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Why I decided to volunteer

For those of you who may not be aware, June 1st-7th is National Volunteers' Week in the UK.

This is an event set up specifically with the aim of celebrating the achievements of those who volunteer, raising the profiles of the organisations who need volunteers, and encouraging those who have never volunteered before to… Continue readingFor those of you who may not be aware, June 1st-7th is National Volunteers' Week in the UK.

This is an event set up specifically with the aim of celebrating the achievements of those who volunteer, raising the profiles of the organisations who need volunteers, and encouraging those who have never volunteered before to give it a try.

Volunteering is something I had always wanted to do, but with school, college, and then university taking up so much time- not to mention my anxiety disorder making new experiences incredibly frightening for me- I always avoided the chance to get involved.

However, after finishing my Master's degree I found I had a lot of free time. After admitting that my anxiety made it difficult for me to try new things, Mind was suggested. Being somebody who suffers from mental illness, I'd obviously heard of it, and I knew of its reputation as a great place for support. So, I bit the bullet, researched opportunities, and soon enquired about joining their anti-stigma group.

As the title suggests, this is a group with my local Mind branch that meets regularly to discuss and implement ways of reducing the stigma around mental health. This includes encouraging more people to open up, reaching out to employers, and getting involved with local and nationwide events relating to mental illness.

I was terrified before attending my first meeting. Would I have to speak? What if I embarrassed myself by saying something stupid? How would I manage in a room full of people I'd never met before? Thankfully there was nothing to worry about. Not only was everybody welcoming, but there was no pressure to talk if you were too nervous to do so. It was a great experience, and one of the few things I do that I actually look forward to, instead of dread for days beforehand.

So, now I'm a volunteer, here is why I love volunteering, and some tips so you can get involved too!

1. Look into organisations that relate to things you care about. Obviously every charity works towards a worthwhile cause, but I find that I'm much more invested when what I'm working on relates to my own experiences. This means I can generate ideas based on things I've actually gone through myself, and I can connect with the other volunteers much easier because we all understand what it's like to suffer from mental illness. I've already met some great people, all inspiring in their own ways, who suffer from similar things, and so are easier to talk to about certain topics.

2. Volunteering is a great way to build up your own confidence and self-esteem. There are so many chances to get involved, and you can do as much or as little as you want. When I first got involved I promised myself that I would force myself out of my comfort zone, and say yes to things I would normally shy away from. Just a couple of weeks ago I sat with the group while being filmed by Tyne Tees News, and a few days ago I sat (on my own!) in front of a camera and talked about why I enjoy volunteering so much.

3. Opportunities like those in the above point are great to put on your CV and applications! It shows that you care about causes and issues, and that you can get involved with things of your own volition, and not just because of the paycheck at the end of the month. It can boost your career, and give you some fantastic skills depending on the opportunities available. There are often chances to gain extra qualifications and certifications, which can also enhance your CV and really make you stand out from the crowd.

4. You meet fantastic people. If you volunteer for something that relates to your own experience, you'll soon have validation of your feelings, because you'll be surrounded by those who have gone through the same thing.

5. There is no pressure. Obviously it's wonderful if you can be available for everything, but this isn't always possible. There is complete understanding that sometimes things come up, and that's okay!

6. You can make a difference. Stigma is still a really significant issue in the conversations around mental health, and to know that we're helping to break down those walls, and correct any misconceptions that people have about speaking out, is a fantastic feeling. No matter which charity or organisation you choose, you will always be making a difference to somebody!

So if you have some spare time now that summer is finally getting underway, take some time to research the groups and organisations in your local area. They're always looking for more volunteers, and you'll have a fantastic time while gaining invaluable experience.

Give it a try!

Website: https://thenorthernwriter.com/

Running For My Life

Mental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children.… Continue readingMental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children. Alongside this, my Mam has suffered from a very severe level of depression for much of my life. She has only really started to come out the other side over the last 10 years, although as anyone who knows about mental ill health or who suffers themselves, it is always a burden you will carry.

