Why I volunteer with Time To Change Leeds

Community, Love Arts Leeds, Mental Health

I wrote this blog originally for Time To Change Leeds.

So why did I chose to volunteer with Time To Change?

I’ll begin this with a story about how I got to meet Tricia Thorpe, volunteer coordinator for Time To Change Leeds, and how it inspired me to volunteer for the campaign.

In October 2010 I lost my father. I was very much a daddy’s girl, he’s given me my love of photography, my love of adventure and my love of charity. Losing my father hit me very hard and created in me a void that felt like it would never be filled again. At this point I had never felt as isolated and apart from the world as I did at that moment. I found no solace in getting drunk, a behaviour I had relied on in the past to be my emotional crutch, and gradually become distant from my friends. I couldn’t find joy in anything, and saw no reason to continue the path I was on, I’d been certain I wanted to be an editorial & music photographer, but it seemed irrelevant and unfulfilling to me now.

A great deal of self analysis led me to choose a path that would give me those values my father had instilled in me, I decided I wanted to be part of a community that was giving, and feel part of something that was doing great things. He could be found at summer fairs, driving the miniature steam trains, allowing children with disabilities to share the joy like any other child was able to, I remember his own joy at being able to facilitate this. I’d decided I wanted to be involved in community art, and began my search for a voluntary organisation where I could give my passion and skills.

Love Arts Leeds launched in September 2011, and I was happy to be part of it. The biggest impact it had on me was how much love people involved in the organisations taking part in the festival had for other people. My adult life was spent predominantly in a negative environment, with little value placed on the wellbeing of others. This positive encouragement and welcoming atmosphere overwhelmed me, I hadn’t felt part of something that didn’t involve my emotional alcoholic crutch in such a long time. My initial fear that I would feel an outsider, unfounded.

I’d seen Tricia Thorpe speak at the opening event for the festival and was inspired by her story. I hadn’t had much experience of mental health outside my own, and then little understanding of it other than how it made me feel. I’d suffered from depression on and off since my teenage years, which is at odds with my external persona, I’m quite the happy soul, always ready to crack a joke, but deep inside self hatred, intense loneliness and a chronic fear of failure resided. During the festival my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which although benign (a crazy notion, that a tumour could be good), the surgery to remove it did not present a 100% guarantee, although she survived the surgery, and is making good recovery, her present life has altered considerably. Because this occurred exactly a year after I lost my father, I developed deep anxiety, the time of year now associates with bad things happening and I find it incredibly difficult to enjoy anything, it’s hard to leave the house and the safe cocoon I’ve created for myself, I become an emotional wreck.

I approached Tricia about volunteering with Time To Change Leeds as I was interested in knowing more about the campaign, to learn more about myself and because of the creative methods she employs to spread awareness of the message.

I say without wry comment that volunteering with Time To Change has changed my life. I’ve stopped using alcohol to mask my illness; I’ve learnt so much about myself and others who have experienced mental health distress, about an illness even I had little understanding about; the Living Library has given me the opportunity to talk about my illness, to make sense of it and reveal to others that it can happen to anybody; I have had the opportunity to learn new skills, such as radio production, magazine editing, website management; attend interesting workshops; meet amazing people; become closer to my mother; and volunteer with people who have become some of my most valued friends; I feel part of something. I’m a very lucky girl.