Well, yesterday was Christmas, and it’s amazing how much difference a year can make. Christmas 2011 was unofficially the date that I started to make big life changes. After spending last Christmas Eve at the bar, nursing a broken heart, I woke up on Christmas alone and disgusted with myself. I started thinking then about ways to be a better person, and the changes I’ve made since helped make this season a little brighter even though my little dog and I were still on our own. I know many others are also thinking of making life changes at this time of year, so over the next few days I’m going to highlight some of the best things I’ve done for my well-being this year.
Being involved in my community has been one of those positive changes. When I was at my most depressed, my family and my therapist always recommended volunteering as a way to get myself out of the house, interact with others, and feel better about myself. But I resisted because of anxiety and because I just felt useless, like my contributions couldn’t matter to anyone. In fact, it was only about halfway through the year that I found the energy to make a real difference. In May I was offered the opportunity to teach at a summer leadership program for young women. I enjoyed it so much that I started looking for other ways to help young people, eventually getting involved as an assistant coach in a running program this fall. Coaching became something I looked forward to every week, and seeing my young runners gain confidence helped me feel more worthwhile in return.
Aside from that, I also got involved in other causes. In October I helped at a local diabetes walk, and this holiday season I gave to a local toy drive and spent part of my Christmas Day walking dogs at a local animal shelter. In 2013, I hope to be able to coach again (though I’m still waiting to hear on the schedule), and I’m already planning to spend time with the dogs again on New Year’s. Most exciting, I’m planning to go with a group of students in March to Honduras where we will assist with a health clinic and provide basic health education to rural populations.
If you want to become more involved in your community but feel you are held back, I understand. Depression and anxiety can make it hard to motivate yourself. You may find you need to start taking care of yourself before you feel “worthy” of taking care of others, but once you do it the rewards are great. And the opportunities are out there: Start with a one-time event if you’re timid, or look for activities focusing on animals or where there is less direct interaction if you are shy. If you feel like you can’t contribute, think about what you’re good at. I don’t think a soup kitchen will ever be the place for me, but I’m good at teaching and running and that was enough to get me started. I still get a little bit nervous when I go out to do something new, but consider this as well: An activity is only “new” the first time you do it. After that it only gets easier.