Falling into Volunteering
I always assumed that people who volunteer made a conscious, deliberate decision to do so. In my case that’s not true, I can’t claim I ever decided to do this, there was no decision to offer up some of my time to help other people, Mind you I still don’t think I’m doing anything special, nothing that most people couldn’t do and I certainly gain from it too.
To give you a little background I was in my 40s and have several health conditions, which between them make me unable to work. It varies a lot day to day but there’s pain and nausea even on a good day. I do some creative writing, and attending a weekly writers’ group was about it for my social life at the time.
The Jobcentre stated that I needed to do something specific and regular to prepare myself for work when my health improved. I remember thinking “how am I meant to do that? I can’t tell what days I can do anything, let alone make regular commitments”. My conditions are very hard to predict, and while I have got better at it I still get blindsided by it even now.
I wanted something writing related so I’d be practicing communication, IT skills and my interest in writing would keep me focused. The only option at the time acceptable to the DWP was the Bethany Christian Trust’s Bugle magazine group which I didn’t think sounded like something I’d fit into to be honest. I decided to at least try it and I’m grateful that I did.
Now not being from Edinburgh I knew nothing about Bethany Christian Trust, googling told me their goal is to prevent homelessness. I was a little concerned when I went along on that first afternoon, not sure if it was going to be a writing group, a therapeutic group or involve joining a cult! (The last is a poke at my sister who was convinced that I was for weeks!)
It is a writing group and while some of the writing is a bit more therapeutic than what I normally write there was no pressure to write deep and meaningful or expose “your inner self”. The writing covers a wide range of topics and the group members are very friendly.
The staff there are great too, by the way, we discussed why I was there and what my general situation was like. The end result was that I would attend the group and that they would offer me a Support Worker for the next six months, a very kind and patient lady called Catherine. I owe Catherine a huge vote of thanks, she helped me realize how much I had isolated myself, that there were issues I needed to consider physically and emotionally.
It was during these 6 months that I started going to another Bethany group, a lunch time drop in, that was just starting up. I tried to get along most weeks to show my support and to get to know people. Of course the free lunch didn’t hurt either.
After a few months I was doing better, I’d made some new friends and even my flat was looking better. Christine had gently encouraged me to look at all the clutter, to get rid of some of the stuff I’d never use. I am a hoarder I just can’t seem to help it but back then I was worse, not to the appear on TV level but I was working on it.
Life was better apart from one thing, I felt that I was getting a lot of help while giving nothing back. Bethany Christian Trust has a lot of volunteers and this seemed a way to balance the scales a little. I started doing some admin type work for them, around two hours once a week. At first it was a little erratic while I learned to work around my conditions and medications but that improved.
I was asked if I could help out with Bethany’s computer drop in group as one of the volunteers was having some health hassles and it really needed two volunteers. It would have felt rude to say no so I figured I could do it for a few weeks till the person returned. Well, they returned but then the other volunteer needed some time off so I kept helping. I enjoy seeing everyone, we chat and keep things informal, its great seeing their confidence grow as they learn how to make computer work.
That was two years ago and its definitely part of my regular routine now. I still go to the Bugle group but I ended up going from member to a volunteer there. It was just a natural progression I’d been helping set up the computers for the group, helping people edit and print their work, now I just do it a little more officially.
I never formally decided I should do this, it is started with me feeling a bit guilty and then it became habit, I never thought to myself “Well this will help me be more sociable or open up training options”. Instead I made friends, I regained confidence that I hadn’t even known I had lost till I started to look at what had become “normal” for me. I’ve performed poetry in front of a live audience which I’d always found an excuse to avoid before. I discovered that I can write funny poems – which was a shock as I can’t tell jokes to save my life! Sadly it hasn’t stopped me from rambling on as you might have noticed!
So the short version of this is TRY volunteering, it doesn’t have to be a huge decision and you might just get a lot more out of it than you put in. I certainly did.