YORK — The story behind Oliver Kylington’s year-and-a-half battle back to the NHL is one of trauma and betrayal.

And it will be told.

When he’s ready. 

And while he’s not there yet, in a quiet, one-on-one chat he offered up a glimpse of where he was during the depths of a mental health break that saw him miss last season and the first half of this one.

“I felt confused because there was a big betrayal — that’s how everything was,” said the soft-spoken Calgary Flames defenceman.

“I felt lost. I felt that I didn’t trust anyone, really.”

It was two summers ago when Kylington knew he needed help, and got plenty of it to pull him through a period in which he openly admitted he wasn’t sure he’d ever return to hockey.

“The thing with trauma is that you can’t hide behind it,” explained the 26-year-old Swede.

“You can’t take a pill for it. You can’t just think it will disappear. You have to accept what’s happened and understand that you have to live with it the rest of your life, and that’s OK.

“We all have problems and stuff happens to us, and I think when it does, you have to confront it. You can’t hide behind it or try to run away from it because it will haunt you till you die.”

He, for a time, was hiding from it.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said.

“I don’t think people have the knowledge to deal with emotions, sometimes. I think society is afraid of that in ways where negative emotions are not OK to be shared, you know? That’s completely the opposite, I would say.”

Confronting it is one thing, speaking publicly about it is quite another, which is why he needs more time to process where he’s at and when it might make sense to summon the courage to tell his tale.

“I’ve been thinking about that, and I think at a certain point of time I’ll share my story because I think it’ll give a lot of people understanding, and it could maybe help other people in their future and their stories,” said Kylington, who knows that although he’s certainly not obligated to open up about his painful, intensely private journey, he is of the belief it can lead to positive change.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure about being a spokesperson or being a face in that field, per se, but I think that’s an important thing to sum up my journey and what I’ve been going through. It could be something that’s healing for me, but also something that could really help others.

“When the time is there, I will do it.”

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Since his return to the lineup on Jan. 25, Kylington has expressed endless gratitude to teammates, the organization and so many others for their ongoing support, love and compassion.  

He is still working with mental-health professionals, who continue to arm him with tools necessary as he enters new stages of healing.

“Yeah, I think that’s just important in general,” he said.

“I’m very thankful for that, that I created that space for myself to learn and to understand how to put words on feelings. 

“I didn’t have the knowledge on that before. So, really understanding a lot about yourself and that process, I’m thankful to understand more about myself, and understanding about personalities in general.”

In his six games this season, Kylington has yet to show many of the flashes that helped net him 31 points and a plus-34 two seasons ago.

Understandable, as he’s being eased in on the third pairing with Brayden Pachal, and been asked to keep his game simple while averaging five minutes less per game than the 18 minutes he used to log.

“It’ll come, I’m not stressing out,” said the slick-skating Kylington, who has no points and seven shots to his credit.

“I think the coaches and I have a plan. 

“I feel like I’m progressing the right way. I know that there’s more to get out of me and I feel like I’m taking steps every game.

“I obviously know that there’s more, but in general I feel pretty comfortable with my game right now.”

More importantly, he’s more comfortable with his life.

“It’s been good to be back,” he said.

“Obviously, the first two games there was a lot of excitement and a lot of emotions, but I felt like everything’s been settling a little bit and I think the guys just made it easier for me to come back and feel as at home as possible.

“I feel like the transition in general has been very natural, and I feel like I’m at myself hockey-wise.”

Stay tuned for more on his life.

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