This photo was taken a couple of years back in the summer of 2015, during my time as a volunteer with WWOOF (& no it has nothing to do with dogs! Stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).
The reason for me sharing this pic & writing this post is that a few days ago I stumbled upon an article which I’d kept from 2 years ago, the very same one which once inspired me to leave my life and live a gypsy lifestyle as a volunteer. Reading it really struck a chord at the time as it does now. It is just good to know that I am not alone in my unconventional life. So here is the link, a nice read for anyone who is maybe stuck in a rut and has been considering taking time out from ‘life’:
As for my story, this is a bit of a personal one to share but I’m doing so because maybe, just maybe it will reach someone, somewhere in need of hearing this. In the same way that I needed to hear the article above 2 years back. So here goes…
My Road to Volunteering
Rewind to 2015… post-move from Australia to England. I’d had a really rough couple of years previously – full of upheaval and stress. So here I was, yet again it was a case of ‘new girl in a new town’ (story of my life!) When I moved here I told myself it was finally time to put down roots, get my life together, stay in a stable job, find a husband, have kids etc… basically grow up and do what thirty-something women are expected to do! Anyway, I was working in a retail job in a health food store. Though the pay was terrible – the area was beautiful, quirky, full of ‘hippies’, I was surrounded by nature and I had a lovely little apartment. On paper it was perfect for me, I could have made a life there. But… inside I was desperately unhappy, spiralling further into depression, gaining weight. Lost sums it up. Something didn’t feel ‘right’ and I couldn’t put my finger on what or why. I just knew that I was about to hit rock bottom, if I didn’t do something drastic soon.
So one day (not long after reading that article!) I made a big life decision. I quit my job – with no paid job to go to next. Why? So that I could take ‘time out’ and spend the summer volunteering on Organic Farms & with herbal medicine practitioners around the UK (via an organisation called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I had always wanted to learn more about growing, work with the land, spend time in nature. This was my chance. Plus.. it would buy me some time to really think hard about where I wanted to live next and what I wanted to do. Much needed ‘Time Out’ from the shackles and pressures of life, you could say. Crazy? Maybe to some (family & friends included!) but it’s simple to me: when you have a deep desire to do something – trust in that feeling and do it. The thing is, fear limits you in so many ways and prevents you from making positive changes.
Now I should say, I’m not financially well off, I didn’t have the option to take a long holiday – a nice rainforest/beach retreat for cases of burnout. This was a luxury I could not afford! But…where there is a will there is a way and as a volunteer, I knew that all my accommodation and food costs would be covered in exchange for about 20 hours work per week, leaving me with plenty of free time to relax and gather my thoughts.
So that’s that. I left one day…. with nothing but a backpack and a hostel as my next address. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. I went from placement to placement on the ever glamorous ‘Megabus’, staying in cheap hostels along the way and thoroughly enjoying being a tourist in my own country. I scoped out a few cities in which I could possibly live in (I narrowed it down to Brighton or Bristol. Ironically I ended up settling on Bristol, stayed there for a year but by total chance/serendipity, life has since taken me to my close second choice: the Brighton area!) But that is digressing, back to 2015 and volunteering….
My time spent on these smallholding farms and with the herbalists was so special. I look back at that photo and I see a woman – physically/mentally worn out from years of stress but with a new glint in her eye. That experience brought me back to life. I lived in yurts, campervans, lodges and tents. Long summer days were spent in herb gardens, greenhouses, planting seedlings, collecting flowers, making herbal oils, distilling, drinking copious amounts of herbal tea, making meals out of garden produce and learning more about sustainable living. It was beautiful, I had no worries – totally removed from the stresses of life and able to focus my energy on what made me happy – nature. From there, my life took a turn in the right direction. That’s not to say it’s been free of stress and upheavals since, but it was exactly the ‘reset’ that I needed.
What I learnt?
The Value of Time-Out
Taking ‘Time Out’ is a valuable opportunity to take a step back and reassess your life, establish where you are heading. This you just can’t put a price on. ‘Drifting’ can be just the medicine you need sometimes, until you can find a place to put down an anchor. When you do, make sure it’s a place that fits in with your soul.
You Create your Life
You are the creator of your life and you can shape it. If you don’t like something, change it – there is usually always a way. I’ve made a pact to myself that if I am ever desperately unhappy in a situation again, I will do the same, be brave and leave without hesitation. All I know is that you don’t get satisfaction without taking some level of risk. Sure, at times the experience will be challenging, sometimes even downright difficult but I guarantee that it will never be boring, it most certainly will be character building and it may even be life-saving.
The meaning of ‘depressed’
I am a big believer that so called ‘depression’ (for many of us – though not all of course) is simply a sign that your life is out of balance – it is your body’s way of telling you that something needs to change and quick. You could of course swallow some of those happy white pills prescribed by Doc (or herbs rather in my case!) and all would seem OK, for a while at least… But to me that is just suppressing life and those nagging feelings will always be there, eroding at your very soul and undermining your ability to get out of the very rut you are in. We spend so much time talking, pondering, worrying, medicating and escaping- but what about actually DOING. If nothing you will gain a life experience. Stagnancy is BAD for the body and bad for the soul. So many cases of mental ‘dis-eases’ come down to life dissatisfaction and life pressures.
Where there is a Will there is a Way
Now I’m not advocating recklessness and quitting all your jobs and responsibilities tomorrow! Every situation is different. Personally – I didn’t have many responsibilities at the time, I am used to living frugally, I didn’t have many possessions (or dependables) so really I had nothing to loose. But like I said, where there is a will there is a way. Sometimes it’s as much about mindset – when you learn to let go of societal expectations and the familiar, the things that you think you couldn’t live without suddenly seem less important. So for anyone who is unhappy, frazzled, dreaming of a better life. What is stopping you from making changes – truthfully? Barriers can be broken.
In Whatever Capacity you Can
Changes don’t have to be so dramatic, maybe just a little tweak. Whether it is 2 weeks or 6 months, a couple of years, the rest of your years (or hey even just a couple of hours a week if that’s all you can do) ‘time out’ from your routine could be life changing. Volunteering is free, all you need is time and passion. Maybe you will return and simply appreciate your life more than you did before or… maybe it will open the door to a new, more fulfilling life and you will never look back at the old one- who knows. Live life the way you want to live it, accumulate experiences rather than posessions. My thing is nature. But maybe your thing is the arts, theatre or whatever… just DO whatever makes you happy.
I also know of several people recently who, very sadly reached retirement with dreams of adventures, plans for a better life – only for illness or circumstance to cruelly come along and take those opportunities and dreams away. Misfortune can happen to anyone and time is so precious- there is no time like the present. ‘One Day’ may never come.
The Value of Intuition
Always listen to that niggling little feeling inside – the one that alerts you that something isn’t right. That’s the problem these days, we’ve stopped using our intuition and instead live by the constructs of expectations, ‘normality’ and routine. Learn to listen to your heart, it’s sometimes wiser than your brain. Next time you have the chance of a life-changing experience – grab it with both hands!
So stay tuned & follow my travels and adventures 🙂
* If this has inspired something in you & Volunteering is something that you want to know more about (whether that be Environment, Organic Farming, Conservation or Humanitarian) then check out the following websites for more info on opportunities here in the UK and around the world.
Happy Sabbatical/Volunteering/Time Out!