Update: volunteering, and getting a befriender

I’ve been quite busy lately. I started volunteering with a conservation charity (one day a week) a couple of weeks ago. I was very nervous when I first went along (especially because I had trouble finding the volunteer base and had to phone the volunteer leader), but, as is often the case, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. So far, we’ve just removed invasive plant species and helped to turn over some hay in a meadow (still not quite sure what the purpose of that was), though I have enjoyed it. I’m slightly disappointed that we haven’t done anything directly involving animals yet, though the first week, we did go looking for some adders in one of the reserves, after we were finished working (we didn’t find any though). What I think I’m really going to enjoy about volunteering with this charity is that there are so many different wildlife reserves around the country that we could be working in. We visited a reserve in the east of Scotland the first week, and we were down near the Scotland-England border this week. I feel that I haven’t explored nearly enough of my own country as I would like to, and this is a good way of doing that. The volunteer team isn’t too big (there were 6 of us the first week, and 9 of this week). I’m quite anxious around the people who are about the same age as me, but they’ve been quite friendly so far. I was surprised that people there don’t chat a lot, which is fine by me. I like that I can just sit and take in the scenery when we’re travelling by minibus to or from a reserve, and not be forced to make small talk the whole time.

I also volunteered at another place, the week before starting at the first conservation charity I talked about. I found out about this place through another conservation charity website, but when I got there, I soon realised that the site is actually run by a mental health charity, and helps people who have mental health problems, and have been out of work for a long time because of this, get back into work. Though I was extremely anxious about going, I found the people there very non-judgemental and friendly. I did manage to talk quite a lot (for me) to them. After finding out that I’m not sure what I want to do after university, one of the people who runs the site suggested that I go along to some employability sessions that the mental health charity and the conservation charity are running in partnership with each other. I’ve been along to two of the sessions now and I think there are two more to go. They’ve addressed a whole bunch of things, from how to improve our CVs to how to provide good examples of skills or qualities in an interview. I’ve found it quite useful but also very difficult at times, because I’ve had to speak in front of everyone in the (small) group. I like that everyone there can be so open about their experiences of mental illness, though I’ve still been too afraid to reveal mine. I feel like a bit of an outsider because I’m a lot younger than anyone else there (most are between the age of about 35 and 60), and also because I’m not part of the mental health group there (you have to make a self-referral and are expected to commit to at least 3 days a week there). But most of all, I feel great sympathy for the people there. Some have been unemployed for many years because of their illness, are struggling to get by on benefits, and have had to deal with some very ignorant and unsympathetic people at the job centre. It makes me very sad to hear about some of their experiences. I’m glad that one of the older women there said that after 4 years of going along to the mental health group, and managing to volunteer and work one day a week, she finally feels happy with where she is in life. I just hope that the place can help the other people as well. I’m thinking about joining one of the second conservation charity’s teams after the employability sessions are over, though this would be at a different site, and not with people from the mental health group. I haven’t decided whether or not I will go back to the mental health group once the sessions are over.

A couple of weeks ago, I was told by the woman who runs the stables I was working at that they’ll no longer be needing me because they now have fewer horses there than they did before (one was very old and ill and had to be put to sleep, and two more were moved to a different stables). I know that they most likely chose to get rid of me because I was the newest staff member there, and older than the other part-timers (so they had to pay me more), but it still makes me feel a bit awful about myself. Despite the intense anxiety I felt beforehand, I did enjoy working there, and I worked very hard there. I was told that they may contact me again if they have more horses in the future, but I’m now going to have to find another part-time job, especially because I’m quickly running out of money for driving lessons. Hopefully I can now find another job that pays better than minimum wage, has more hours, and where I don’t get shouted at so much. However, I’ve applied to and been rejected by so many places over the last two summers that it seems getting a job is near impossible. This is especially true in my case, as there are so many jobs I don’t feel I’d even be able to do (and so don’t even apply for) because of my anxiety. I’ve applied for the Christmas mail sorting job again, so at least I can make a few hundred pounds that way, if I still haven’t been able to get a part-time job by then. I didn’t enjoy that job but at least it was do-able for an SA person, and the pay was decent.

I mentioned a while back that I was looking into getting a befriender through a local charity. One of my online friends (he lives in Edinburgh but we haven’t met yet) recommended it because having a befriender really helped him. I was worried that they wouldn’t put me forward for befriending because I live outwith the city of Edinburgh, but they got back to me saying that they believe I’m exactly the kind of person who could really benefit from befriending. I had a meeting with someone from the mental health charity on Monday, to discuss how my anxiety and depression affect/ have affected my life, and for her to tell me a bit more about the charity. She forgot to bring my referral form, which I was a bit annoyed about because (due to my social anxiety) I can generally express myself far better in writing than I can verbally. However, despite being very anxious during the meeting, I did manage to say most of what I’d wanted to. She gave me a booklet about recovery from mental illness and a form asking about my interests and hobbies to take away with me. They’ll use this form to help find a good match for me, and we’ll hopefully meet sometime soon. I’m quite excited about having a befriender, and hopefully it’ll help me as much as it seems to have helped my online friend. The befriender could maybe help me with exposure therapy and with improving my social skills. I just hope they don’t think I’m too weird.

