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Ann-Marie stands in front of a festively decorated MS Society shop

Joining the MS Society family has changed my life

Ann-Marie

Ann-Marie is a Shop Volunteer for the Hull, Beverley and Holderness Group. She shares her volunteering journey with us. And how being a part of the MS Society family has changed her life.

Before I started volunteering with the MS Society, I worked in bars my whole life. My busy manager roles saw me doing really long shifts of strenuous work. But I loved it! Then one day, soon after delivering another successful event, I was carrying lots of glasses when I collapsed. My back had gone and I had no feeling in my legs. I was rushed to hospital.

After numerous tests and CT scans, I was told I had ankylosing spondylitis in my spine and neck. I had deterioration of the spine and three of my discs were bulging, which also affected the nerves in my spine. I was offered spinal surgery to do a lumbar discectomy, which I had a 50% chance of surviving. But the alternative was to live the rest of my life in serious pain.

I struggled to accept how my life had changed

I was told that I’d never be able to do bar work again. Although I had counselling, I found it hard to come to terms with how my life had changed.

Without my job and with my new mobility issues, I felt like I no longer had a purpose. I needed a carer and had to adapt my home. I felt like I had lost my independence. I went down a slippery slope of depression. I wouldn't talk to my children. I wouldn't talk to my husband. I didn't want to leave the house. I mentally and physically shut down. I didn’t want to live anymore.

My social worker helped to start rebuilding my confidence by supporting me to leave the house. And then after a year, a friend asked me to look after her dog Bumble as she was really busy with work. That’s when things really started to change. I had to walk him and so my husband bought me a scooter. I had no excuse to stay at home after that!

Volunteering helped me rebuild my physical and mental strength

Then one day, I found myself at my local MS Society shop. It was the first time in over two years I'd gone into a shop by myself. I was terrified. That was when I met Angela. Angela is the Shop Manager and she took one look at me and asked if I was okay. I broke down so she took me into the back and we had a cup of tea and just talked. It gave me that little bit of confidence to go in once a week. I began to realise I was letting my illness control me and that needed to change.

I eventually plucked up the courage to ask Angela if I could volunteer at the shop. She was so supportive and let me choose what I felt I could do each day. She let me take everything at my own pace. At first, I was on the tills because of my mobility issues but as I became more confident, I began opening the shop and doing more on the shop floor. And as I began moving more, I started to regain some of my physical strength.

I’ve made friends for life

I owe so much to Angela. She’s a one in a million friend and has brought me back from the depths of darkness. We’re more than just a team at the shop, we’re like a family. And as well as Angela, I’ve found friends for life in Gina and Marie. Marie is the most loving and caring person. And Gina is an absolute superstar who does so much for the MS Society.

I can tell them anything. That's what I love about being there and volunteering. If one of us is feeling a bit low one day, we’ll always cheer each other up. My outlook on life has changed so much!

I have so much energy now and I’m so much stronger. What I’m doing at the shop now compared to when I started is unbelievable. The other day we had someone from Trading Standards in and when he left, he said the shop had never looked so good. I felt so proud to have been part of a team to get this kind of feedback.

Volunteering has had such a positive impact on me

I feel like I’m part of a community now. I’ve been able to support customers just by having a chat with them, and signposting them to groups and support available. And that is so rewarding. I never thought volunteering could have had this much of a positive impact on me.

For anyone thinking of volunteering, I’d say do it! It changes you. It makes you focus. It helps with your mental health, and in my case, physical health too! I’m looking forward to the future now and one day I hope to open my own shop. So, watch this space!

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