I’ve worked for charities for a few years now. I started as a street fundraiser – or “chugger” as they are often called – raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Australia. If I’m honest, I took the job because I was desperate. It was chug, or go home. So I chugged. I travelled rural areas of Australia, outback towns, and stood for hours in shopping centres or in tumbleweed streets in 40 degree heat. I used every technique I learned in my three years at drama school to make people feel the importance of the issue at hand, how one simple wish could give smiles to children with life-threatening illness and incredible memories to their families.
I got an excellent tan. At that time I was becoming ill myself, I just didn’t realise how serious it would be. So I would throw on my blue polo shirt, ignore the joint pain and fight the fatigue, knowing that every three people I signed up to a direct debit equalled one wish for a child. I loved that job.
Eventually I moved to New Zealand and began working for UNICEF, doing admin for the fundraising team, helping establish a small telefundraising team and also encouraging donors to continue donating when they had intentions of cancelling. Every day my stomach felt heavy with the thought of refugee children in Syria facing another winter, and it drove me to work hard. It helped me ignore the numb patches on my face and the ever-increasing pain in each and every joint.
I returned to England in 2013 and soon after moved to Scotland to work for the Royal Voluntary Service. I managed a team of volunteers that befriended older adults in the local community, provided transport to appointments, and lifted the spirits of isolated people. My favourite part of that job was when a volunteer wasn’t available and I got to spend an hour or more meeting one of those interesting people that are your isolated neighbours.
But soon again I began to struggle. Driving home became probably quite dangerous as my reflexes weakened, and cognitively I struggled to be a part of the world around me. I felt non-existent water running down the backs of my legs. Parts of my body were going numb. The floor vibrated beneath my feet. And doctors just told me I was depressed. Until I was paralysed and partially blind of course – then they paid attention.
So what do you do when the tables are turned? When you are the one struggling to cope? When you are the one needing help? When you could do with a wish?
The charity A Spell for the Unwell came to my attention. Their aim is to emotionally and financially support young adults dealing with serious illness. Well, I fit that category. But when you’ve always been the helper, how do you become the helped? How do you swallow that pride? With the encouragement of my partner I approached Kelly, the founder of the charity who has been dealing with serious illness herself. And eventually I accepted the offer of my ‘wish’. I wished for independence, confidence, to be able to go out alone. So I received the gift of a walking stick and a MedicAlert ID bracelet which will alert medical staff of my illnesses in case of emergency. These are items I was unable to afford which will make a huge difference to my quality of life.
So I accepted charity. Not only has this experience helped my confidence and independence, it’s helped me gain a deeper understanding of the people I’ve been working for over the years – the people needing hope, shelter, companionship – and the way it feels to accept charity. It isn’t easy. But the thought that someone would want to help me, improve my life, give me a wish…well, it overwhelms me. I feel so humbled. (And I’m crying!).
Please take the time to check out A Spell for the Unwell. They are a new charity and need support to continue making people like me cry! Haha, seriously though, there are young adults throughout the UK dealing with life changing illness at a time when they’re supposed to be finding their feet. Your help can make all the difference.