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This is a story about volunteering written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m hoping her stories will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on this site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.

I can’t work full-time or even part-time right now because my Schizoaffective disorder, anxiety and other mental health conditions do not allow me to. I get overwhelmed and shut down if things are not in an exact order. Work is usually not in an exact order. I get overwhelmed, don’t get enough sleep and in the past have always quit the job I had. Usually I thought that other workers were plotting against me. That is why my current situation is a perfect reason to volunteer. I volunteer so I can be productive and help people at the same time.

A few of the volunteer jobs I’ve had are college writing tutor, tour guide at the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), emergency room communications, public relations intern, street team efforts for a well-known music company, television news room volunteer and Vice President for my daughter’s Head Start program. I’d like to share a few of my volunteer experiences with you and explain how those opportunities led me to be the person I am now.

One of my degrees in college was Professional Writing. I took a number of courses in writing, and was referred by the Communications department to be a writing tutor. I was a writing tutor for a couple years. I was honored to be a tutor, and had a great time working with various students. There were many times that I’d have to ask other tutors for help or I’d look in my writing manual. Being a writing tutor gave me the confidence I needed to use writing skills in future jobs.

During college, I was also a volunteer tour guide. I gave tours to prospective students who were looking at UMD. I usually talked the entire time during the tours, and pointed out areas of significance at the University. I surprised myself during the tours because I knew more than I thought I did. I really enjoyed that volunteer job. The volunteer tour guide job helped my confidence as an individual.

I was a busy girl during college. For one of my courses, I had to select from a few volunteer opportunities. I chose to volunteer in the emergency room in Duluth, Minnesota. I would visit with the patients that came into the emergency room, and I led them to where they needed to be. I would often hang out with children. I also noticed a high number of homeless people who would come in for shelter, especially during the chilly winter months. This particular volunteer experience sparked my love for helping people in crisis. Being a volunteer in the emergency room was one of my favorite volunteer experiences during college!

One of my college courses also involved volunteering for a communications job. At the time, I was working for a television station as a News Producer. I also wanted to explore working for a public relations agency, so I volunteered for a well-known public relations firm in town. I worked on various projects they needed help with, and really got to explore what public relations was all about. This particular volunteer job led me to work for a public relations firm in Minneapolis after I graduated from college. I was starting to show severe symptoms of mental health issues, and only stayed at that job for a couple years because of my move to Los Angeles. But working in the public relations industry was very rewarding.

I lived in the Minneapolis area on and off for a couple years. Almost daily, I would go to the local coffee shop that had computers to explore volunteer and job opportunities. I came across a music company called V2 who were looking for street team volunteers. Due to my experience, I started volunteering for V2 shortly after my communications with them. They would send me hundreds of posters to hang and CDs to give out on the street. Some of the musicians I worked for were the White Stripes, Moby and Zap Mamma. I was also in charge of picking the musicians up from the airport if they had events in town. One day I spent the day with Zap Mamma. Do you know who she is? I picked her up from the airport, went to a radio show with her and attended her concert. I LOVED getting the Moby merchandise because he’s always been my favorite musician. During this experience, my mental health was getting worse. I would sit and read books for days, thinking they were speaking to me. I was told to pick up Moby from the airport and to get him to locations he needed to be at. I unfortunately missed meeting Moby because I was doing horribly mentally. I had to cancel this volunteer opportunity because I was so messed up. I still think about this opportunity and regret my decision to cancel. Working as a V2 volunteer ended when I decided to move to a new town. The opportunity was amazing, and I often wish I lived in a bigger city to do something like that again.

My daughter was involved in Head Start during preschool. I volunteered to be Vice President while she was in that program. Once again, I surprised myself with what I could accomplish. I ran several meetings alone because the President was not there. I chose to do this volunteer job because I wanted to reassure myself that I could accomplish volunteer jobs that would lead me to future opportunities.

The most recent volunteer job that I had for a very short time was in the local newsroom in the city I currently live in. As I stated earlier, I was a news producer in my early 20s. I knew how to run most of the newsroom operations, but I was not familiar with many things, including camera operations. I gave up on the newsroom volunteer opportunity because I did not have the confidence I needed to succeed.

Volunteering makes me feel good about myself. I’ve also learned that many people have problems as bad as mine or worse. I am not currently volunteering, so I hope I can find other volunteer opportunities in the near future. I need to find opportunities that fit well with my mental health issues and being a mother of two young children. Volunteer opportunities can be awesome if you can find the right fit for your lifestyle!

