Beneath the Tracksuit: Using the power of words in the face of MS and depression
They say, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and local MS Warrior, Robert Gillet, has chosen words as his weapon in his fight against Multiple Sclerosis and depression.
‘Beneath the Tracksuit’ is Robert Gillet’s pen name that heads his poetry page on social media, where he has more than 5,000 followers that have formed over the short space of a year.
In 2015, at the age of 25, Robbie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Knowing that this diagnosis could cause serious health problems, he and his family made the decision to move to Bodmin to be closer to other members of his family.
This is when Robbie found the healing power of words. At first, he wrote as a coping strategy for himself; now he shares his words to help support others all over the world. Robbie’s poems were first formed as a diary to track his illness and the depression and anxiety that it amplified. At first, Robbie struggled to turn his negative emotions into poetry, feeling an element of ‘embarrassment’ and stigma around writing poetry as a young man. The health benefits this form of expression had, however, finally prevailed and in May 2021, Robbie’s wife Donna finally convinced him to share his words online.
Robbie soon realised that his poetry gave hope and comfort to many people - not just those with MS, but also people suffering from depression and other hidden illnesses and disabilities. His public poetry page aims to give a voice to those that struggle to find their own and he has helped make a whole online community feel less alone.
After some encouragement from local community organisations including SkillShare, Bodmaxx and intoBodmin, Robbie continued to spread awareness by first performing his poems at local open mic nights, which within six months, led to him running his own fundraising event in Bodmin for The MS Merlin Centre in St Austell on the 30th April.
This fundraiser involved local support acts from the Bodmin community that Robbie had met through performing. It included a mixture of music, spoken-word, Robbie’s poetry and some thought-provoking activities that aimed to demonstrate how everyday tasks can be affected by some of the debilitating symptoms of MS.
Perhaps one of the most touching moments of the evening was when, from the stage, Robbie said: “I just want to take a moment and tell you all that I’ve just seen someone here tonight that was a customer of mine when I was fitting kitchens, before my MS got too bad and now, he’s here tonight! He’s seen me when I was still a fit young guy and now when my illness has got to this more severe stage.”
What was even more incredible was that the gentleman in question had only heard about the event that day and when he was in a completely different town! It was quite a remarkable, natural story arc.
Through donations, a silent auction of a signed copy of Robbie’s new book, his mum’s delicious homemade cakes and intoBodmin’s generous support, Robbie and his family managed to raise a fantastic £286 for The MS Merlin Centre, St Austell.
In just a year Robbie has been published in multiple magazines, spread awareness locally and online and published his own book, ‘Thoughts of a Warrior’. With five-star reviews, this compelling read was initially only available on Amazon, until Robbie woke up one morning to find it is now being stocked in multiple bookshops throughout the country, including the UK’s biggest book retailer, Waterstones.
Robbie has been greatly inspired by American rapper, Jelly Roll and the pain expressed through his music. Robbie told Bodmin Life: “I started writing poetry, I can’t sing, I’m not a rapper, it’s something I found I can do.”
Now, he is taking the first steps towards recording his own words through Studio Bodmin, a project that has taken on 12 local musicians and artists to record and produce a collaborative CD, which will also lead to a local performance event. Through this project, Robbie hopes to create an emotive track to inspire hope in others with hidden disabilities.