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Wednesday, December 18th

Brandon Fehd is easy to spot on the ice while playing for the Rapid City Rush. You’ll probably recognize his #93, or see him kneeling in prayer after every game he plays. As a defenseman, you’ve seen him clash opposing forwards and desperately try to keep the competition away from his net.

You’ve seen him battle countless times for the Rapid City Rush on the ice. What you haven’t seen is his constant battle off the ice, a battle that has followed him for his entire life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

“I’ve had this since I was born,” Brandon Fehd said of his condition. “Some of my earliest memories in life are of an obsessive-compulsive nature. As far as I can remember, I’d have to say it was anywhere from between three and five years old that I’ve had this.” 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, known colloquially as “OCD”, is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.

People that suffer from OCD can be fixated on cleanliness, germaphobia, symmetry, or another specific pattern. For Fehd, its numbers.

“I’ll perform actions through numbers in certain multiples, but for me, it’s different,” Fehd explained. “For example, I like the number four, but I might not like the number six, so I’ll tailor my algorithms to that. But if I like the number four, but don’t like twelve, twelve is a multiple of four, so there’s a challenge, and for me it varies constantly. The significance to the numbers varies. Sometimes, I center things around a number I used to wear, or a number a teammate wore. In the simplest sense, some numbers are just more visually appealing to me and relieve my anxiety. Others trigger a compulsion that I have to counter with a thought or action before I can continue to go about my business.

“It’s constant. I have compulsions that I go through every day,” Fehd explained. “I set three alarms every day. I’ll wake up at 6:02, to make 62.  When I wake up, I’ll pray to God and meditate with Him, then go back into a minor sleep. Then I’ll set one for 7:03, for 73. That’s when I visualize my day. I treat that as a ‘snooze’ of sorts. Then it’s another alarm at 8:01, for 81. After that, I’ll get up, go through my compulsions, or twitches. When I get dressed, I put certain parts of my clothes on a certain amount of times to get to a certain number that relieves my anxiety. But if it doesn’t feel right, it has to jump to another number, which isn’t always the same.”

That’s just the start of Fehd’s day, before any meal, practice, or game.

“I have a series of compulsions that I go through, that I refer to as algorithms, but sometimes they’re not always set,” he elaborated. “Sometimes I wake up feeling great, not so anxious, and I don’t have to put my clothes on nearly as much. Depending on the order I put my clothes on, I try to match that number in a sequence with how many times I put it on. For example, my underwear is the first thing I put on, so I’ll put them on three times to get to 13, one for the first article and three for three for the attempts to put them on. My shorts are the third thing I put on, so I try to put them on once to get to 31, or eight times to make 38. 

“That pattern continues to everything I put on,” Fehd continued, “trying to get to numbers that relieve my anxiety. If it doesn’t feel right, however, I have to start that process all over again. There are times where I’ve put my clothes on 38 times before I feel good. There have been times where I’ve been ‘stuck’ in a spot for hours just because a number didn’t feel right.”

The struggle persists throughout his daily routine. After he gets dressed, the same routine applies to how he brushes his teeth, how he eats his meals and drinks his protein shakes, how he exits a room, how he goes to sleep at night, and everything else that he does throughout his day.

The base root of OCD is anxiety, and Fehd says this isn’t something he can simply “shake off”. If he doesn’t go through his algorithms, as he refers to them, his triggers become worse.

“Certain things trigger my OCD, like numbers, places, colors, and reading. When I read it’s a battle, because I constantly have to re-read certain things a certain number of times. If I don’t twitch or do anything to counter the trigger I suffer while reading, it magnifies,” Fehd said. “It’s as if there’s a thousand pounds of pressure on my chest. My physical twitches change too. There was one twitch I had that I would snap my head around and shake my wrist hard, but over time it got too violent and began to hurt. I grew out of it and did something else to relieve my anxiety.

“I don’t want to do these things, but in my mind, I don’t have a choice,” he continued. “There are days where I’ve woken up and just said ‘forget this’ to myself. You try, but it’s so hard, especially with all of that weight on your chest. For some of my twitches, if I don’t do it, I feel something bad will happen. For some people, if they don’t lock the front door four times, then they think they’ll get robbed. It goes down that rabbit hole on occasion. For people like us, that is our reality.”