Tiffany

Something’s come to my attention, moms. Something’s on my heart this Mother’s Day.

Too often, we write ourselves out of our own story.

When our first child was two or three years old, I remember being at my in-law’s house and asking them to watch our son for a couple hours so I could get out and have some time by myself. The outing wasn’t complicated – all I did was go to the mall and meander around for a while – but my memories remain vivid 12-13 years later. I remember feeling completely free as I strolled around the mall that day. Free to be me. Just me. I also remember feeling guilty for feeling so free. After all, I was visiting my in-laws, and wouldn’t it be better for me to be spending time with them since we were there for such a short time? Shouldn’t I want to be with my precious son every waking hour of every waking day? Why was a 2-hour mall outing so important? What did I really have to buy or do there anyway?

The truth is, my default way of thinking and behaving was to write myself out of my story because I’d become a mom. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I needed time for me as a woman, NOT just time for me as a mom. But that day at the mall, I knew it, I could feel it. I needed to write myself back into my own story. I needed to KEEP myself in my story.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012. It was time for our annual photo shoot, so I wanted to secure coordinated clothing for our family of five. I found an outfit for our baby first. A super cute bright yellow sweater with a porcupine on front and a polka dot skirt with striped tights. (Hello, adorable! How cute is that?!) Then came clothes for my oldest daughter. A stunning green sundress with rick rack and a ribbon hair bow to match. Next up, my son. Gap Kids had the perfect plaid button down. Navy blue with tan, pink and yellow accents. Totally boyish but pulled in a bit of flair from the girls. Thankfully, my husband took care of himself. But oops…then there was me, the last person to secure an outfit for our photos. I really needed something nice as I was planning on taking head shots for my website during our family shoot. After all that shopping and searching for the kids, I realized I hadn’t even begun to think about myself. What was I going to wear? I remember searching and searching for something, feeling like I’d never find anything. I had literally forgotten about myself in the process, then when I finally DID remember myself, I had a hard time finding something that fit and represented me as a woman, not just me as a mom. Thank heavens, I have ONE store that fits the bill every time. I had to tell myself it was okay to go there. It was okay to spend a little more than I had planned on myself. It was okay to say YES to myself. This looks beautiful. You deserve to look and feel beautiful in these pictures just as much as the kids.

The truth is, my default way of thinking and behaving was to write myself out of my story because I was a mom. I wasn’t willing to acknowledge that I was a legitimate part of the family as a woman, not JUST because I was the mom. But that day searching for clothes for our family photo shoot, I knew it, I could feel it. I needed to write myself back into my own story. I needed to KEEP myself in my story.

Fast forward to this week. For nearly four months, I’ve been praying a 6-word prayer. Someday, I’ll share that prayer, maybe even in a book. But it’s not time yet. For now, here’s all you need to know. TWO of the words in that six-word prayer are US, as in OUR FAMILY. On Wednesday as I was working out, it occurred to me that I really should ALSO be praying that prayer with the word ME in it. So for the first time ever, I prayed that prayer with the word ME instead of US. Yes, I prayed it BOTH ways, for ME and for US. My gut wanted to feel all kinds of guilt for praying that prayer for ME. But honestly? A bigger part of me wondered how I’d been so blind to have never thought of it until four months in. After all, I was a part of this unfolding story, too. Me, Amy. God has a plan for ME. Why would I not pray for ME in the same way I’ve prayed for US? It sounds self-centered, but some of us need to remember to pray for and tend to ourselves, just as much as we pray for and tend to others.

The truth is, my default way of thinking and behaving has been to write myself out of my story because I’m first and foremost a mom. I haven’t wanted to acknowledge that I need prayer as a woman, NOT just prayer as a mom. But as I prayed for our family and for myself this week, I knew it, I could feel it. I needed to write myself back into my own story. I needed to KEEP myself in my story.

So moms, I just have to ask. How are you writing yourself out of your own story this Mother’s Day? How have you written yourself out of your own story in the past? If you take a moment to really think about it, I bet you’ve written yourself out of your story at least once. More likely? You’ve written yourself out of your story hundreds of times…just like me. We can do better, friends. We are worth it. We are moms, but we are ALSO so much more.

Write yourself back into your story.

Do it for yourself. Do it for the world. Do it so God’s light can shine FULLY through you.

Wonderful you.

Beautiful you.

Just you.

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