Jodie felt her life was going nowhere before she discovered Venture Scotland. She completed the full programme in 2019. Here is her inspiring story…
Before I came to VS, I was floating around between different employability courses. I was a young carer, a care leaver, and struggling with mental health issues. I was feeling down, I didn’t have much direction. I felt like I was going nowhere fast.
VS made me put myself into a bit more perspective. Before, my entire life involved around looking after my mum and my sister. I was taking on too much responsibility, everything I did had a consequence and I stopped focusing on what I wanted. I just did what was convenient for them.
Venture Scotland made me want my future again, made me want to look after myself more, and gave me the skills to do that.
I was bullied all through school and in 2010 lost my big brother Douglas to suicide. Both my mum’s and my sister’s mental and physical health deteriorated rapidly, leaving me feeling alone, scared, isolated and suicidal, because I couldn’t grieve like them.
I locked myself away and bottled up all the pain, anger, guilt and shame. I have always struggled with my mental health. I was diagnosed with ADHD and autism at a young age, and anxiety and depression as a teenager. I ended up in alternative education. I had multiple breakdowns and panic attacks.
From the age of 16 to 19 I did a lot of outdoorsy stuff – rural skills, landscaping, volunteering. It was my dream to work in the outdoors but as I bounced from course to course over the next few years, I felt any progress I made was useless. I was losing hope in my future, and any confidence I had.
In 2018 I ended up on a course with the employment charity Tomorrow’s People and through that I was introduced to VS. One of the biggest draws for me was that it was long-term and not just six to 12 weeks like I was used to, offering much-needed stability.
Walking through the door on day one was one of the easiest and best decisions of my life.
Some of the activities were new to me, like weaselling and gorge walking. I had done quite a few others before, but not in this setting. What I found challenging was the interacting with people and the educational side of it, the theory. It was being put to me in a completely different way that was more relevant. This was about putting it into practice.
I’m autistic so I really struggle with physical contact with people. On my first day at VS, I literally couldn’t hold another person’s hand. I was holding tea towels… and this went on for months! I don’t necessarily dole out handshakes and hugs willy-nilly now but I’m better at handling the situation. I still get the same feelings, the same overload, the same feeling of not wanting to, but now it is more manageable. I know that everyone needs a hug now and again.
Going through Challenge and Discover was amazing; meeting so many new people, making new friends and getting to know the staff, experiencing new things and learning from a new perspective.
Moving on to Explore, I felt proud I was making progress and beginning to see changes in myself and my attitude. It felt brilliant to be trusted with more responsibility and gaining more skills.
Leadership was an amazing and unique challenge. We had lost some members of our group during Explore, and we had so much responsibility during a period which felt like the beginning of the end of an epic time. This is where you start putting everything into practice – not just the physical and practical skills learnt but all the emotional and mental growth too.
I remember on one expedition we did an exercise called positive and negatives where we wrote down all the negative things other people – or even ourselves – had said about us and then chucked the bits of paper in the fire. We also wrote some of the statements on a blackboard and launched water balloons at it. Afterwards we wrote positive messages to each other. I still have mine and look at them when I’m having a hard day.
Through VS I got involved with Working Rite, a youth employment charity, and now have a job as an outdoor instructor with PGL. I’m into my second season and have realised I’m not terrible at my job!
VS has had a big impact, and a very positive one. I’m more able to manage life, I’m more able to understand myself and others. I just find myself getting on better. Things which would have terrified me before still terrify me, but I now have the skills and experience to deal with them and know it will be worth it. For me that is what VS is all about.
If you are willing to put in the effort, the change happens quite easily, quite dramatically.
I had the time of my life. I learnt new skills, made new friends and self-discoveries – good and bad. I was pushed to breaking point but rebuilt myself. I am forever and fundamentally a better person now with the skills to handle anything life throws at me.