My own experiences started officially after the birth of my daughter when I was 19 years old. To be fair, they probably started a lot earlier but there was no space in my head to entertain the thought and mental health was simply not discussed when I was young. My best friend didn't even know how bad my home life was. It was like you became a leper if you came from a broken home as it was, you just didn't add to these issues by admitting your parents were clearly ill. Being a victim of bullying for being poor was enough, I could not have added my family life situation to the mix.

After an initial bout of severe depression which saw me signed off and put on medication about 10 year ago, after the death of my Nana, I have been able to pretty much self manage since. Or so I thought. Back in March 2017 I realised I had hit complete rock bottom. It was a rainy day and I was coming back from taking my daughter to her Dads. The roads were slippy and I skidded on some surface water. I took my hands off the wheel, hoping I would crash. If it wasn't for me spotting a photo of my son in the corner of my windscreen and snapping to my senses, well you know what the result would have been. And I just simply did not care. That photo saved my life! First thing Monday morning I called my Doctor and I have been off work, put on medication again which I fully intend to stick to and I am seeing a counsellor.

I truly believe that if it wasn't for me losing over 2 stone in weight and discovering a true love for running and fitness in general my story could be currently very different. Running keeps me even. If I am upset, angry, frustrated or so low I cant think straight, I lace up my bright pink Nikes, stick in my ear phones, put my music on loud, and I run. I never plan a route. I never plan a particular distance. I just go, wherever my feet take me. My mind becomes deliciously blank, The white noise in my head disappears. I am free. I am not a Mam, a wife, a sufferer of depression, I am Claire. That feeling that comes when you finish is just so hard to describe. You feel alive. The sweat, your heart beating out your chest, your lungs on fire, it is just amazing. Add to this, smashing a Personal Best, well for that moment, any moments of suffering feel a million memories away!

After a year of exercising and becoming the fittest I have ever been in my life, I decided I wanted to make it count. I wanted to give back. I started by completing Run Every Day January (clue is in the name) and raised over £300 for national Mind. It gave me such a sense of achievement and purpose, that I was donating for a cause so close to my heart and raising awareness, both of the charity itself and of mental health. It is such a taboo subject, still to this day, although situations are improving. I want to be part of the driving force that makes talking about your mental issues as common as talking about the flu! From this I decided I wanted to do more, but for my local Mind - Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. Charity really does begin at home. Teesside is my adopted home, it is where I have had some of my toughest times in adult life but where I have learnt a lot and where I have met some of the most important people. With this in mind (no pun intended) I decided to sign up for my first professional race - Bamburgh 10km, in June 2017. I am so excited but nervous. I have also decided to train for the London Marathon in the hope I get a place in 2018. Fundraising again for the lovely team at Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. As part of this training I will be completing the Bamburgh Half Marathon in October. A massive feat for someone that this time last year could only run for 20 minutes!

My next steps - to complete these running challenges and raise as much money as possible in support and awareness of mental health. To add many more to my belt over the years. To continue with my mental health and fitness blog (redballoons2017.wordpress.com) and to continue to grow, learn and become part of the amazing volunteering team at Mind. I will also be a qualified Personal Trainer come July.

With all the above in place I know my recovery is imminent. I will never be completely cured, but knowing I can give back to those suffering and in their won dark place will mean I have turned my demons into angels. It will make my own dark days have more of a rose coloured tint to them.

Website: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/CLAIRE-COULTHARD2?utm_id=121

Giving Back

Back in April I sent an email to Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind, not fully knowing what to expect or what I was wanting to do, just that I wanted to volunteer in any shape or form. I got an email back form the lovely Beth and before I knew it I was meeting her in person and chatting about what I could offer. I couldn't have… Continue readingBack in April I sent an email to Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind, not fully knowing what to expect or what I was wanting to do, just that I wanted to volunteer in any shape or form. I got an email back form the lovely Beth and before I knew it I was meeting her in person and chatting about what I could offer. I couldn't have asked for a friendlier face.

