“It went from being mental to physical that night. That’s when it got really real and I had to do something.”
Ted Stovin is the creator of Everything Cowboy, a hat maker with Smithbilt Hats, a music director, event producer, promoter and writer. Stovin competed in as a bull rider from 2002 to 2013 and currently resides in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Ted had shared his story during Bell Let’s Talk day in January, and I was interested in getting a bit deeper into what his experience was like.
Mental Health can be hard for some to talk about, however for Ted it was different.
“I was really open about it the whole time,” Stovin said. “If I talked to somebody I would get of my own head. That helped.”
From the outside, it seemed like Ted had most everything a person could want. He had found a way to make his passion a career beyond riding the bulls. He got to attend huge bull riding and rodeo events behind the scenes, staying connected with the industry and attending all the functions. He’s always got the inside scoop. However, when you do something that you are so passionate about, the lines can become blurred.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself for the past few years,” Stovin said. “I knew all through the fall [of 2015], from the PBR Finals to the CFR, that something wasn’t right. It didn’t help when I was drinking. I would wake up at night and my heart would be beating so hard and fast that I couldn’t fall asleep. We were on the run the whole month of November after a busy summer.”
Stress is normal, and sometimes very helpful both in keeping us safe and to elevate performance, both in and out of the arena. From the beginning of mankind, we have relied on our natural stress response (fight, flight or freeze) to keep us safe. The resulting hormonal shifts provide things like extra energy and focus that used to be required for survival. If you have ever seen a horse respond to stress in it’s natural environment, it first becomes alert then reacts physically by fleeing or fighting. When it recognizes that the stressful event has passed, you will often see the horse shake and snort, then return to grazing. This is how it is supposed to happen.
Today, in a world where most of our stressors are not directly life threatening (such as work, relationships, financial, and such) the hormonal response remains the same. When stress lasts for a long time (or if it’s linked to a traumatic event) it can begin to affect the body and mind. Physical health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, or mental health issues including anxiety and depression can result.
“Your heart is a little fast. Let’s take you up to the paramedics and get them to just put you on a monitor to see what’s going on.”
Those were the words that sent Ted into a full panic attack that Thursday night in Regina after talking to a sports medicine provider.
“They made me chew aspirin that night because they thought I was having a heart attack or something,” Stovin said. “My heart was going super fast, like 200 beats per minute or something ridiculous. It scared the hell out of me.”
“That’s how anxiety hit me.”
From then on Ted described looking at things a little differently.
“It’s been spending more time on me. Working on not being that crazy work person that doesn’t look up from his phone. Put down the phone. Go on the elliptical. Go and do yoga. Go to the go-karts and have fun. Go golf and have fun. It’s been spending more time on me honestly.”
Along with speaking to his friends and family, Ted also reached out for professional help.
“I saw a real doctor again for the first time in five or six years.”
He also described seeing a counsellor, who a friend had suggested, for four or five sessions.
“In January of 2016, I went to Choices, which I would best describe as a personal growth seminar, where I learned tools on how to deal with people, conflict and manage my own thoughts. I was willing to do anything, and it definitely helped.”
The National Institute of Mental Health out of the United States talks about how stress can affect us over time, and things that can be done to manage stress. Talking to a doctor, getting regular exercise, staying connected, doing things that are relaxing, setting goals and priorities, and talking to a professional can be helpful.
“I don’t want to say the anxiety is gone away all together but it’s a million times better,” Stovin said. “It’s been over a year now since my last panic attack.”
One of the questions asked was what he would say to someone reading this who may be struggling on their own.
“When I was open about it, I learned about a lot more people who were dealing with the same issues,” Stovin said. “I was not the only one. It was a lot easier once I opened up about it. I don’t think you have to be super public about it if you don’t want to, but if you tell your close friends, chances are one of them can help you.”
When asked about how he would like to see the culture of rodeo and bull riding shift, he replied.
“Everybody is more aware of issues and what can happen. I have seen people sit out more this winter and take more time and think about themselves maybe a bit more. I think change is coming already and we have Ty to thank for a lot of what’s changing.”
*The thoughts and ideas in this article do not replace professional mental health advice from a qualified practitioner. Please see your doctor or a registered mental health professional if you have concerns. Call a crisis line or 911 if you are experiencing a mental health emergency.