I recently started volunteering as a Befriending Volunteer at the MS Helpline.
It’s something I’d have really benefitted from when I was diagnosed at the beginning of 2020. I felt completely lost and talking to someone on a regular basis would have been really helpful.
After I was diagnosed I was very unwell and I decided to give up my job as a headteacher. So there’s been a lot to deal with over the last 14 months: my diagnosis, leaving my job, the pandemic… People tell me I look so well, and in lots of ways that’s a compliment. But I don’t feel like me. I feel like I’m being re-invented.
I can see how easy it is to become isolated with MS, especially at the moment. On top of dealing with a health condition there’s COVID-19 and none of the groups were meeting.
What does a Befriending Volunteer do?
We’re each matched with a person who has similar interests. Then for 12 weeks we talk once a week on the phone, for around an hour.
My matches have been really good and we’ve had lots to talk about. For instance, one person loved books and so do I. So our chats were almost like being in a mini book club!
I look forward to the calls each week. I’m always in a private place so I can focus on them. That one hour is purely about me giving time in my volunteer role.
We had really good training before we started – all online because of restrictions. We work within a good, responsible structure and are well supported and learn about safeguarding. That’s really important to me.
Challenges and benefits
I find the end of the 12 weeks the hardest time. I deal with it by making sure we both know how many weeks we’ve got left, so we’re prepared for the end of the calls.
I make sure we talk about some ways to continue making social connections. Hopefully by speaking to me the person has gained some confidence so they might try something else, like joining a group.
The best thing about being a Befriending Volunteer is I’ve been on a massive learning curve. I’ve developed my active listening skills, and I feel like I’m helping. I’ve had lots of information and support from the MS Society since my diagnosis so I want to give something back.
Opening up new opportunities
Since starting this volunteering role I’ve done other types of volunteering. I’ve joined the Research Network and recently interviewed a neurologist from UCL for an MS Matters article. I love learning and I love writing, so it’s been great.
I’ve also volunteered with my local group. That’s given me local connections, so now things are opening up there’s people I’ll be able to see.
We need friendly humans
At the end of the day as humans we’re interactive beings. In this role you’re helping someone who’s got some barriers at the moment: they might be getting to grips with MS, feeling a bit fed up, or a bit isolated. And I get a lot from it too.
The difference one phone call can make is huge. When you’re having a bad day, a friendly person getting in touch can make you smile and cheer you up. It can just change how you feel.