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NICHOLAS MERCER: Taking it one day at a time

Corner Brook's Robert Warren is in constant struggle with anxiety and depression. He hopes his story will help others in a similar position.
Corner Brook's Robert Warren is in constant struggle with anxiety and depression. He hopes his story will help others in a similar position. - Nicholas Mercer

Let me tell you about my friend Robert Warren.

We've known each other since 2000 when I showed up for my second year of baseball in Corner Brook.

Up to that point, I had only spent three short months in Corner Brook the previous summer and didn't really know anyone.

Rob helped me overcome any nervousness I had over meeting a new group of people in a relatively new environment. Since then we've been friends.

In recent years, he took the initiative to loss 100 pounds, got in better shape and is taking courses towards being an engineer.

Hanging on a wall in the room of his home that serves as a sort of office is a medal from the Tely 10 road race. It is a personal milestone for the 34-year-old Corner Brook man.

On an adjacent wall is a team award from one summer when he played softball hung on his wall. It is for the most consecutive foul balls to hit the parking lot.

Rob has a big beard, takes big swings when he is at the plate and has an even bigger smile.

There is something else about Rob that I should tell you: That big smile hides his longtime struggles with anxiety and depression.

It started in his mid-20s after a traumatic experience shook him. Instead of dealing with what he was feeling at the time, he buried it inside.

Soon it started to manifest itself as a voice in the back of his head. His mind started getting out of control and he had trouble sleeping as anxiety took over.

That lead to depression and at times suicidal thoughts.

Instead of dealing with the problem head-on or ask for help, Rob turned to alcohol to quiet his mind.

The liqour allowed him to shut down for however long it lasted. What really got him was what was happening when he wasn't drinking.

The activity made him feel worse about himself, he'd get depressed and then pick the bottle up again.

He saw counselling, but he was never honest with them.

That lasted until Oct. 2, 2016. He had reached a moment of clarity.

He quit drinking and started focusing on himself.

With the help of his partner Renee, Rob got healthier, started taking the necessary steps to help his mental health and got active again.

Wednesday was Bell Aliant's mental health initiative, Let's Talk, designed to kickstart conversation's around mental health.

Celebrities, pro athletes and regular people alike sent text messages, fired off tweets and made Facebook posts in hopes of getting some people talking and letting others know they aren't alone in their struggles.

Each had the nifty little #BellLetsTalk hashtag and for every message sent Bell makes a five-cent donation to Canadian mental health initiatives.

It is important to remember that it is as much a marketing tool for the Canadian telecommunication giant as it is a giant leap in helping those suffering from mental health.

People who suffer from mental illness often do so alone. They get lost inside their thoughts and reject the notion of asking for help.

I can get through this on my own, they'll tell themselves. Even as the disease draws them deeper and they become even more withdrawn, those suffering believe only they can pull themselves out of it.

"Don't bury it," said Rob. " Talk to someone. Just by opening up, it helped me."

The conversation just can't be one day a year. Dealing with mental illness is 365 days of talking with people about your problems.

Being able to speak with someone has been a big thing for Rob. What has been even bigger is knowing he isn't the only one going through what he is.

There are days when Rob wakes up and he can tell what it is going to bring. On the bad days, he is constantly looking over his shoulder for something bad to happen.

Every phone call brings a bout of anxiousness as he worries about the bad news it could bring.

As cliché as it sounds, Rob puts one foot in front of the other every day as he fights the illness.

He has good days too. They are starting to outweigh the bad ones.

"I never thought I'd get here," he said. " We're all in this together at the end of the day. Be nice to each other. Maybe, you can help each other through it."

On the days he is feeling down, Rob does just that.

He tries to make someone laugh. Whether that is at the grocery store or through a text message.

In the conversation, he finds solace.

That is really what Bell Let's Talk is all about.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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