Volunteer for a Better You
Are you constantly wondering what to do with your time? Do you wake up with the whole day ahead and nothing to do but ruminate in a monkey mind-style of thinking? There is a solution to your problems. It’s to volunteer in your community.
Years ago, I had a severe depression for 3 weeks. I was out of work. I pushed myself and started volunteering at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It was something for me to do, working three days a week. I still felt crappy some of those days, but to be around people and have plans for the day, gradually built up my self-esteem again.
I broadened my horizons and went on to become the lead writer at The American Red Cross on a project that involved preparedness for high level executives. It was thrilling and challenging to get up every morning and write for a good cause, felt really good. I even started drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, and treating my volunteer work as a job. Volunteering also helped me enter back into the workforce.
There are countless benefits to volunteering. Not only will you meet and be around new people and get practice improving your social skills, you will weave structure into your day. This will get you out of your head. If you’re a thinker like me, this will give you a sense of real freedom and occupy your mind with the active work of helping others.
Depression and other mental health conditions hate structure and routine in general. They want wide open space so that boredom and thinking too much will set in and infest you with its negative debilitating thoughts and isolation.
Fuck sleeping all day. I don’t know about you, but when I sleep all day, (if I am not physically sick), I always feel shitty-the depression grows and I’m left with a heaviness of not getting anything done, feeling alone.
Another benefit of volunteering is you’ll be doing lots of things, seeing a ton of new interesting stuff throughout the day. After all, variety is the spice of life, and you’ll get plenty of that. The key to all this is paying attention and being in the present. Keep your focus on the task at hand. It’s your turn to have a great day.
Most importantly is that you will be helping others. This is the best feeling. Being part of a team of volunteers mingled with employees to get the job done. You are part of something and will feel a sense of purpose, of accomplishment. These feelings will be like sunshine breaking through your clouds. Give it time. Sometimes it takes time for you to realize how important your volunteer work is. You are giving back to society and making this world a better place.
Where do you find these opportunities? You could begin with an internet search. Better yet, brainstorm your passions and any particular organizations you like. Even if no volunteer positions are posted on their site, call them and ask if they have any, introduce yourself and express your enthusiasm to be a part of what they are doing. Tell them you’d like to contribute in some way and see what they have to say.
If the place is soliciting volunteers, set up a meeting with the volunteer coordinator. Treat it as a job interview. Bring your best to the table. Present yourself well-groomed, come prepared with your skills, your passions. Steer away from mentioning your mental health challenges. Instead, talk about previous work experience and how you feel about their company. Research their values, their mission statement. Come with a couple questions you can ask about their organization. A lot of organizations, profit or nonprofit, will be happy to cater a position just for you if they are able to. The sky’s the limit!
If you are on disability, don’t buy into the lie that you are damaged goods and that you “cannot be productive, so why even try.” These are brutal damaging lies. Volunteering will bring with it responsibility, higher self-esteem and accountability. These are all keys to success. And you deserve that. No matter what you have been through, that is the past. Live in the present and get a little busy during the week. You’ll reap all of the glorious rewards. Bottom line: you’ll be helping others and this is the best feeling in the world.