Generally I have tried on this blog to keep the content relatively positive, focused on my time in Jamaica, and helpful to other people who may be considering a similar experience. Today is #BellLetsTalk day back home in Canada, a corporate undertaking to raise awareness and money to support people with mental health diagnoses, and to create open conversation about mental health. And the fact is, depression, anxiety and stress are a common part of the long-term volunteer experience.
For many of us our volunteer placements come at a time of change – relationship change, career change, both, more. Managing that change while outside of our normal support networks is both the challenge and part of the opportunity of volunteering. If we do it well, we gain a new strength we never knew we had. In fact, working through these issues is part of what my awesome circle of volunteer friends does for each other – we check in, we listen, we give space for sadness and venting, we empathise, and then we move forward together.
As someone who has lived with a diagnosis of depression for 30 years, I had careful conversations with both my family doctor and Cuso’s medical officer before I accepted my posting. My depression has been well-managed for a number of years, but I was concerned that a radical change like this would upset that balance. As I’ve said before, Jamaica has been incredibly healing for me. There have also been days, however, when just walking from the transport centre at Half-Way Tree to my apartment 20 minutes away felt like walking an unending gauntlet and it was all I could do not to lash out at men chattering at me or break into tears. The lashing out has never happened. The tears have. And some days it’s just easier to work from home.
I say that not for sympathy, but because I don’t believe I am alone in this. I believe each of us have had those moments – and not just volunteers, but people from other countries who choose to work overseas as well. I’ve met very well paid Digicel employees who were having similar struggles despite their car allowance and lack of concern about money. Life in another country has a lot of benefits; it can also bring up a whole lot of “wherever you go, there you are.”
As I said, back home it’s #BellLetsTalk day. It’s big in Canada – multi-sport Olympic medalist Clara Hughes is the face of the campaign, but actors, sportscasters, politicians, and all kinds of every-day Canadians also share their stories of living with and managing mental illness. It’s an encouraging stream to follow – and join – on Twitter and Facebook.
On Twitter, every time you use the hashtag #BellLetsTalk 5 cents is added to the large pot Bell will donate. Here’s some inspiration: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/end-the-stigma/tweets/
On Facebook they are tracking shares of specific images like this one: