‘Working at Restore offers a unique blend of comfort and challenge: you can be open about your diagnosis, knowing that others around you empathise from their own experience…’
I came to Oxford after having a flare-up of bipolar mania. I had been living in Wiltshire, helping my stepmother, on a full-time basis, to care for my father, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It had been my plan to make that my occupation until he required professional nursing care. My illness, as so often, had other plans. After only a couple of months at my father’s, my brain chemistry erupted, so to speak, in a way that made it impossible to continue. I chose to move to Oxford, as I had a handful of friends here already, and it is reasonably easy to travel to London, where my mother and son live.
I started volunteering at Restore a few months after arriving in Oxford. From the start, I found a warm welcome, exceptionally patient and understanding support when I needed it, and a good-humoured and easy-going atmosphere. At the risk of being called sexist – not one to be undertaken lightly nowadays – I noticed that, as in most charities, the majority of staff are female, which I think helps maintain a more caring atmosphere than tends to be the case in male-dominated environments. In saying this, I cast no aspersions on the sympathetic qualities of the male staff, with whom I find no fault.
Whether I was manning reception, doing data entry or – my favourite part of volunteering – writing bids for funding to grant-making trusts, colleagues were never too busy to give of their time with assistance, advice, or an encouraging word. It was also fascinating and very satisfying – if a little daunting – cataloguing the towers of boxes filled with forty years’ worth of the charity’s archives.
To summarise the benefits of volunteering, I would list: escaping isolation at home, maintaining and developing career skills, enhancing your CV, gaining confidence, feeling useful, and knowing you are serving a worthwhile cause which benefits others with similar conditions.
Finally, I would only add that, as someone with a mental health condition, working at Restore offers a unique blend of comfort and challenge: you can be open about your diagnosis, knowing that others around you empathise from their own experience. But regarding the element of challenge, nobody will challenge you in a way that causes damaging stress, as can happen in more conventional workplaces, but only in ways that can enhance your confidence, as you gradually get used to performing different tasks.