Profile: Tyler Smith
Survivor, Humboldt Broncos bus crash
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
On April 6, 2018, our team, the Humboldt Broncos, were struck by a semi trailer that blew a stop sign which led to 16 of our amazing team, coaches and team personnel passing away and leaving 13 of us survivors. This was a day that shook Canada and it shook me. It’s a day that I have no recollection of, but it’s a day that I will think about every day for the rest of my life. There will never be an answer as to why this happened and unfortunately this experience with survivor’s guilt, trauma and grief, sent me down a unique journey to finally coming to terms with needing to focus on my mental and emotional health.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
I was lost. I was emotionally frozen. I had no idea where to go next. I became angry and frustrated with the people around me for the first time in my life. April 6, 2018, is a day I will never fully understand because of the unanswerable “why” questions from that day. And without these answers, I felt as though there is no reason to pour my burden and struggles onto somebody else’s plate, because I felt they didn’t deserve that from me. I thought that everybody around me deserved the old me back. The old me that was bubbly and outgoing and fun, but how could I get back to that point again when I have stuffed all of those emotions of survivor’s guilt completely to the back burner. It was a very unique time as I thought I was doing such a good job of suffering in silence (which was realistically only prolonging my suffering), but my support system could see right through that.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
A gentleman by the name of Joe Hawley shared a quote on our podcast. He said “grief is one of the most profound forms of love, to have loved and have lost”. For me this quote hit home. I never understood grief up until this point, and wasn’t prepared to embark on this journey. I was fine to continue to move on, put a mask on and hope things would heal over time with no work put in. But once I started to appreciate the fact that you can embrace your grief and you are allowed to properly grieve even if your perception of the world has changed a fair amount. I was never ready to challenge myself in an uncomfortable space like mental health and grief.
Somebody very close to me made me keep a promise that I was going to seek help. This promise rocked me to my core because it was the first time I allowed myself to look at myself from the outside and realize that what I am doing isn’t working and it’s starting to affect the relationships with the people I love the most. We are all made up of strength and struggle and there is no right or wrong way to go about that struggle journey. But having the self awareness and appreciation for the fact that this isn’t about the result, but much more the journey, is a profound idea,
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
I have been an athlete for all of my life. To be able to play the sports that I did was a special thing to reflect on. I will be eternally grateful to my parents who allowed us to do just that because sports are ultimately a big reason of why I am the person I am today.
For me, getting my body moving, stretching, lifting, getting a sweat in, still playing those sports but recreationally now, are all the practices that help me stay on track (especially when I’m feeling off). I’ve learned a lot over the past five years and can now recognize that when I can start to sense something with me is off, I need to breathe and I needed to challenge myself to get my body moving in any capacity.
Phones have become an essential for many of us and that’s okay. But it’s so easy to get caught up in a phone/social media rabbit hole that can be quite challenging to get out of. Just now, I had to put my phone down and stop scrolling to remember that writing this out is better for me than monotonously scrolling looking for god knows what,
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
I have decided to share my story because I now appreciate how much power a story can have. I always found myself turning to comparison with stories and thinking that no common ground can be found with others around me due to the extent of the grief and trauma experienced by the accident. But I can acknowledge that it’s not about comparing stories, but more about being able to listen and recognize what may resonate for others while hearing your story and vice versa. It’s a pretty special experience to be able to hear a perspective from an individual that you may never have thought you’d resonate with. You never know when an individual may need to see something or hear something. Give everyone you meet a chance, and just remember, everyone is fighting a battle that you may have no idea about. So, hold empathy and compassion when sharing your own story. Your story can be the light at the end of other people’s tunnels, just read that over.
How did people react when you shared your story of overcoming obstacles?
I was always intrigued initially by how many people would react to me rambling on about myself and my struggles over the recent years. But, it has and continues to be an overwhelming response of love and support for what I have shared. I still have a hard time attaching mental health advocate or public speaker to my identity because I am still baffled that people will sit and listen to me babble on. But some of my favorite aspects of any engagement or opportunity that I am fortunate enough to speak at are the conversations afterwards. The conversations of hope, of inspiration, of reassurance and fulfilment. To now have had countless conversations afterwards with individuals who have listened to my talks, it is a resounding sense of authenticity. That people sometimes just need that reassurance that they can let go of who they think they’re supposed to be and embrace who they really are. I am not usually one to boast about what I’ve done in the speaking world because that just isn’t me, and I am grateful to be able to do it, but lives have been changed and in some cases lives have been saved due to story telling, perspective and vulnerability. And that’s powerful.