31 May 2017

One Long Summer at a Time...

And so it begins. 130 days to fill. For the past 9 months I have constantly had things to focus on- assignments, volunteering and socialising, leaving little room for my eating disorder to make a potentially catastrophic reappearance. However, as the activities at university dwindled down, I feared more and more about the expanding capacity of my mind that could allow for those negative thoughts to take centre stage. I know just how quickly anorexia can grasp onto any sense of vulnerability and as part of my recovery plan that I formulated following my discharge from hospital, having something to focus on is a crucial aspect of my ongoing journey. Plus, if you have not gathered already from my previous activities, it is not in my nature to just sit around and do nothing. So, in preparation for this long summer, I started my research into things I could do way back during the Christmas break. Two weeks in and the first of my ventures are already underway.

I found out about Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire through a family friend and was instantly intrigued as to what the organisation was all about. As soon as I looked at the website, I realised that this was a fantastic opportunity to develop both my personal and professional skills through another volunteering placement, and it involved lots of roles that I enjoy doing. When I saw the ‘About Us’ page, I knew that my passion to help others that are using services in the local area would be satisfied.
Here is Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire’s description:
‘Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire works to help local people get the best out of their local health and social care services. Whether it's improving them today or helping to shape them for tomorrow, Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire is all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services. Not just people who use them now, but anyone who might need to in the future.’
If I am honest, even though I have had my fair share of using an array of healthcare services (or those available anyway!) in the East Riding, I had never heard of Healthwatch. I had no idea about what they do, how much involvement they have in speaking to local people and how much they care about making a positive difference to people’s experiences whilst using health and social care services. But I wanted to find out more. Soon after my application form was submitted I was invited to go for an interview.

It was not long before my diary was filling up with training and volunteering opportunities and I could not be happier with my experience with the organisation so far. I have asked on several occasions if I could help out more than initially suggested, and although I don’t feel as though I am making a huge difference, the staff members are so appreciative of any work that I am offering to undertake. However, they are nowhere near as appreciative as I am of them. I have been made to feel extremely welcome and am constantly encouraged to use the skills I possess. Aside from that, the chance to be involved is also massively improving my mental health. Being able to apply my mind to research tasks, take part in Enter and View visits and inputting survey data, are all activities that I enjoy and keep me focused; not only on a task, but also on my recovery.

I know a lot of people will be confused as to why I opt to volunteer instead of finding paid work, and to be honest I would be too. Of course, I would love to have a job to earn some money over the summer, and this would definitely help with the lingering difficulties I experience surrounding financial guilt, but with the summer I have lined up this was just not a feasible option this year. Money is still a significant aspect and challenge throughout my recovery, and reassurance from my parents has been a constant feature of my daily life since leaving university back in December 2014. I constantly feel like I do not deserve to be in the fortunate position my parents have allowed me to be in, but I am gradually starting to accept it, albeit with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation on a scale that I feel I will never be able to express to them. However, I know that I find myself in this situation because I am trying so hard to grasp any opportunity that comes my way to hopefully benefit my future in the long run. Therefore, volunteering has become a huge aspect of my life and I enjoy every moment of it.

Dedicating your time to other causes is such a rewarding experience and something I would recommend to anybody. It gives you the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and have a go at tasks that you may never have thought of. Prior to my diagnosis I also loved to participate in volunteering activities, but as I focus on my recovery and try to pave my future career path, I realise how beneficial volunteering is.

I think that as a student that suffers with mental health issues, keeping your mind preoccupied throughout the long breaks between teaching schedules is crucial to maintain a stable mindset. Everybody has different ways of ensuring good mental health and I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I am now discovering mine. As we all know, recovery is not a smooth journey and every day I am finding out new additions to my relapse prevention plan. My little bank of tips and tricks expands with every challenge I tackle, but what may work on one day may not work on another. However, this is what recovery is all about- finding what works for you and having the resilience to not be defeated if it does not work the first time round. I have not appreciated how vital working on establishing these tools will be until the prospect of having 130 days without my life at university dawned.

So my first venture is underway, and what a success it has been already! But this is only the start. I have many more activities lined up and I am so excited to get involved and continue my learning throughout this long summer.

If you are interested in Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire, you can look at the website by following this link:

If you are also interested in volunteering with Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire, express an interest via this link:

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