How volunteering has helped my mental health

Karen O’Shea
Written by
Karen O’Shea

Life with MS is such a mixed bag. Some days it is about as exciting as wet cardboard and others you are doing such fancy footwork to stay upright you would put Fred Astaire to shame.

With MS it is all about riding on the crest of a wave and if you wipe out, you just get back up again or paddle back to shore until you build up the strength to tackle that wave again. (A surfing analogy is ironic considering that often us MS folk have balancing issues!)

Last year I found myself spending more and more time alone. I realised I needed to do something as isolation was not good for my mental health. I asked in my local charity shop (St Vincent de Paul), if they needed volunteers. I currently do two days a week but often pop in on days I am not working as I have made so many friends.

I find volunteering so rewarding. It has given me so much. I have met the most amazing people. I love interacting with customers and have recieved such positive feedback from so many. It is really helping me build up my self esteem and confidence. I walk in the door of the shop and it’s like I come to life. It has made me more independent and outgoing. On top of all of that, the money made in the shop goes to families who need it.

When I am working in the charity shop, I am the epitome of organised, hard working and relish working on displays. Excellent customer service is of paramount importance. It has helped me focus on what I really want and the interactions are so important for my mental health. I have been the queen of isolating myself at times and now I realise that in itself is damaging.

In contrast, at home, I can be very scatty. I sometimes think I could literally lose myself in my home! I get stressed very easily and find it hard to focus. My current home life does not help as I am temporarily living with my parents until my house is ready. When I’m at home I feel like I have no routine which is hard when you are a grown woman with your own life. I know that when I have my own space again, I will feel more settled and it will allow me once again to make my own mark in the world.

For now, volunteering is keeping me feeling in control and I have never been more excited about the future. When I get overwhelmed, I think back to that surfboard and the notion that I will always keep fighting. People with MS do that everyday of their lives because giving up is not in our nature. We have a strength and unwavering courage that could contend with the mightiest ocean. Although occasionally we doubt ourselves for a second, we always remember who we are and come back tougher than ever.

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