I chose them because they are the Mind for my local area. I believe that in order to be able to start anywhere you need to start at home. This is my adopted hometown and I want to help those around me, who may be in similar situations, had similar upbringings and may not be aware of what is on their very doorstep. Mental health itself is an extremely daunting prospect, trying to find ways to support yourself can be even scarier, especially when you may not even have admitted fully to yourself never mind those nearest and dearest to you.

Although I am a sufferer, severe depression is my card to play, I knew that I had the motivation and determination to put myself out there in order to raise awareness, and to get involved. If I can use my past or current experiences to help even one person, then all this sadness and suffering wont have been in vain. It could make a tiny difference in a world that currently still holds a lot of ignorance to this very subject.

I feel proud to be part of such an amazing cause, a charity that goes out of its way to help anyone and everyone, that wants to erase the stigma of mental ill health and to support those who suffer or care for others that suffer. The impact it has had on my life, even in just the small time I have been part of it, has been phenomenal. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed or avoiding my issues, I feel like I can wear them as badge of experience and be part of something worthwhile. Something that could ultimately change the world, one town at a time. It doesn't have to take up a lot of your time, as a volunteer just being part of the team and giving up your time whenever you are able is much appreciated. You feel grateful that they want your time in any form.

I would genuinely recommend volunteering to anyone. Any one who may have even just a spare hour a week. In that hour you could make so much more of a difference than you could ever imagine. You could help someone realise that they are not alone, something that you do could be something that someone else has never thought of and it could become something that they can adapt to work for them. You can hone in on skills that you may never have known you had, or fine tune the ones you do have. What I love most about it is meeting such a diverse range of people, and hearing their experiences, how they have become where they are, how they manage to cope and why they have chosen to be part of Mind, in whatever capacity that could be. The members I have met in my Anti Stigma group are truly an amazing bunch of people. I feel privileged to be part of them, to be involved in helping change the future with them but also of gaining new friends.

I would love to be able to incorporate my passion for running and fitness into my volunteering at some point. It is a coping mechanism for me that has helped save my life pretty much. I want to give this back. I want to help people find their passion, whether it be fitness, running or something completely different. In regards to how volunteering helps my own mental health, well it is only in a positive way. I am starting to believe I have a true purpose. I am not completely sure what that is just yet but I know it involves working within mental health in some capacity and incorporating my fitness passion and qualifications. It is such an under utilised form of therapy. There is always something for someone, of any age, race and fitness level within their own personal interests. I am beginning to believe I am worth something, I do matter.

Volunteering is now as much a necessary part of my life as my running, my medication and my counsellor. It will help me on my recovery journey as I hopefully help someone on theirs.

If I could offer any advice it would be, go for it! Send that email. make that appointment, sell yourself and don't look back. Go on to make a difference in other peoples lives. I swear you wont regret it. Become a volunteer and become a person who gives back. Do it for the simple satisfaction. Money may make the world turn but it certainly cant buy the important things!

Thank you Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind for helping me onto the correct path and opening up my eyes to an array of possibilities. We really will make a difference, one day at a time!

Website: https://redballoons2017.wordpress.com/

Unapolagetically Me

For a good few months now I've been feeling really low about myself, which is not like me. I was such a confident person and was so happy within myself, and I guess as I've grown up and matured a bit more and life has changed so much that I'm having to almost find myself again. When I say feeling down about myself I don't… Continue readingFor a good few months now I've been feeling really low about myself, which is not like me. I was such a confident person and was so happy within myself, and I guess as I've grown up and matured a bit more and life has changed so much that I'm having to almost find myself again. When I say feeling down about myself I don't just mean the odd huff here and there because I've put on a bit of weight or I don't like my hair, I've been overthinking things I didn't used to. It all sparked because I gained a few pounds but then it kind of tumble weeded and I started to think about what other people thought of me.

What if people think I'm mean for saying that? What if people think I'm stupid because I've forgotten something? What if they're looking at me thinking 'she's put on weight'? What if they don't like me?

