Volunteering As A Tool for Healing and Connection

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Watching the World Go By

I spent months confined to my bed when I was tapering off of my medications. I was alone in my own small world without much connection to the world passing by outside my bedroom window. One month after I took my last dose of my last medication, I knew I had to do something to pull myself from the confines of my pillows and sheets. What began as a tool for simply getting myself out of my bed and out of the house, whether instinctively or not, became a way for me to connect with the greater fabric of humanity. It gave my life purpose and meaning, and through those means it accelerated my healing.

When we are dealing with mental health symptoms or the effects of medications and tapers, we often pull inwards. It becomes difficult to socialize or connect with others on anything more than a superficial level. We isolate, and simply walking out our front door becomes a challenge as insurmountable as the highest mountain we can imagine. That disconnect from our fellow human beings may be a temporary necessity as we move through these changes taking place within ourselves, but breaking out of this isolation is necessary as we begin to heal and recover.

Beginning to Reconnect

My volunteer work began as a way to get myself out of bed. The days I was scheduled at my local food pantry meant that I had to get up, take a shower, and leave the house. I had spent so long without any sort of a routine, and I needed that predictability in my schedule in order to become accustomed to basic functioning. Beyond that it was an opportunity for me to interact with other people. I had been so alone and disconnected from the world that even a short conversation with someone was a rare occurrence. I began to make friends there, and I was able to connect with people from my community.

This connection with others had a much more profound meaning than I was aware of at the time. I chose to volunteer at my local food pantry because I had personally dealt with some of the same struggles as the individuals we serve there. Had I chosen somewhere different, that connection to universal suffering and struggle would still have been there though. Our stories may all be different, but we have all experienced some form of hardship in our lives. Some experience this on a more existential plane, and some in more tangible ways. But that thread of pain is something that connects all of us and weaves together the tapestry of humanity. By opening myself up to that universal experience, even by making a difference on a very small scale, it allowed me to feel like I was part of a more expansive picture.

Recognizing a Shared Thread

Volunteering has not only given me a purpose on a practical level (routine, socialization, and a way to spend my day), it has also given me a greater purpose in the world as I feel this connection to the people in my community. As I have continued to heal I have realized that I need more than just a reason to leave my bed physically. I have needed a way to get out of my own head and to feel like I have something worthwhile to offer the world. I have needed to give back to this world that has provided for me a second chance at life. I have needed to share these experiences with others and to be able to communicate, even through a smile or word of comfort, that I can relate to them and I can feel what they are feeling. Volunteering has fostered empathy in me, and I believe that is a necessary trait for not only spiritual growth but also healing.

I would not have come as far as I have on my journey had I not begun to give my time and energy to helping others. I would not have the profound appreciation for even the simple gains I have made as I have been healing. I also think I would still feel very alone in all that I have experienced had I not been able to tap into that universal fabric that we are all a part of. I spent years so focused inwards, and I needed to shift that to look outwards. This life is about so much more than simply growing as an individual. It is also about strengthening our connection to humanity and being able to share kindness and hope with others. Having the opportunity to give of myself in this way makes my life rich far beyond any amount of money I could make, and it gives me an appreciation for this path we are all walking together.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More