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      How volunteering helped me burst my bubble and overcome depression

      Rachel Shafto is a Community Support Officer at Action on Hearing Loss and the manager of our Middlesbrough Deaf centre. She has been working for the charity for the past two years, after volunteering with us for six years. In this blog post, Rachel tells us how volunteering helped her overcome depression and anxiety.

      By: Rachel Shafto | 27 June 2018

      In the years that I’ve been with Action on Hearing Loss I’ve done a lot of different things; I’ve done information talks, I’ve gone on home visits, I’ve worked with local government, and so much more. If you ask anybody I work with they will happily tell you that the problem with me is trying to get me shut up long enough for somebody else to join in!

      Eleven years ago, things were very different for me

      My first child was born 10 weeks early and suffered many health problems as a result. The trauma around his birth left me with severe depression and anxiety. I felt really down while he was in hospital but put it down to the fact that I had a child in an incubator instead of in his nursery as well as a touch of the baby-blues, and tried to carry on as usual.

      It wasn’t until a few weeks after Ashley finally got discharged from hospital that I realised that maybe things weren’t quite right. I’d gone to Asda to do the shopping and completely froze when I heard a beep behind me. I don’t even know what had made the sound but, all of a sudden, I was transported back to the neonatal ward where the monitors would beep when my son stopped breathing. I abandoned my shopping, grabbed the pram and ran out of the shop.

      By the time Ashley was one I’d also discovered that I was losing my hearing. I’d done my NVQ 1 in British Sign Language as I have a cousin who’s Deaf and she inspired me to want to become an interpreter. However, the diagnosis I was given meant I felt like my dream of becoming an interpreter was gone. It sent me into a downward spiral again. I went back to my doctor who put me on a higher dose of my medication and referred me to a telephone counselling service.

      Volunteering really did give me my life back

      I slowly felt that things were turning around and by the time Ashley was three I felt I was ready to challenge myself. I knew that it was going to be hard but I felt that I needed to give myself a push so I contacted the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss) to ask about volunteer opportunities in my area.

      It wasn’t long before the Regional Volunteer Coordinator, Sandra, got in touch with me and asked if we could meet up for a coffee and chat about what was available. Within minutes of meeting her, I felt really comfortable. I explained why I wanted to volunteer and she told me about a monthly information stand that they held in my local hospital that they needed someone to help run.

      From there I never looked back. I started out doing a monthly stand with Sandra and I’ll admit that I let her do the talking but before long my confidence started coming back and I was able to do the stand on my own. I even started doing other stands in new areas! In my personal life, things were also improving. I was finally able to go out alone and interact with people, even if it was just to ask for directions. 

      I realised that I didn’t have to be an interpreter to be able to work in the Deaf community, and that my hearing loss didn’t limit my options. I also learned that maybe the world did have a place for me. I was going out and meeting people who were showing me that I was making a real contribution to helping them lead a fulfilling and limitless life and my own experiences helped them deal with their diagnosis.

      I’ve gone from being scared to step out of my house to being in the middle of the organised chaos that comes with being a community support officer and I love it. Volunteering not only changed my life but it also saved it by giving me a purpose outside of the bubble I’d built around myself. It showed me that there were no limits to what I could do and it pushed me to try new things every day. I honestly don’t know where I’d be now without that opportunity and experience and I’ll always be grateful for it.

      Volunteer for us – we have lots of different opportunities and you’ll be supporting deaf people and people with hearing loss and tinnitus.

      Rachel Shafto

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