For Volunteers' Week, Alex-Marie blogs about how volunteering at her local Mind shop helped.
I began volunteering at my local Mind shop at the start of 2016 after being out of work for a couple of years.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia after a breakdown in October 2014. I had to leave both education and paid employment in order to begin my recovery.
I saw volunteering as something that could help my recovery and act as a stepping stone towards paid employment.
"I never wanted to be this nervous, to be afraid to do these things - it just happened."
When it came to looking for somewhere to volunteer, Mind was an obvious choice. I wanted to give back to those who helped me.
But I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the store to sign up.
Volunteering had always been something I saw as selfless, something done purely for the benefit of others. However, it has turned out to be so much more.
I began helping out on Tuesday morning shifts each week. During this time, my confidence came on in leaps and bounds. It has helped my social anxiety and has allowed me to get out more.
"I remembered that I needn’t be afraid of people."
You’re probably wondering why in the world I wanted to start working in a shop, behind a till, dealing with customers, if I was unable to do these things. It’s hard to explain.
I never wanted to be nervous - to be afraid to do things - it just happened. It’s just how I was for some reason. Volunteering helped me to break down these fears.
It's helped me to remember that I needn’t be afraid of people - that I can interact and speak up for myself. After volunteering for only a month, I managed to take myself to Birmingham by train to visit a friend - something that was unthinkable before. Public transport would make me feel trapped and cause panic attacks and make my voices become louder.
I’m not saying that it was a miraculous recovery as it was still a little scary, but I did it - something that previously wouldn’t have been possible.
"Without volunteering in Hertford Mind shop I would not be where I am now"
I was also offered courses to help me get a job, as well as training in working on a till, customer service and stock rotation. All this has proven to work, as at the start of May I started my first part time paid job since my breakdown.
It’s also unexpectedly opened up opportunities to get involved in the Heads Together campaign and meet William, Kate and Harry! This was an amazing day. It’s always been a dream of mine to meet royalty. Not only this, but it has given me the chance to write to promote awareness of mental health which is something I’ve really wanted to do.
Without volunteering in Hertford Mind shop I would not be where I am now; holding down a job, study, and being able to write regularly; I have a lot to thank Mind for.
Read about types of mental health problems
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.