His twitches, occasionally, come at a price.

“There was one time where I accidentally burned my hand on a stove,” Fehd recalled. “When the pain subsided, my brain essentially told me ‘you still have three more touches’. It was a double-edged sword…you don’t want to burn yourself, but if I don’t touch the stove again, the weight of not doing it is unbearable. I compromised and touched the stove three times rapidly just do to it. It was definitely a challenging situation to be in.

Fehd disclosed that he does not currently take any medications to combat his OCD and the anxiety that comes with it. In the past, he had taken medication for his condition, but found that it did not fully help him. Additionally, some of the medications had adverse effects on him, which discouraged him from continuing to take them.

“I maxed out on Prozac and a few other anti-depressants,” Fehd explained. “At first, doctors thought I had ADHD, so they gave me Adderall and basically maxed me out on that too. The Adderall was a 50/50 split: on one hand, I would focus heavily on school and sports, and I’d be ok, but on the other hand, it would make me focus on my anxiety, compounding the effect dramatically. I even tried some non-traditional treatments, but I felt some undesirable side effects and removed myself from them. I’ve seen therapists, specialists, and countless doctors as well.”

Where medicine may not have worked, Fehd has discovered other escapes from this anxiety: his passion for pursuing Christ and his faith, surfing, and hockey.

“When the puck drops, my mind is at peace. It’s interesting,” Fehd said. “I might twitch before opening puck drop in a game, but once the rubber hits the ice, my mind is calm. It’s the same when I surf back home, or when I pray to God. Those have helped my condition tremendously.”

Fehd cites the Bible in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’, therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest in me”. The defenseman draws inspiration from this verse that his battle with OCD can make him better if he allows it to.

To that effect, Fehd added that there are instances when his condition has helped him in his professional hockey career.

“When I do drills in practice, like shooting for instance, I’ll use the numbers in my head to work on my skill. If I shoot for the top corner and make it, I have to do it three more times in a row, or a certain number of times. For as much as it’s a battle, I can use it to my advantage. It’s only when I’m training though, not in games.”

Another challenge Fehd faces from his condition is daily off-ice life with his teammates. He tries his best to be mindful of them and hopes that his condition isn’t a distraction on or off the ice.

“There are days that are tougher than others, no doubt. The guys will want to leave for somewhere in a hurry and I’m behind caught in a twitch. It takes a while, and I feel bad,” Fehd explained.  “I’ve been very blessed here in Rapid City to have great teammates that understand and are patient with me. Sadly, I can’t say that about all of my teammates and coaches from past years and organizations.”

With different people come different reactions, and some are not as accepting as others. That creates another struggle for Fehd, on top of the constant race his mind is suspended in.

“Off the ice is more of a struggle. Past teammates have told me that my compulsions are annoying. I try to explain to them that I don’t like acting out these compulsions, and yet I’d take flak for it. It hits home. Every day I wake up, and I have to do this all over again, and again, and again” Fehd said, holding back tears. “I’d twitch, and teammates would make fun of me and say ‘Fehder is doing a special dance’, to which I’d respond that I’m simply just trying to sit down. That’s a battle in and of itself. Certain seasons have been more difficult than others.”

For Fehd, his support network has been his rock. Rush Head Coach Daniel Tetrault has been someone he’s been able to rely on since the two first met in Training Camp ahead of the 2018-19 season last year.

“I’ve talked with Coach, and there are days where I tell him that life isn’t fun. He’s been a great shoulder to lean on, and tells me that I can persevere and battle through it,” Fehd expanded on his relationship with Tetrault. “Coach is one of those people that can snap me out of my twitches sometimes. I have such immense respect for him, and part of it has to do with how he respects me and the condition that I have. He’s so genuine, and truly cares about all of his players. When someone genuine in my life like that says something, that’s a momentary relief of the anxiety that comes with my OCD.

“We were in Utah on a road trip one time,” Fehd recalled, “and I got out of the shower following morning skate. I was drying my feet off 38 times, and Coach politely came up to me and said ‘Fehder, you don’t need to do that. You’ve got this kid,’ and my mind slowed down a bit and I got through it after only four times. He’s really helped me break certain habits, some I’ve had for years. It all comes down to respect. He tells me I’m better than this condition, or tells me I don’t need to perform a certain action, and I trust him, so all of the anxiety goes away.”

