Feeling better outside: Ecominds and Thames21
Posted Tuesday 25 October 2011
I suffered serious physical and mental health problems for nearly 10 years before I began volunteering, which ultimately saved my life. There were years of misdiagnosis and referral problems, before I was found to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME) brought on by a viral infection. While I eventually got the treatment I required, the condition took its toll. It seemed to me that the world carried on without me.
This difficult time was compounded by more of life’s upheavals. My illness eventually led to the end of my marriage, and this was followed by a rapid succession of bereavements. I was also battling joblessness and the attached stigma and bureaucracy of claiming benefits. I relapsed seriously before finally being discharged from Barts in February 2010. My care team agreed on a gradual reintroduction to the workplace to guard against setbacks, beginning with volunteering.
To my continual amazement, I now run the Ecominds project for volunteers with mental health issues.
I first volunteered with Thames21 in March 2010, on the Thames foreshore at Leamouth. I was nervous, but also excited about what I knew was the first day of a new life. I had become increasingly isolated by my illness, and volunteering was the perfect way to get out of the house. I met new friends, rebuilt my self confidence and re-learned communication and listening skills.
I quickly became involved with Thames21’s Ecominds weekly gardening project at Bow Locks, a perfect fit for my needs at the time. It allowed a much-needed change and allowed me to really appreciate the outdoors and London’s wonderful waterways.
Working on London’s rivers and canals has made me the happiest I have ever been. I have a fantastic quality of life, and I am calmer and more patient. I am now in a position to help others who are facing similar problems, and my ongoing voluntary work led to a full-time job with Thames21. To my continual amazement, I now run the Ecominds project for volunteers with mental health issues.
It is extremely rewarding to be able to give something back. I can now talk about my own experience of depression, and know others will relate. People need to feel supported, to see that person reaching out their hand saying, “grab hold, I want to help”.
Being appreciated as somebody who has something to offer gives a fantastic sense of achievement and wellbeing. I can now use my past experiences as inspiration to turn negative feelings into positive ones. Whether it was the times I didn’t think I was going to get through the night in hospital, the intense physical pain, the times I thought the world was against me, or all the relationship problems that still hurt.
I feel very proud of my association with Thames21, and my colleagues there have become like an extended family to me! As readers will know, when you have mental health problems, you become incredibly loyal to those who have stuck by you in troubled times.
This is why I am what I am. I really feel as though I have found my calling. I now want to spend my time and energy helping the environment and as many people as I possibly can.
Simon Reddecliffe, Ecominds Project Coordinator, Thames21
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