How volunteering helped to break the cycle
Anna blogs about how volunteering at her local Mind shop helped her break out of her secluded routine.
Before I started to volunteer at Mind, I found myself in an unhealthy pattern. I would stay up very late into the night and then get up in the afternoon around 4pm. I would then go on my laptop and stream TV episodes online long into the evening, starting the cycle again.
I struggle with social anxiety amongst my anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and I guess I just wanted to avoid life. It was my way of sabotaging the day, avoiding having to do much that was constructive and staying isolated away from other people.
I wanted to try and break out of this pattern, but the idea of getting a job felt too daunting and I didn’t have much previous work experience anyway. I thought that volunteering would help me build and learn skills, while being under less pressure to perform.
I looked into a few places that took on volunteers, but felt very anxious about the idea of volunteering anywhere. My mental health struggles were all so consuming and felt like such a big part of my life, so I approached Mind. I hoped that, at Mind, if I mentioned my struggles to my co-workers, they would be more understanding.
I happened to come across the Mind charity shop in East Sheen, as it was near to where I went for my therapeutic groups and appointments. Since it took around an hour and 45 minutes to travel to the area from home, I initially fit the work in on the same days as my appointments.
I was very anxious about starting and I struggled with being frightened of not doing things well in the shop. My first manager would usually give me the task of designing and arranging the shop window. At the time, this felt overwhelming since I put pressure on myself to do a good job, but once it was finished, it was rewarding knowing I’d gotten through and that display looked good.
I’ve also been given a range of other tasks, including computer work, pricing and sorting donations and serving customers at the till. Again, I found these tough initially due to the pressure I put on myself, but it was rewarding and a relief to hear positive comments from my manager and colleagues. And they were always reassuring – “If you make mistakes, it’s ok!”
The people I’ve worked with have been supportive, respectful and understanding of my mental health struggles. They’ll often ask me how I am – I still can’t always say if I’m struggling, but I appreciate how considerate they are. I’ve also met other volunteers there who struggle and it’s been comforting to know I’m not the only one in that position.
There are still days when I go to bed late and wake up in the afternoon, but since volunteering at Mind, I lead a more active and structured life. I’ve had something to commit to and challenge my anxieties. I still struggle with social anxiety, but I can now enjoy meeting my co-workers and build relationships with ones I’ve seen over time. 2 years down the line, I’m feeling more confident and can take on the pressure and responsibility of carrying out the manager’s requests. After 7 years out of education, I am now doing my 1st year of study and it’s due to the confidence and skills I’ve built up.
Volunteering at Mind has been instrumental in helping me get out of my secluded routine, a stepping stone to breaking out of a pattern of living in my isolated world at home.
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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.