“It’s heartbreaking to see Fehder go through this on a daily basis. He’s such a great kid that pours his heart and soul into his teammates, his faith, and the game of hockey,” Rush Head Coach Daniel Tetrault interjected. “Everyone comes from a different walk of life, and as a coach, it’s my job to make sure that my players are as comfortable and respected as possible. I just try to remind him every day not to let it dictate who he is, and to truly believe that this is something he can overcome. I’m appreciative of how much he respects me and trusts me to help him, so I do my best to help whenever he asks.”

His teammates have also been at his side, and have pledged their full support to Fehd and his battle with OCD. Rush goaltender Tyler Parks is Fehd’s roommate this season, and defenseman and Assistant Captain Josh Elmes has been Fehd’s defense partner for parts of the last two seasons. Both have seen his battle since all three became teammates in the 2018-19 season.

“It’s hard to watch him go through this every day,” Parks commented on his roommate, “You have to take a step back and put yourself in his shoes, and what’s going through his mind on a daily basis. He has to do specific things a specific way, and if he doesn’t do it or feel right doing it, he has to go through that process over and over again. Living with him, I try to be as supportive and mindful of him as I can. You have to be patient. We let him do his thing.  He’s a great guy and an outstanding teammate, so it’s tough to see him battle like this.

“We try the best we can to help him cope with his OCD,” Parks continued. “For example, he has a projector and we’re both big fans of Disney, so we’ll watch movies together in the living room. It keeps his brain focused on one thing and takes his mind off of his compulsions for a moment. We’ll also cook meals together as well and keep his spirits up. At the end of the day, we have his back, and will do whatever we can to help him get through this struggle he faces every day.”

“Having roomed and played with Fehder over the last two seasons, watching him go through this every day is tough. He battles everywhere he goes,” Elmes said of his defense partner. “I’ve played a ton of games with Fehder, and what amazes me the most is his positive attitude towards people and everything in life. He prays for everyone and treats every day like it’s a blessing. As his defense partner, and as a friend, I try to focus on keeping his attitude positive. We play great together, and he’s an awesome person with a great heart. 

“It’s interesting seeing it in action, with all the numbers he counts and his motions he has to go through,” Elmes added.  “I can’t even begin to understand how his mind works with this, and can only imagine the other challenges he faces in his head that we don’t see. On the ice though, his mind seems at peace. I try to understand it and help the best I can as his teammate and friend.  Hopefully one day this is something he can move past.”

The best medicine of all, Fehd explained, is his faith. Getting closer to God has tremendously helped him cope with his OCD, and even relieve the anxiety that comes with it.

“Walking with Christ, by far, has helped me more than any treatment or medicine I’ve ever taken. He, coupled with my family, has been instrumental in coping with this,” Fehd emotionally stated.  “The fact that I am His son and He loves me, He wants what’s best for me, and that I can talk to Him is cathartic. Its like He’s a psychiatrist in a sense. He listens to me, and I can tell Him whatever I need to. Sometimes, its even better than what hockey or surfing does for my mind.”

Fehd isn’t alone as a professional hockey player battling mental illness. Robin Lehner, current Chicago Blackhawks goaltender and 2019 Masterton Award winner for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey, famously said “I’m mentally ill. I’m not mentally weak”. Lehner has battled Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in addition to alcohol and drug addiction. For Fehd, that’s a rallying cry, one he hopes to use not just in his own life, but to motivate younger athletes fighting the same fight he is.

“I follow him on Instagram,” Fehd commented regarding Lehner. “I hope to reach out to him one day in the hopes of sharing my struggles and helping younger athletes that may be battling this. I pray that one day I can glorify Christ without my condition, but as long as I have it, I’ll do whatever I can to help others that bear the same cross that I do.

“That, for me personally, is the end game,” Fehd concluded. “I want to bring awareness to this on a number of different fronts, but most importantly, awareness that this can be fought, and that all of us suffering from OCD can get through this. This is a battle that you can’t shelter from support. You have to have the courage to identify the problem, tell your story, and try and beat this every day. It’s all about getting a ‘win’ each day, and telling your story is a great way to start on that path. I hope this inspires people to face their mental illnesses head on, and I’ll do whatever I can to help.”


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