“You can tell the relief they have in knowing they are not alone now,” said Professional Bull Rider and President of the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, Tanner Byrne
“When it all happened, I started doing this stuff on the internet and wanting people to talk and reach out and it just blew my mind the amount of people that are dealing with depression and anxiety, concussion related or not. Looking into these things, it seems that there are more people that are dealing with it than not.”
Tanner Byrne took some time to share a bit of his story and how he is coping with the loss of best friend Ty Pozzobon. Ty passed away this January due to what those close to him have identified as complications due to numerous concussions over his successful career as a Professional Bull Rider. The complications led to symptoms of anxiety and depression, including suicide. The shifts Tanner experienced in his own view on life as he navigates the loss, the learning about mental health and concussions, and the opportunity to advocate and make change on behalf of his fallen best friend, were just a few of the things discussed.
“From the experience that I had, not just the suicide, through Ty’s career and being beside him through all of those wrecks and injuries and how they affected him in different ways, I know in my heart and what I saw with my own eyes what was going on. If I can even tell my story and hope that others can take it and maybe they will say ‘Holy man, that’s what my friends doing right now and I’ve been feeling the same way but I didn’t want to act on it or do anything.’ Maybe it will make them get to the right people that can help them or make things better.”
Making meaning and “keep on rolling” as Tanner would say, is a big part of how he describes making sense of the loss, however he is not blind to his own struggles with grief.
“With Ty, this is the biggest grief that I have ever had,” Byrne said. “I could just get in the box and never leave. Shut down and hide but that’s not going to help anybody else. That’s what I want to do, but that’s not going to be good for myself or the people around me or anyone else with their own troubles.”
Byrne talks about how he has had to keep himself talking about the hardest thing he has ever done.
“We didn’t know anything about the brain and getting concussions, and that Ty could do this.”
In fact, Tanner describes conversations that the two shared about supporting other friends who were living with depression.
“It’s scary to see what can happen when those injuries take place. Your best friend doesn’t even see what’s happening to you.”
Tanner spoke about the changes that he saw in hindsight and the confidence that they held each other in.
“I think it’s natural to look back and think what I could have done differently, but we didn’t know,” Tanner described Ty as the most laid back and nonchalant guy he knew, often saying whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Over the last few months of his life things started to bug Ty and he would change his mind on a decision in the conversation that you were having with him. At the time, Tanner thought: “What is he freaking out about?”
“Now looking back, it was a huge deal,” Byrne said. “I didn’t tell people because I had his trust and confidence as friends often do and there was this fear about it possibly ruining his career. We didn’t know.”
Tanner has a beautiful way of taking Ty’s life as education and as something that he can learn from and hopefully instigate change, which is already happening for Byrne personally and the greater cowboy community.
“A friend comes to you, and you feel like you shouldn’t tell anyone and hopefully they will get better,” Byrne said. “From what the research says, that is the opposite of what to do. Get them the right help. Get them to the right people that can make a difference and hopefully help them feel better.”
Since Ty’s passing in early January of this year, Tanner has immersed himself in learning about mental health and concussions, along with his own training and work as a Professional Bull Rider with the PBR and his work with the Ty Pozzobon Foundation.
“The thing about it is that we can put a man on the moon, but we only know a small amount about the human brain,” Byrne said.
Tanner talks about the impact that they have seen Ty have on others.
“Seeing how much people loved Ty and the respect he had. The person that he was. It’s not only feeling all the love from those he impacted, but also the conversation that has opened up. It’s more the amount of people that have come forward,” Byrne said. “The people that I would have never thought or expected to open up: big tough cowboys, hockey players, football players, people in the highest levels of sport that you look at on TV and they are famous to you. Lots of these guys I look up to and they seem to have the greatest lives on paper. Making lots of money and living the dream that everybody wants to live themselves, and they are living with these huge inner demons.”
The stigma is a piece of the bigger picture.
“It has come a long ways but there is still stigma around mental health,” Tanner advocates for the perspective of being strong to change and has demonstrated it himself as he moves through this so openly. “The strong people are the ones who will admit that they have something going on that affects them.”
If you are reading this and are struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide, Tanner has this message for you.
“You are not alone even though you may get in these places and then you feel like you are the only one. Reach out. If you don’t feel right, there are places to go and people that will help you, even to just listen. Don’t give up. Get to the right places and keep fighting until there is someone that is going to help and listen.”
The Ty Pozzobon Foundation (TPF) has been working with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team (CPRSMT) to build more supports for athletes. First, the TPF is focusing on expanding the event reach of the team with much more to come.
Tanner stressed his intentions to continue improving the sport for the athletes, not hinder it.
“It’s going to take what happened to Ty to change everyone’s outlook and our sport in terms of concussions and talking about mental health,” Byrne said. “It is a really tough thing to learn about and do the research on. If we keep talking about it, and keep wanting to move forward while having a positive outlook, maybe in ten years we will look back on this and think ‘Wow, the only reason that happened is because we didn’t know how to take care of that, and now we do.’”
Tanner talked about getting to the right people. Here are a few of suggestions on looking finding the help you may be looking for.
For each individual person, the right help may be different, however there is treatment and support when we are struggling. Start with your family doctor and local mental health clinic. Ask about the resources. There are private counsellors including registered psychologists, counsellors, therapists and social workers, along with psychiatrists, who are the medical specialists when it comes to mental health, who may or may not end up being a part of your wellness team. Here are a few pointers for finding the help that is right for you.
- Get the help that fits your need – If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and are unsure if you can keep yourself safe, then that is a crisis and requires crisis resources. Crisis resources may include a mental health crisis line or calling 911 for help. If you feel safe, then calling and making an appointment with your doctor or local mental health clinic is a good start. Mental health clinics will often ask you questions during an intake phone call to help them decide how to best support or refer you.
- Ask for support – If you need someone to go with you or drive you, then ask a trusted friend or family member. This is also important if you are the supportive friend reading this. If you don’t know what to say, you can try this: “I don’t know what to do, but I am worried about you. I think it is time to talk to someone who can better support you than just me. I don’t know where to go, but let’s figure this out together. I will go with you.”
- Find someone that helps you feel safe – This does not mean that they will not challenge you! The important part is that you feel safe enough to be honest and hear their feedback.
- Find someone that has the expertise and experience that you are looking for – It can be hard to know exactly what you might need, so the important part is to find somewhere to start and stay the course, even if it means more referrals. Remember that health care professionals can only make decisions and recommendations on the information that they have, so you need to tell them what you are noticing and are concerned about.
- Just get started – At times of struggle it can be normal to have low motivation, so you need to move on it. When you are ready to seek help, get it! Many communities have walk in counselling clinics or 24 hour crisis lines with trained staff to listen, support and refer. In Alberta we have Family and Community Support Services and Primary Care Networks who can point you in the right direction. Google “walk in counselling” in your community to see if this is an option for you. If you have benefits through an employer, you may also have access to an Employee Assistance Plan which can also help you to navigate.
It takes a lot of strength and courage to be open at a time of such loss and raw emotion. Thank you Tanner for being so open and sharing in the spirit of influencing change.
“My way of grieving and trying to keep rolling is to help others,” Byrne concluded. “That is my way of keeping my own self sane in these times of grief and trouble. The thing you’ll never replace or forget or will never be the same as life ever was. Even if I change one person’s mind on it or help one young bull rider to not get on for a couple of weeks let alone the next night because he got knocked out. If I can make someone’s day a little brighter by just listening to them, then that is a successful day. Ty would want us to make good out of this and do better for others.”