Volunteer Annie L. kindly agreed to share her mental health journey and talk about what volunteering has done for her.
Q: What made you want to volunteer originally?
A: I was in a pretty dark place after moving to Colorado – felt super isolated and alone, but was too afraid to reach out to anyone. I decided I would do some volunteering just as a way to get out of the house. I found an event on Volunteer March – had no idea it was with Project Helping until I arrived.
Q: Where is your favorite place to volunteer?
A: I really enjoyed working on the preschool rehabs and the PB project.
Q: Why do you enjoy those events so much?
A: With the preschool, I have a soft spot for kids in general, but I’m also a big believer in early intervention. On the surface, putting toys together and spreading mulch on a playground seem like relatively inconsequential actions to the overall education of a child, but environment is so important. A child who has a safe place to explore freely and safely is at such a huge advantage in those early stages.
PB Project: This is the biggest event I’ve attended, and it’s almost overwhelming to be in a room full of people giving up a Sunday morning to chat with strangers and do something good for someone they may never meet. A PB&J is a pretty simple thing, but churning out a couple thousand of them while chatting with strangers and sharing stories and experiences goes a long way to building a sense of community. It was also fun to see families working together – you could tell the kids felt empowered. PB&Js are something they’re experts on! They’d come in shy, and a little wary of giving up part of their weekend. By the end, though, they were little machines – so excited and chatty. In general, kids wear their emotions on their sleeves, so it’s really easy to see the impact that volunteering has on them.
Q: Why do you think volunteering is important?
A: I think that, in the end, our relationships with the people and the community around us are the most important things we have in life. Because of my struggles with my own mental health, I’ve often struggled to take action in that regard. Once you’re finally able to get out there and do it, though, the change is immediate. For me, the desire to do more only grows with each project. It’s not just about giving back, though that is incredibly important. Volunteering helps remind us of the control that we do have in a world that feels like it is constantly moving too fast and in too many directions.
Q: What does kindfulness mean to you?
A: I think kindfulness is about practicing empathy – even on days when it doesn’t feel convenient or easy, even on days when getting out of bed felt like too big a task. When we’re able to look outside of ourselves, even momentarily, and take on someone else’s struggle to lighten their load a bit, that’s kindfulness.
Q: Have you struggled with mental health challenges?
A: I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. It has, at times, dipped into depression. It’s something I’ve only been willing to fully recognize in the last few years as an illness that was making my life much harder than it should be.
Q: Has volunteering had an impact on your overall mental wellness?
A: Volunteering has had an incredible impact on my mental health. It played a big part in helping me gather the courage to finally enter therapy and try medication, and has altogether been a total game changer for me, both personally and professionally.
Q: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health?
A: “Getting better” doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s not all talk therapy and pills. Every step you take matters, no matter how small. Bad days happen to everyone, and they don’t make us failures. They make us human. If you can’t picture yourself reaching out for help in the traditional sense, start somewhere else. Take a walk, volunteer at an event, go scream off the top of a mountain for a little while. None of our paths are the same, and that doesn’t make any of them wrong. When it doesn’t feel worth it, keep going anyway. It can and will get better, as long as you keep moving.
Huge thank you to Annie for being so open and honest. Incorporate volunteering into your mental wellness journey by searching for events here.
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