'I felt nothing, just clear and complete emotionless darkness': OCD almost cost ex-NHL player his life

He was at the top of his game professionally, but off the ice, Corey Hirsch was struggling. In a recent article, the former NHL player publicly revealed his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Corey Hirsch (31) blocks a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Robert Lang during the first period in Pittsburgh on Feb. 11, 1999. (Reuters)

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He was at the top of his game professionally, but off the ice, Corey Hirsch was struggling.

In a recent article in The Player's Tribune, the former NHL player publicly revealed his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder for the very first time. 

He recalled how dark thoughts descended on him from out of nowhere in the early '90s. Unsure what was happening, Hirsch went to great lengths to hide what was troubling him. 

He spent the next several years trying to piece together the puzzle of what was going on in his mind, but told no one. "From there it was like I'm going to put my mask on, I'm going to hide this, I'm going to continue on my path to the NHL and hope that someday I figure it out, find this puzzle piece and it goes away."

In his first year in the NHL with all the excitement and new experiences that came along with playing for Vancouver, he kept it in check. By the second year, it wasn't so easy. Hirsch recalled isolating himself from his team as much as possible so no one could see the changes that were happening.

"For me it got to the point where it was debilitating," he said. For Hirsch, the first real low point hit when he tried to break his own hand before a game. His plan was to hide the break until he took a shot. He could then pretend that the shot had done the damage and be sent home. He ended up hurting himself and stopped.

Hirsch said he knew something was very wrong, but thought he was the only one in the world it was happening to.

Despite winning a silver medal at the Olympics, and playing on a Stanley Cup-winning team, Hirsch said he couldn't keep the dark thoughts at bay. 

At his lowest point, he recalled driving his sports car very fast, fully intending to drive off the road. "I truly didn't want to end my own life," he said. "As I sat there I felt nothing, just clear and complete emotionless darkness. As I was racing my car I had another thought — another OCD thought that actually saved me."

Hirsch realized if his plan didn't work, he might end up still alive, but mangled and trapped with his OCD thoughts. He stopped the car, but still felt trapped. "I was 15 seconds away from being a statistic," he recalled. 

Eventually, he found the right therapist. But looking back, he imagines how much easier it would have been if he hadn't spent so much time hiding the darkness that was consuming him. 

"I dug a hole for like four or five years," he said. "By the time that hole was finished, that I reached out for help, it was like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon. If I could have gone the next day to get help … it would have been like filling in a puddle."

Hirsch said now he has a much better handle on his OCD. "I still deal with it. But now it's an annoying gnat I just bat away."

Hirsch is speaking publicly about his own struggle in hopes of reaching others going through the same thing. But the tricky thing about OCD is that it manifests different ways in different people.

"You can't always see it. It's not always somebody that's cleaning or washing their hands or organizing. Pure OCD, which is the type of OCD that I have, is all done in my own head."