The Secret Struggle of a Lifetime

Stingers Hockey Forward Philippe Hudon Opens Up on Battle with OCD

Stingers forward Philippe Hudon speaks about his hidden battle with OCD. He was diagnosed with the condition in 2010. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Like many Canadians, Philippe Hudon has been playing hockey since the moment he learned to walk. Unlike most children, however, Hudon was very neat and organized.

“His room was always impeccable. I was never complaining [about] that actually,” said his mother, Ann-Julie Lebeuf.

Little did she know that this fascination with cleanliness and the need for order would spiral out into an experience that would change his life. Hudon was only 17-years-old when he realized he had “tics” and “obsessive-compulsive habits.”

“It was a force much stronger than myself,” Hudon said. “I consider myself a very mentally strong person, [but] it was something I couldn’t really bear. There were voices I had to succumb to.”

In December of 2010, the Stingers assistant captain was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD. This disorder is characterized by a desire to relieve distress by performing anxiety-reducing acts to appease subjective stressors. Because the individual feels less anxious after performing the act, the behaviour becomes reinforced and is eventually performed reflexively. OCD encompasses a variety of obsessions and behaviours. For instance, some people have an urge to compulsively wash their hands to reduce their anxiety over germs.

For Hudon, perfectionism was the focal point of his disorder.

“I never thought it could affect me,” he admitted. “I just wanted everything in my day, every gesture, to be done perfectly in my mind. It might not have been perfect for somebody else, but it was perfect for me.”

The year 2010 was full of promise for Hudon prior to his diagnosis. At the time, he was attending prep school in Connecticut. He was a straight-A student and received attention from several universities, including a scholarship offer to Cornell University in New York.

On top of it all, he was eligible for the 2011 National Hockey League draft, where young hockey players are selected by 30 NHL teams and are given the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of becoming professional hockey players. Things seemed to be going well, and, more importantly, according to plan.

“I’ve always been meticulous,” Hudon said. “I’ve always had my plans and things that I wanted to do. There was always a time and a place for things.”

Then, his life took a sudden turn for the worse. The pressure he put on himself to maintain his grades became unbearable. His perfectionist tendencies began to take control of his life.

“To be real honest, all I was doing was showering, cleaning my room, eating and going to class. Three of the things there can be done within an hour and I was using the whole day to do [them].”

Eventually, it came to a point where he couldn’t hide it anymore.

“I’ll always remember that moment when we were heading to a hockey tournament in Boston,” Lebeuf recalled. “On the highway, he said: ‘Mom, I think I have issues because I keep on cleaning my desk over and over again and I’m not well.’”

Hudon was drafted in the fifth round—the 145th pick of the draft—by the Detroit Red Wings the following year, and enrolled in Cornell University to play hockey. He only completed a month at Cornell before returning home to Montreal. Hudon began seeing his psychologist two to three times per week and was taking prescription medication for his OCD.

“School and all the aspects of my life were kind of haunting me again, but not as bad as they once were,” Hudon said. “I was maybe at 80 per cent of my recovery, but I still wasn’t ready and I think I might have rushed it.”

For escape, Hudon turned towards his one true passion: hockey. He joined the Victoriaville Tigres in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Hockey became his safe haven, a home away from home and an oasis from his worries.

“There are these nets around the rink. I would think of those nets as being dream catchers,” Hudon said. “Every time I stepped on the ice, the negative thoughts, the obsessive-compulsions and everything related to it, would somehow stay back. When I was on the ice, I was literally free. I never thought about anything, other than playing hockey.”

It was during this time that he was approached by French sports television channel Réseau des sports for an interview regarding his OCD for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, which aims to raise awareness of mental health. For the first time, his issue was made public. Soon, he saw the impact of his actions on the lives of others battling mental illness.

“Within the following 48 hours [of the interview], the amount of messages I received on various social platforms were countless, of people saying: ‘You opening up just made my life so much easier. I’m finally going to go see someone to treat this.’”

Now at 95 per cent of his recovery, Hudon is still carrying the torch forward. Last Wednesday, Jan. 27, marked the fifth edition of Bell Let’s Talk, and Hudon used the day as another opportunity to open up on his struggles.

“I told him,” said Stingers head coach Marc-André Element, “‘It’s your day. Talk about it.’”

Element and Hudon visited the Canada Cycle and Motor office, a company that specializes in sports equipment, and played hockey with the staff before discussing mental health issues. The two also made plans to talk mental health with a junior hockey team in Longueil.

All the while, Hudon tweeted on different challenges he has faced throughout the course of his illness, including the need to tape the knob of his hockey stick “exactly seven times” before a practice or game, and keeping his desk 99.9 per cent bacteria-free. He has one simple message.

“Talk,” Hudon said. “For the people who aren’t affected, lend an ear. Just lending an ear can help a thousand others in need.”