Last week, Cody Oehm reached out to us and shared his struggle with mental health and concussions in hockey. Hearing his story was both heartbreaking and uplifting. What was most inspiring was how Cody responded in the wake of the challenge of his life, learning (and in turn, teaching us) to persevere.
In honour of #MentalHealthWeek, we have the privilege of sharing Cody’s inspirational story with you.
From Cody Oehm
Throughout my years of hockey, I had 3 diagnosed (and probably a couple more) concussions that I had played through. It was the first year of my junior hockey career when I started noticing the symptoms of depression.
As my depression became worse, I began to develop horrible mood swings, extreme anxiety and ridiculous irritability, which went on for the next 3-4 years. Out of necessity, I hid most of what I was experiencing while I was still playing - especially as I moved up from AAA to the junior level. However, masking the issue eventually led to me throwing in the proverbial towel and leaving the sport for good. This was around the same time my situation got worse. I began isolating myself from many of my friends and avoided social situations.
My family and I tried everything to “get over the depression”. I visited a number of doctors, therapists, psychologists, and naturopaths; even ending up downtown Toronto at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). They all said the same thing – read this book, do this exercise, take this medication. If that doesn’t work, take more medication.
Finally, I received some blood work before being prescribed some more anti-depressants. As it turned out, I had extremely low testosterone… really low. The normal level, according to the Canadian Health System ranges between 6-27, which is too broad of a scale in my opinion. An average male between 20-30 should have a level over 25 for optimal health. My level was 2. My testosterone level was comparable to a 7-year-old boy or a 95-year-old man. Little did I know this would explain the reasons for my reactiveness, inability to sleep, non-existent sex drive and consistently poor mood.
I didn’t really know anything about the connection between low testosterone and what I was experiencing. That being said, I wanted to find out why I was deficient and what I could do to fix it.
The first few family doctors I saw did not know much about the issue. They ignored my deficiency and claimed there was an error. However, there was one who acknowledged the issue and told me to take 1000 IU of vitamin D a day, which even I knew would do nothing. Finally, one was honest enough to tell me that he didn't know what to do, and then referred me to an endocrinologist. This endocrinologist accused me of taking steroids because of my appearance and wouldn’t prescribe me anything. He thought I was trying to abuse his power. I explained to him in tears that I have never touched a drug in my life. The second endocrinologist I saw said the same thing.
This was extremely frustrating. I knew there was something wrong but no medical professional could help me. It’s easy to see a broken leg, but not as easy to see what's going on in someone's head.
Enough was enough. I went back to my family doctor and demanded to see another specialist who might give me the time of day. What seemed to be a last resort, I was referred to Dr. Komer in Burlington, Ontario.
I went into my first appointment with little hope or expectation. I quickly discovered that he's one of the doctors for the Toronto Rock (professional Lacrosse team) and works with other professional athletes. He was also one of a handful of doctors in North America that specialize in head injuries in sports, and how they relate to hormonal imbalances.
After over 3 years of frustration, I went to see Dr. Komer only two weeks after I was referred. As I walked into his office for the first time, I knew he was different. I was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks hat, and after seeing my bloodwork he instantly made a connection. The first question he asked was if I played sports, and if so, did I have any concussions. My answers were yes to both. He began to explain to me that depression has many of the same symptoms as post-concussion syndrome.
Dr. Komer explained to me that concussions and head trauma cause inflammation of the brain. Inflammation can damage the nerves between the brain and the pituitary gland – the part of your brain responsible for producing male and female sex hormones, thus cutting off my testosterone production.
Dr. Komer explained the science behind it, but then told me the best news I’ve ever heard: IT COULD BE FIXED!
He then told me about his son who was a professional lacrosse player and how he suffered the same thing. He went on to tell me about other athletes that he’s worked with that have gone through it as well. Doc described how he’s helped restore their testosterone levels, but also how he's helped them get their lives back on track. He explained to me what I’d have to supplement with and wrote me some prescriptions. I then booked some more blood work and a follow-up appointment.
Needless to say, I gave the guy a huge hug.
Three weeks later I could feel a difference. 6-8 weeks later, I felt like a new man. It’s been almost a year since starting my treatment and I’ve never felt better. I’m happy, health, motivated and back to my old self.
I’m writing this in hopes that I can help someone else. I’ve lost 3 friends to suicide/depression who I played hockey with, and If it wasn’t for my family and Dr. Komer, I don’t know where I would be. I'm mind-boggled on how many health care professionals are unaware of this issue and I want that to change. My mission is to create awareness so that others don’t have to go through what I did.
By no means am I blaming hockey or putting down the sport. In fact, I encourage people to play. If I ever have kids, I will encourage them to play hockey. Playing hockey taught me countless life lessons, brought endless opportunities and created the backbone to many of the strong friendships I have today. Although I went through hell, I wouldn't trade my hockey career for the world.
I just want to say, if you’ve ever suffered a concussion and have symptoms of depression, I encourage you to speak up, and to get your blood work done. It’s a simple test, but if you can treat the problem at the root of the cause, it can make a world of a difference!
If anyone has any questions about my experience, knows someone or is dealing with anything like this, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to help in any way that I can!