I guess the biggest thing to happen in the time that I was not posting is that I finally plucked up the courage (and I guess motivation) to volunteer at the Red Cross Shop in Darlington.
It took me some time, and multiple visits to the shop when I planned to volunteer, and ended up browsing and leaving, before I finally asked the question. Strangely it was a day when I was in the shop with no intention of volunteering... I had gone in to browse for books. When I got there, the shop was empty, but for me and the guy behind the counter. He looked friendly, about my age, and I just asked the question as I was buying a book before I knew what I was doing!
I have to say I felt fantastic walking home after sorting out the details. It felt like such a huge step forward, and I guess it was.
I have been working 4 hours on each Monday and Thursday since. It is working really well for me as it is something to get me out of the house, and mixing with people again, but there is not really the pressure of a normal job. If I really don't feel up to it, then I can miss a day, or change a day to another with no consequences. I guess that has it pros and cons... it is much easier to miss a day than it would be with a normal job, and I have a couple of times. As a stepping stone to getting back to proper work, it is great though.
I have felt a difference in myself since I started working there, and how I am when I am there has changed also. When I started I volunteered to look after the books, essentially to sort them out as it was a complete bomb site, and good stock was in the stock room with crap on the shelves. Initially I was at my happiest when I was up in the stock room, generally by myself, busy sorting books with my music on. Gradually though I am enjoying more and more being on the shop floor, chatting to the other volunteers, and being around people.
Another great thing is that responsibility I have taken for the books. And I guess "taken" is the best word for it. On my first day the manager had to take the day off, so when I arrived there was someone there who did not know what needed doing. I almost turned around and left, but decided to have a look if I could see anything to do. In the end I pulled all the stock-room books off the shelves, and reorganised them into categories, and generally tidied them up.
The next time I went in, the manager was back, and was really impressed and happy with my work. It felt like a long time since I have had that kind of positive feedback from a job - so long in fact I had come to not even expect or look for it. It was quite a surprise I guess. He basically said that I clearly know what I am doing with the books, so if I was happy to, I could keep going with them! Could not have been better for me!
I really feel that I am making a difference... the takings on books have increased dramatically since I started - they are up about 400%, so not only is it doing me good it has a wider impact on the shop as a whole.
The one thing that I have found, is that even in a charity environment, there are still the issues of business to deal with - bureaucracy, out of touch management, etc. I am not going to get into my frustrations now, but I will vent about them at another time! I guess it does show I will never get away from it completely, and my current frustrated feelings (even as a volunteer) show I have some way to go in not letting this crap get to me.
One other thing that has come out of this is that I have realised that I really love working with books. I always enjoyed it when I worked at Dillons and Ottakers, and I really feel that coming back now with the work I am going at the Red Cross.
I really wonder if I should be trying to get back into the bookshops. I am not sure if I would be satisfied with it long term? And I still have a real passion for going to Africa/Make Poverty History, etc. I guess I need to give it some serious thought... I suppose they are not exclusive - I could spend some time in the bookshops, get myself really straightened out and then look towards Africa? Dunno?