I am supposed to be writing a blog about volunteering today, and the Volunteer Inclusion Programme at the Museum of London, as my contribution to celebrating Volunteers’ Week. I have sketched out some ideas, a blog ready to go, but I don’t know, it has been a funny weekend, some highs and lows. Now it is Sunday evening, I am sitting here in the garden, the sun is setting, I have my headphones on, my music blocking out the kids, the world. I am tired, exhausted, a bit emotional. We had 60 people yesterday for a birthday BBQ for my husband, I have been running around, not stopped for a second, an exhausting time.
Dealing with my autistic daughter on top of this has pushed me a bit over the edge – it is always the lack of sleep that reduces my capacity to cope. My daughter has been waking us up at night for a month or so now, not every night but enough to start to wear us down. Whilst as a new parent dealing with a newborn you find the reserves somewhere – they can’t help it, they can’t tell you what they need. With a 10-year-old, with all the words in the world there never seem to be the right ones for her to explain a feeling or for me to give comfort.
Last night I went to bed at 2am, woken by my daughter at 3.30am and by my son at 7am. We have had a bad day with my daughter, I have not handled it well. I am tired and sad at how badly I manage things sometimes. So sitting here in this tired emotional state I am trying to write about volunteering, I have looked back at a blog I wrote on the anniversary of my first year of volunteering. It is all about the things I had done, a CV, a checklist. It is not about what volunteering means to me.
So what does volunteering mean to me?
To be honest, sometimes, on days like this, volunteering is a healthy dose of escapism, it is my route out of sleepless nights and frustration, tears and anger. It is my hideaway, my happy place. On days like this, all the other things that volunteering mean to me – a chance to learn, to meet new people, to challenge myself, they all come second. Volunteering stops the black cloud of autism filling every space in my head and heart. It is a space to breathe, a place to allow me some perspective.
When I sift through other peoples lives and history with physical objects, when I touch a scrap of roman pottery, see the burnt edges of a saxon cooking pot, trace the delicate pattern on a clay pipe stem, peer through a glass time portal, I lose myself to another time and place. I can put today with all its cares and worries on hold, just pause the noise for a few hours. I have said in the past that volunteering is my lifeline, but I am lucky I am surrounded by family and friends, I have a lot of support, but sometimes I am still struggling. My Mum said to me I am doing too much, volunteering for three museums, but if I stop this, I lose my lifeline, I will not be in a happier place, I will be in the dark.
I quit work nearly two years ago when my daughter was diagnosed with autism. Suddenly there was this hole, what about my career? What about my confidence? How will I get work again? Volunteering has steered me throughout this tough time, I hope it will steer me through the tough times ahead. When I look back at the blogs, all the things I have done, all the places volunteering has taken me, all the thoughts volunteering has provoked in me, I am proud, I smile.
Life is always a balance, family, friends, work, volunteering, fun, laughter, tears and sadness. Autism pervades a lot of my life, sometimes it is beautiful, touching moments, other times it is stark hard black scratches that I can’t remove or disguise. When I think about volunteering, it means lots of different things to lots of different people. Right now, in this place and at this time, volunteering is my saviour, it is a bright light to push the shadows away.
I hope you will forgive this indulgent, wallowing, personal blog, normal service will resume soon. I have realised that when I write, I can’t always stop the thoughts and the feelings. Right now these are my thoughts and feelings, I can’t stop their flow, I can’t write a blog about volunteering that is about things done and jobs completed. I can only write this blog about volunteering, what it really means to me to give my time freely, why I need to do it, why I am lucky to do it and why volunteering has a very special place in my life.