Skip links

How Volunteering Helps Manage My Depression

man presenting

“Knowing that people are depending on you to show up and be present, it can be overwhelming to know that you’re needed, so it is crucially important to keep up with self-care. “

MY DIAGNOSIS

When I was officially diagnosed with depression in 2016, I believed that I was depression. In retrospect, the symptoms I showed in the years prior to my diagnosis made sense: I wanted to give up on life, I refused to eat much food for two or more weeks, I had difficulties sleeping, and I didn’t want to partake in my hobbies, like singing or reading. I didn’t know who I was as a person anymore. I didn’t think I would graduate university, or ever get employment, and I didn’t think I was capable of making any friends.

WHY VOLUNTEERING?

I started volunteering with the Schizophrenia Society in my home city last year. The Schizophrenia Society’s goal is to break the stigma against mental illness by working with people who live with it. I wanted to be part of the Partnership Program, which sends out two or three people at a time to organizations like schools, police stations, and hospitals to talk to people about mental illness and how to help those who deal with it. I wanted my story to be told. I didn’t want others to suffer in silence like I had done for years. The staff members were supportive as they helped me draft my story of depression, and by the end of September of 2018, I started presenting.

GETTING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

I don’t want to oversell it by saying that each presentation I attended was surreal. It was hard in the beginning. I wouldn’t say that I was afraid of public speaking, but it wasn’t something I did unless it was necessary, such as for my university courses. The difficult part for me in the beginning was to accept how other people might see me. Was I capable of telling my story? Would anyone believe what I had to say? Not to mention my own negative thoughts telling me I’m nothing but an imposter.

My first presentation was to a group of police officers. It was nothing like giving a presentation to my peers. The room was completely silent, and every officer made eye contact with me, which did nothing to settle my nerves. But they were extremely appreciative and asked mindful questions, which genuinely surprised me.

After doing a few presentations, I could tell I was growing as a person, because I became more open to answering questions. For example: How I deal with bad days? What is the best thing to do to help someone who doesn’t know how to ask for help? How to maintain relationships while living with depression? Even though there were times when I was overwhelmed by negative thoughts, my anxiety lessened over time. I realized that surrounding myself with empathetic colleagues, as well as practicing mindfulness before a presentation, helped me feel validated. I was a step closer to uncovering my purpose in life.

Nevertheless, there was a part of me that was shocked with how I managed to show my vulnerability to other people, especially when I did presentations for high school students. Unlike with my presentations with the police officers, I felt like I was in my element with teenagers. It was no secret that I could relate more to them. I started showing symptoms when I was a teenager and I didn’t want anyone else to go through the kind of pain and suffering I had. I thought that these teenagers were fortunate to get the opportunity to listen to people with mental illness. I wished that mental health was taught properly in schools when I was there—or at the very least, groups such as the Schizophrenia Society had been brought in to talk about these things.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

It’s interesting to volunteer at places while living with depression. Knowing that people are depending on you to show up and be present, it can be overwhelming to know that you’re needed, so it is crucially important to keep up with self-care. For me that means continuing my meds, getting a good night’s sleep, eating three times a day, other things like that. I must prioritize taking care of myself in order to accomplish anything I want to do. The Schizophrenia Society helped me figure that out and I at least had a reason to get up in the morning, get dressed, and get out of the house.

I don’t want to make any cheesy, concluding remarks, but I will leave you with this: living with depression while volunteering will become easier to manage over time—if you are willing to commit to it.

Paula Poirier

A few words about me

I am a history major at the University of Regina with a primary interest in Japanese history. I love reading, writing, singing, engaging in pop culture and proudly advocate feminism.