University starts again soon (I have an induction day next week and classes start the week after). I’m obviously nervous about it but I am looking forward to it. I still feel very guilty about going part-time, and I feel a bit useless for doing so. Even though I know it’s ultimately what’s best for my mental health, I still feel like a bit of a failure and like I’ve let people down. Everyone else can manage the full-time course, and they have part-time jobs and social lives (which I don’t), yet they can still do it. But then I suppose they don’t have crippling anxiety and depression to deal with either. Because of the way going part-time has worked out, I’ll be taking the two remaining third year modules, and one fourth year module this year. What I feel most guilty about is that I’ll only be sitting one third year module in the second semester (there are no more second semester modules I could take, other than the honours project, which is a massive undertaking and has to be done after all the other modules). This means that I’ll somehow have to get myself an almost full-time job, and I’m so worried I won’t be able to do that. Even though I know I probably shouldn’t, I’ll feel like such a burden to my parents and like a failure if I can’t find employment during that time. I already feel like a burden to them at the moment because I’ve had so much trouble just finding a part-time job. I did explain some of my feelings of guilt about going part-time to my dad yesterday, and he did reassure me a little bit by saying: “It’s probably best to just take things at your own pace”. My mum has been somewhat supportive of my decision as well, though I still can’t help feeling very guilty about it.

The mature student from my course has also just invited me to a pub crawl for anyone doing one of the biology degrees at my university. I felt sick as soon as I woke up this morning and saw that notification. I most likely won’t go because I feel it would be too much for me to handle, but if I have a befriender by then, I may consider it. There is also someone from the social anxiety group I went along to who is about to go into the second year of my course. I still message her occasionally and could maybe try going along with her if she’s also been invited. It most likely won’t happen though.

I apologise for this post being a bit of a mess and not very well written. I feel like some of my recent posts haven’t been very good, and I find it frustrating that I have so much to write but have been struggling to find the time and energy to do so. Sometimes I wonder how anyone can read this blog and not be bored to tears or think that it’s crap. I still feel bad if my posts aren’t as good as I want them to be or if I make typos that I don’t notice (which happens a lot when I write longer posts on here), because I still worry about what people reading this blog will think of me. I just generally feel bad about myself at the moment, I suppose. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve finally realised just how many negative core beliefs I have about myself, or if it’s because of losing my part-time job and feeling guilt over being part-time at uni.

I’m also feeling very lonely lately (not that there are many times when I don’t feel very lonely), and it’s impossible for me to believe that anyone would want to be my friend if they really knew how weird and awkward I am. Having online friends does help, and I’m very grateful to have those people in my life. I’ve known my Swedish online friend for 3 years now, and as weird and pathetic as it may seem to many people, I consider him to be probably the best friend I’ve ever had. Even though it can be so difficult emotionally to deal with the times when he is severely depressed, he’s helped me through so much and brought me happiness that I never would have felt otherwise. He’s never rejected me, despite all the times I thought he would because of how awkward or weird I was being (such as when we go on voice chat through skype but I can barely say a single word due to my anxiety). And yet, there is still that voice of doubt that tells me he and my other online friend would reject me if we ever met in person and they realised what a weirdo I am.

It’s also impossible for me to believe that I will ever have a partner. It’s one of my most deeply ingrained core beliefs. I know logically that there is still plenty of time, but it’s utterly impossible for me to believe that I could find someone who would truly love me. I often wonder what’s so wrong with me that other people can make (non-online) friends and have relationships, but I can’t. Lately I find myself wishing that there was someone to cuddle with, or just someone who would give me a friendly hug, but I freak out when people touch me anyway. Maybe I just like the idea, rather than the reality, of those things. I suppose there is still hope in the sense that if you’d told me 2 years ago that I would be able to volunteer at three different places, manage to get myself a part-time job, give a (propranolol assisted) presentation, do an assessed interview at uni, and get through a job interview, I would have never believed you. I’m hoping that CBT and a befriender will allow me to make more improvements.

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2 Responses to Update: volunteering, and getting a befriender

  1. soni says:

    Hey!I have also been struggling with the same issues you have.But there are people with much more severe problems out there.Thinking thus leaves me thankful towards Him rather than being bitter about my sheer desperation.my sincere best wishes to you!

    • Gemma says:

      Thank you. Sorry to hear that you’re going through the same things as I am. I do realise that there are people in the world who are far worse off than I will ever be. I’m thinking of posting a gratitude list on this blog soon because I think it might help me better appreciate what I do have.

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