Volunteering Changed My Life
For Volunteers’ Week 2022, Jessica talks through her volunteering with Second Step’s Communications Team and how it led her to become a mental health campaigner.
I started volunteering with Second Step a few years ago after my first psychotic break. At first, I was part of the STAR communications volunteering team, helping to shape Second Step’s social media strategy. Now I tend to write blogs for the site regularly which suits me better as I can pick this up whenever I am feeling well.
I worked in content for around ten years before I got ill, so it made perfect sense for me to start writing about my mental health to share these experiences with others. I went to some meetings and helped advise around my lived experience of mental illness for Second Step’s social media strategy, but it was writing blogs that really gave me joy.
I’ve written a range of articles for Second Step from Some People Call Me Mad to Interpreting Reality Differently . It was the first charity I really volunteered for after I got ill, and it was amazing having the creative space to describe my experiences and then seeing them be posted to a supportive community.
I was in the care of Early Intervention for Psychosis Services in Bristol so experienced some of Second Step’s services first-hand including having a peer support worker I could talk to about my feelings after psychosis.
Unfortunately, after my first psychotic break, I tried to go back to work and had a second episode and it was then I got diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. I realised that I had to be careful with what I took on but that I could still achieve things, just slowly and carefully. I am autistic and am currently going through the diagnosis process for ADHD and although my natural state is to be the hare, I have to learn to be the tortoise because overworking triggers my psychotic symptoms.
Since writing for Second Step I’ve written for Mind, Rethink, Sane, Bristol Mind, Bath Mind, Changes Bristol and The Treatment Advocacy Center. I’ve started my own blog, created a community where people can share art and writing about mental illness and have recently been involved in a podcast about psychotic experiences. I’ve also recently set up a writing group for marginalised people in Wiltshire which launches at the end of June.
I’ve been nominated for two Mental Health Blog Awards, Project of the Year and Micro Influencer of the Year and have been nominated for a National Diversity Award 2021 in the Disability Role Model category – we need more people to know that severe mental illness can be a disability and that some disabilities are invisible!
All this started out with my volunteering for Second Step. At first, I was very nervous about volunteering because it was stress that started my psychotic symptoms, but with time I’ve started to understand what my limits are and explore what I can do to tackle stigma around mental illness.