How the Girl Guides Helped Me in the Early Days of My Struggle With Mental Illness

I started Girl Guides just before my seventh birthday and stayed with them for over 12 years before I finished up at 19 years old. Even though I am no longer an active member, I will never forget my time spent as a Girl Guide. For me, it was far more than just an after school activity, it was lifesaving.

I didn’t know at the time, but in my early teens, I started experiencing symptoms of mental illness. I was being bullied at school and I started to feel very different from the other kids. I was becoming isolated and confused, not understanding what was going on inside my own head.

Guiding gave me a safe place to be myself, a place where I felt accepted as “one of the gang.” I developed friendships and support I struggled to find elsewhere. Guiding was more than just a group of girls hanging out together, it was a second family. People who I knew had my back, no matter what.

Guiding got me out of the house and away from my thoughts for a couple of hours each week. It got me doing things I would never have otherwise done. Learning all kinds of skills and accomplishing some incredible things. The range of activities I got to participate in was as varied as door knocking to raise money for charity, to playing silly games where you have to try and cut up a block of chocolate with a knife and fork while wearing a hat, scarf and gloves. I participated in selling ice cream at festivals, volunteering at a Christmas party for disabled children, rope courses, hiking, camping, building solar ovens, joining in Anzac Day marches, sleepovers, raft building, delivering phone books, singing Spice Girls songs at the back of a bus, earning badges and completing various certificates. The list could go on forever.

In doing all these things, I got to meet so many amazing people and developed friendships I couldn’t imagine finding anywhere else. These friends came at a time when I needed them the most. Some of these friends recognized when I wasn’t feeling myself, and offered support without judgment, even when I could offer no explanation as to what was going on, or why. These friends listened to me, they distracted me, they gave me something else to focus on and they gave me laughter and genuine moments of true happiness.

Guiding provided me with activities that got me to exercise my body and my mind, both of which are good for the reduction in depression and other mental illnesses. It got me doing the things I needed to do, even though I didn’t know it was what I needed at the time.

Guiding stopped me from feeling completely isolated and alone at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It stopped me from potentially going into a complete downward spiral when it would have been so easy to just slip over the edge. Guiding was my safety net.

Because of Guiding, I have lifelong friends. Despite the fact that I don’t talk to them as frequently as I used to, I know when things get tough, I can always call on them for help, just as they can call on me.

This post originally appeared on Alison’s blog.

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