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May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Whether on the ice or off it, mental health is an important discussion amongst those in the hockey community. With that said, The Sin Bin’s Norfolk Admirals correspondent Ted Warren chose to share his story and open up about his struggles with anxiety and maintaining positive mental health.

Hello, hockey world!  My name is, Ted Warren, and I have a story to tell if you could lend me your ear for a while.

It was July 4, 2016, and I was working a summer job as a Lifeguard at Great Wolf Lodge in the Hampton Roads area when it happened — my heart started beating really fast and my throat started to close, making breathing impossible. I whistled over to my supervisor telling her I had to leave because I was getting sick. I ran out of the water park and had no idea what was going on. Once in my car, I broke down and called my biggest fan — my mother– who helped me schedule a doctor’s appointment.

After pouring my heart out to the doctor, she told me I had an anxiety disorder and PTSD symptoms. She prescribed me some medications to help. I admit, it was tough to cope at first, but I’ve learned some strategies to help me. Please let me share these with you.

Ted lists his son, Clayton, as his number one strategy in the fight for positive mental health. Photo Credit: Ted Warren.

Number One: My four-year-old, Clayton. See, he’s a Daddy’s boy through and through. He’s like my shadow. On my darkest days, he’s my sunshine. He told me the other day, “Dad, I want to play hockey.” That’s really heartwarming and touches me knowing that he wants to be just like his Dad. On my bad days, he’s there. And, when I feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, he hugs me and gives me a kiss, then says, “All better, Daddy.” I mean, who wouldn’t cheer up after that?

Number Two: HOCKEY! The Norfolk Admirals have given me an outlet that has turned my anxiety to something positive. There is nothing that tops the feeling of my hands pounding the keyboard writing a feature that will soon go up on The Sin Bin. Sure, I admit, sometimes I have a ton of anxiety about hockey player interviews. It’s not just jitters, it’s the thought of: “What if I screw up and end up asking a stupid question?” On days that I feel like that, I skip the interviews or stand there with my recorder out collecting audio from coaches and players while the other reporter handles the post-game. But, I’ve learned to compensate by writing down my questions (especially for my feature interviews), which help ease my anxiety.

So, I apologize if it’s been awhile since my latest article. See, anxiety tricks your mind to thinking you’re not good enough. Some days when I write, I end up deleting the whole article because I don’t think it’s good enough. It’s been a rough go around this time, but I’m learning different ways to cope.

Number Three: A support system — medication and TALK.   Everyone needs someone to lean on after a bad day. When you battle with a mental illness, bad days are twice as bad. I’ve learned if you don’t talk about it, you’ll find yourself spiraling even more. When I have an issue, I’ve learned to lean on my support system and that’s my family, especially my mother and grandmother (Nonny). They offer me words of encouragement and check on me once a day to make sure I’m okay when I’m feeling down or anxious. Let me tell you, having a support system makes you feel like you’re not alone.

I know mental health still has this stigma around it, and some people think it doesn’t exist. But it does, and many people think that medication doesn’t help. I strongly disagree. Without my medication, I probably wouldn’t be writing this or be able to leave my house. I admit, taking pills everyday seems tough. But once you take them regularly, it’s amazing how much better you feel. So, if you’re reading this and you’re on the fence about medication, give it a try. I admit, there is an adjustment period for your body, but it goes away pretty quick.

Talking does wonders for your illness. It helps release all your bottled up emotions, and it feels like you’re not alone in life. The more you talk about it, the better you feel. So, if you’re feeling down or feeling like you’re about to explode, call a trusted friend, family member, or schedule an appointment with a therapist. None of these people will judge you. It will surprise you how much these people care and are willing to just listen and not pass judgement.

Hopefully my story on how I cope with my mental illness will help you find your own coping strategies. I’m also here for you if you want someone to listen and not pass judgement, because I know what it feels like to be judged and stigmatized. If you ever need to talk send me an e-mail: [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @Bauerhockeydude.

Please know that you’re not alone if you struggle with mental health wellness. To learn more about reaching out and getting help, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).