Many of the groups we fund are run in part or entirely by volunteers. Their dedication means that groups are able to put more of their funding towards the incredible work they’re doing for their communities. But as well as being a great way of supporting a cause you care about, volunteering can also have a profound, positive impact on the volunteers themselves.
When Toomebridge mum Geraldine McCoy was diagnosed with a severe mental illness at the age of 32, she had to give up her career and struggled to control her condition while balancing family life. Now 49, Geraldine finally feels like she has control of her disorder. What’s more, she has worked hard to have a positive role in the community again – thanks to volunteering with local development group TIDAL.
Geraldine, who used to work as a teacher, is part of the one percent of the population who will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. People with bipolar disorder experience a rollercoaster of emotions which has a huge impact on their lives and their family and friends. There is still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma surrounding bipolar and Geraldine is very enthusiastic about the difference talking about mental health can have.
As is often the case, Geraldine’s illness went un-diagnosed for many years. As a younger woman Geraldine had been a confident person, with a talent for sports. But as she juggled her busy work and family life, it became clear that something was wrong in her early thirties.
Geraldine said: “I couldn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight it all started after my fourth child was born. I had four children under the age of five and I was very happy, I loved being a mother, but I started to get very energized, almost hyper and I felt like I could succeed at anything which meant my ideas became too big, too quick.”
When Geraldine eventually received the devastating news that she had bipolar disorder, she fell into deeper depression and had to give up work. Her illness also meant she had to give up playing and coaching Camogie – one of her other great passions.
“At the time it was very difficult. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me and I didn’t have very good coping mechanisms. I had highs and suffered long periods of depression, I felt unmotivated, and I couldn’t do things as well as I used to – even making simple decisions like what to buy in the supermarket for dinner became a huge task.
“I think the children were very resilient, they knew I loved them but there were times when I wasn’t able to communicate that to them. Now my children would ask me how I’m getting on, give me a hug and tell me I was doing a great job because they know I’m not feeling great all the time.
“My husband Kevin has been a great support, I couldn’t have gotten through it without him and he provided stability for me and the kids. They are all doing very well in their lives, I’m extremely proud of them and they are proud of me.”
But despite strong relationships with her family and friends, Geraldine had been used to being busy working, and felt something was missing. So, two years ago she got involved with TIDAL, which stands for Toomebridge Industrial Development Amenities and Leisure. She started helping out in the office and now volunteers in the garden and crafting area. The experience is helping to improve her mental health and allowing her to use her teaching skills again.
“I’m 49 now and this is the first time my bi-polar has been easing. My mood will still go up and down and my bad days can last for months but I don’t go as deeply into my depression as I used to. Being committed to TIDAL has stopped me from going into my usual pattern of isolating myself. Now when I’m depressed I will push myself to get out of the house and I come to the TIDAL garden – I can still have my own space and not talk to anyone if I don’t feel like it – but the important thing is that I’m out of the house and I’ve got people around me if I need them, and I’m doing something productive. If other people can experience this at TIDAL too then we are changing lives.”
Thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players, TIDAL are able to continue their fantastic work improving and supporting their local community – including their volunteers.