I guess I let one insecurity spark some more, which I shouldn't have done. Something that only my closest friends and boyfriend know is that I suffer with Anxiety. I haven't been properly diagnosed but I know I have it, I've suffered with panic attacks since I was in secondary school and my mind is pretty much always in over drive overthinking the smallest of things. However, I've realised that I just need to get back to my roots. Life got so hectic with work, Uni and family life that I forgot to take time out for me (and my little blog) so I've decided it's time to work on myself. By that I mean get healthier, lose the weight I put on, work on something that I love doing, create things and start to really enjoy life again.

My weight does not define me. I can be forgetful. Sometimes I get annoyed a little too easily. I can let stressful situations get me down. You work to live, you don't live to work. I achieve something every day as my blog views go up. I'm funny. I have amazing people around me. I'm kind. I'd prefer to wear a baggy jumper and joggers over a dress any day. I'm pretty, even without make up. I need to work on my time keeping skills. I got a 1st in a Uni assignment with the rest pretty much all 2:1s, when an A was never in sight at school or college. I'm creative. I'm motivated. I'm talented. I'm me.

These are some of the things that make up who I am, some good, some bad. It's hard to beat insecurities and learn to love yourself but every now and then it's good to sit down and remind yourself that you're actually doing ok.

Website: http://justlucyslife.blogspot.co.uk/

Stigma in the workplace

One of the most prevalent topics in the mental health community seems to be stigma around mental health in the workplace. I’ve heard stories of people being told to deal with it; that they need to grow up; that their panic attacks wouldn’t happen to normal people; that they need to get a grip, and many, many other stories… Continue readingOne of the most prevalent topics in the mental health community seems to be stigma around mental health in the workplace. I’ve heard stories of people being told to deal with it; that they need to grow up; that their panic attacks wouldn’t happen to normal people; that they need to get a grip, and many, many other stories that show just how little people know or care about mental illnesses.

A few weeks ago I attended an interview for a waitressing position. Despite my bad anxiety and depression, I was determined to make it work because, let’s face it, the economy is shit, and I need a job. The interview, a 1-1 with a lovely woman, went brilliantly, and I was invited back for a work trial during their evening dinner rush with two others trying out for similar roles. Each of us was shadowed by a supervisor, and the restaurant manager watched us throughout the trial. At the end he took each of us aside one by one to give us feedback before sending us home. I was called in last, and these were his exact words: “I was really concerned about you. You were terrified, it was making the customers tense”.

I was shocked. Yes, I had been absolutely terrified of the work trial, but I managed to speak; I took orders; I did everything I was asked with a smile on my face. I knew my anxiety was visible, but I hadn’t realised just how much. To say that the customers were on edge because of how I was feeling was a kick to the stomach. One of the few reassurances throughout my struggles with anxiety, was that it wasn’t easily noticeable by the average person. People are so distracted by their own lives, they wouldn’t notice that you’re feeling particularly anxious about something. But they did notice. I, obviously, didn’t get the job.

Many other people I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences: Bosses, managers, supervisors, and co-workers who don’t understand mental illness, don’t understand how it manifests, and treat the sufferer, quite frankly, like they’re overreacting and not capable of doing the job. This is why I suggested, in a twitter chat several weeks ago, that workplaces should be much more accepting of mental illness. Just as they include a disclaimer in an application- stating that they don’t discriminate based on age, gender, and so forth- they should include some form of reassurance about their treatment of those with mental illnesses.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are jobs out there that some of us can’t do, due to our illnesses. But for many of us, it is the treatment from co-workers, rather than the work itself, that stops us. I recently began volunteering with my local branch of Mind, and one of the things that keeps cropping up is the idea of a mental health supporter within workplaces. Just as every workplace needs a first-aid qualified staff member on duty at all times, they should also have somebody who has been trained in how to deal with mental illness. This would be a lifeline for those who are prone to, for example, panic attacks halfway through a shift.

Workplaces and business, in general, should follow strict guidelines that, when followed and/or completed, give them accreditation as being somewhere safe for mental health sufferers to work. This doesn’t seem, to me, to be a big ask, but considering the stories I’ve heard from those who have discovered how little their managers care about their well-being, I’m not holding my breath that any big changes will be take place soon.

Website: https://thenorthernwriter.com/2017/05/06/stigma-in-the-workplace/

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