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How Volunteering Helps Me Battle IBD and Depression

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Sometimes, I look back at the person I was six years ago and I’m unrecognizable.

I was diagnosed with IBD six years ago, on my 10th birthday. Not a great birthday present, am I right? I didn’t really understand what it was at first, but when I entered middle school, my life changed dramatically. I was hospitalized a lot, gained weight from prednisone, couldn’t live like a normal kid and I felt so sick all the time. Being this different made me feel isolated – I slowly sank into a pit of depression. I didn’t think life was worth it, especially if I would be this sick for the rest of my life. It was a really dark time for me, let’s just say that.

But then, something amazing happened. I attended a CCFA camp for kids with IBD – Camp Oasis. I met some of my best friends in the whole world. It was the summer before my freshman year of high school and we were learning to be good role models for the other kids with IBD. I knew instantly that I would want to be a volunteer Camp Oasis counselor when I was older too.

When I entered high school though, I wasn’t in that positive summer camp environment anymore and I felt alone again. I was the only person I knew of with IBD out of 2,000 students at school – one IBD patient was homeschooled and the other didn’t want to reveal his identity (I mean, I get it, since a “bathroom disease” can be really embarrassing for a teen).

My sister noticed this and she saw that I needed genuine, close friends who would accept me for who I was, so she made me join community service clubs. In those clubs, I met some more of my best friends in the whole world. They taught me that volunteering can be fun and that I’m not only helping others, but I’m also helping myself. I have fallen in love with community service; it is more healing to me than any of the countless medicines I have tried could ever be. I am now applying for the President’s Volunteer Service Award for contributing 250-300 hours of service in the past year. This is my passion and my life.

Check out my TED talk, “Be a voice, not an echo by Sargun Handa” on YouTube and see how community service can change your life too. Please volunteer! Do a Take Steps walk, go lobby to your state legislature or even become a Camp Oasis counselor. You could also volunteer at a food bank, a retirement center or even a school club if you’re a teen. I believe that community service is not the right thing to do; it’s the best thing to do. Join me in this movement – heal yourself too.

woman wearing a dress and standing in front of a TED talk sign

(Note: When I list these accomplishments, I only want to share them with you, not to brag, but to show you how successful volunteering can help you be. I truly hope that people will see how imperative community service is to someone with any chronic illness or mental illness. Its healing powers are truly phenomenal.)

Follow this journey on Sargun’s website.

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Originally published: January 26, 2018
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