Before I even applied for the ICS programme I had my doubts. I had been travelling before and due to my mental health my trip was cut short. I faced up to the fact that I had depression and couldn’t keep fighting it on my own. I was worried that the past would repeat itself in the same way. This was a three-month placement and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope being away from my familiar and comfortable settings, not to mention the help that was available at home. Even though I was already getting help in the form of medication and on the waiting list for counselling, this was still very much a fear of mine. Sometimes, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control the way I felt. The more I thought about it the more concerned I became about such a big jump but I was determined that it wasn’t going to stop me, not this time, not again. I didn’t want to hold back and regret yet another opportunity I could have had but was too scared because of my mental health. 

The first jump was to apply. When I got the phone call telling me I was invited for an interview I tried not to think too far ahead, but this was a big thing for me. I can still remember the day I got the phone call asking if I would like to go to Zimbabwe, my heart was pounding and I had the biggest smile on my face. For that moment, nothing else mattered, I was happy and nothing was going to stop me. Well, besides InterHealth’s thorough checks. With my mental health conditions and a history of self-harm, it wasn’t easy getting through the checks as there was a lot of back and forth with them. They gave me so much on how to help myself and who could help me when I was away, which was a massive relief. They were in partnership with Progressio, which meant that they both were there all the way through the process supporting me. 

The weeks flew in and before I knew it I was landing in Zimbabwe. I was so excited to meet the national volunteers as I had had an amazing time meeting the UK volunteers at our pre-departure training. I knew this half of my team was going to be just as amazing as the others. Before leaving for Zimbabwe, I decided it best to have a sit down chat with my Team Leader and tell them about my history of mental illness and self-harm. This was because I trusted them, they were also there to support me through the next twelve weeks, so it was important that they knew. They were so understanding about it and I knew from then on that they would be able to support me in the ways I needed and also be a friend to me. Trying to judge whether this would be the most amazing thing I had done so far or the biggest flop ever was constantly playing on my mind. It was an enormous jump to take but it had to be done. I knew I had the chance of having a massive flop, but this was something I had to prove to myself that I could do.

The first few weeks were incredible, going in to our host homes, spending time getting to know my team and doing session whilst learning a whole lot too! Amongst that though, I had a few down days where I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to be in the group because I couldn’t handle my own thoughts let alone others. However, I looked around at the situation I had been put in, how fortunate I had been to be put amongst such amazing people in such an amazing place, how supportive my team and Team Leader were, that was what got me up, along with a nice little chat sometimes. 

During the first few weeks, I was troubled by thoughts and urges of self-harm, however talking through it and writing a diary of how I felt managed to get me through that. One thing triggered my self-harm beyond my control to stop it a few weeks later. I thought this was the worst thing that could happen, however, talking with my Team Leader who understood certain issues of mental health allowed me to think about why I was doing it and more about how to stop when the urge comes again. Being able to confide in someone made that situation a million times easier. I am eternally grateful for their help. The thing with depression is that it sneaks up on you when you don’t expect it and sometimes it feels like you can’t control it. 

It may seem like a silly decision putting yourself in an unknown environment with people who you don’t know much about and having depression, but it puts you out of your comfort zone. It has forced me to challenge myself and has given me back my confidence in so many ways (even though I don’t always feel it). Twelve weeks ago I arrived with so many feelings of excitement and anxiety, I was someone who didn’t believe in their own ability and would beat themselves up for doing something wrong. 

Looking back, my desire to help others was what drove me to this programme and I look back and smile at what I’ve achieved and how much I’ve grown. At the start of my journey I decided that I wouldn’t let depression stop me doing things I loved, all these weeks later I’ve stayed true to my word and got some lifelong friends out of it too! Was the programme easy? No. Was it worth it? More than you know.

Written by an ICS Alumni (April - June 2016 cycle, Team DOMCPP)