Valerie Zoz: Changing the conversation
I found out about Oasis while doing a search online for volunteering and gardening. I had just moved to Sheffield and was looking for places to volunteer so I could meet people and learn new skills while I decided on what I wanted to do for a job.
I didn’t actually know that Oasis was a group for people living with mental health conditions until after I started and Tim, one of the people who runs the sessions, explained to me what the group was all about. Even though I wasn’t referred to the group for a mental health condition, it was helpful for me in many ways. I was previously in the army in the USA and have been a bit anxious since that experience. I had been managing it well the years following counselling from the army but add on moving to a new country and a new city, it is a bit overwhelming.
People just communicate differently to what I’m used to and I found myself over-thinking a lot of conversations and situations. I also found it is not really acceptable to talk openly about your mental health. The conversations are ignored or they might treat you differently which is difficult because talking it out is great way of working through it. If I was feeling down or having a repetitive thought I often felt like I had no one to talk to.
While volunteering at Oasis I felt that it was a safe environment and I felt comfortable there. I actually started to notice my thought process change when it came to talking to people especially new people. I stopped analysing conversations to death trying to figure out if they meant something different or if I said something the wrong way.
Oasis has created an environment where people feel included, important, and cared for. The stigma around mental health often leaves people feeling the opposite. I feel more confident now after volunteering at Oasis. Because it was possible for me to be cared for and part of a group there, I stopped thinking I automatically deserved not to be everywhere else.
I really enjoyed all the different gardening tasks it took to run a large garden. It was fun to learn how to grow and take care of the plants. I’ve never been real successful with plants so it was really satisfying to plant a seed and watch it grow week to week and eventually produce vegetables. When I buy a house the first thing I want to do is make a little kale garden!