I will say that I actually didn't end up getting my hours signed off on because my lecturer had emailed me telling me it was pointless and to just enjoy the experience. I did attend the meetings for the other prac students just as it was nice to have the extra support and I was still technically a prac student.
I drove down on Saturday and arrived at the zone ready to help set up, all the main tents had been set up but there was still a lot of work to do. We had to roll carpets out the tents and help put up signs identifying exits and entry points. We did that for a couple of hours and then we headed to the resort where we were staying.
All the TAFE students roomed together among a few chalets (3 bedrooms each with 2 beds, a living/kitchen area and a bathroom/laundry, the master bedroom also had an ensuite) and this is where I felt isolated I have no doubt if I was rooming with different people my experiences would've been different. All the TAFE students were from another TAFE location and there wasn't a rivalry as such but more they wanted to challenge me on how my TAFE ran things. In their prac booklets they just had to get ticked off for experiences and do 'assignments' where as in mine I had to write down examples for and my whole book had what they called assignments in. I was also the only Christian in my chalet and the girls I was rooming with hadn't seen a real life Christian before (their words) so during the week I got asked a lot of questions about where I stood on controversial issues.
I also just didn't really connect with them all and despite how much I tried, it was a me and them. I felt that my concerns weren't heard, we only had 2 keys for the chalets and it would've been nice to rotate who had the keys as despite being told that they would make sure someone was always around who had a key, I was locked out a few times and had to get the resort staff to unlock the door for me. There was also only one parking pass and one of them decided it was theirs and that was that, so the rest of us had to park outside the resort a few hundred meters away. I also caught them talking behind my back a few times regarding my snoring (I warned them cause allergies) and other stuff. Once I realised that it was who I was rooming with was causing a lot of my anxieties I could let it go and I tried to hang out with other people and focus on building those relationships.
Moving on the next day we went back to the zone and continued to help set up, that afternoon the rest of the team arrived. At night we all went to nearby Baptist campsite and met with the other services for dinner. This was the G teams way of welcoming everyone and it was really fun night.
During the week my mornings were pretty much the same, after waking up, I just stayed in the chalet and read a book, answered emails or did some ReachOut work (I am giving a speech on Tuesday so I had to write that). I then would go to lunch and chat with different people and in the afternoon either participate in the activity that the G team would put on, attend the TAFE student meetings and just try to recharge before the night began.
At 3.30pm everyone was invited to meet on the tennis courts for some singing, devotion and prayer, this really helped me feel recharged spiritually and I looked forward to it everyday.
At 4.00pm everyone would meet and we would get into our groups for the night, you know how I broke my ankle earlier this year? Well guess what decided to make my life challenging, my ankle decided that standing on it all night wasn't the best idea so I had to find areas of the zone where I could sit down for some of the night. This wasn't great considering all areas required standing and I was thankful to have the TAFE student coordinator help me find a different area and negotiate me sitting for some of the night. I ended up doing First Aid on Monday and Wednesday nights - you just helped get people triaged and help those find their friends so I could sit down between those times, movie tent on Tuesday night - so in between stopping kids making out, picking up rubbish and putting different movies on I was able to sit down and on Thursday night the final night I did one of the silent discos - which was a lot of standing but I was also able to sit down when I was collecting and cleaning the headphones from the leavers and we rotated locations twice during the night.
After each night we cleaned up our areas before a quick debrief and were bussed back to the resort. Everyone in my chalet would stay and talk for an hour except for me who needed my sleep and was desperately requiring some self-care. Also the one time I stayed up tried to chat with them none of my opinions were acknowledged and one of the girls stormed off when I mentioned that the Headspace people at the zone were volunteers and not staff like she had thought (in her words I couldn't let her be right about something). We were encouraged to debrief with those in our chalets at the end of each night so instead I messaged some friends about my experiences and they would respond when they woke up a few hours later, so I did my version of debriefing in a way.
On the final night (Thursday) we were able to ride the rides at the zone which was fun and made the extended pack up time worth it. We rolled up the carpets in the tents and put them in skip bins and doing a thorough rubbish pick up. None of us went to bed until 4.00am which was super late especially as we had a checkout at 10.00am the next morning!
On Friday if we were able to we were encouraged to go to the zone to help with the final bits of pack up, I left there at 1.00pm before driving home. I ended up stopping twice - once at the rest stop RAC had set up for the leavers and other travellers where they were giving out refreshments and once to get fuel.
Highlights for me was making new friendships and just chatting to people whom I wouldn't normally chat to. There was a wide range of ages of those who were volunteering with the G team and it was great to see. I also ran into quite a few people who knew my parents or had known me when I was younger (one couple knew who I was as soon as I smiled which I found amusing). I also enjoyed getting such a wide range of experience with young people and knowing what first hand they could be like under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Anxiety wise I had a few starts of panic attacks and I will say not sleeping much did take its toll on me! I also felt really isolated in the chalet but I was fine when I was with other people, I did try not to feel isolated and have conversations with those in my chalet but it didn't work out. My ankle still being sore didn't help and I honestly didn't think it would cause me so many issues down there! I know that some people thought I was making my ankle up and by now it should be fine. The reality was I didn't know it was broken for 2 weeks then it was another 2 weeks before I got a moonboot and that delayed the healing (my doctor told me had I realised it was broken sooner it would've heal a lot quicker and I would have minimal long term issues), also everyone is different with injuries some heal quicker than others and unfortunately I heal slowly.
Things I learnt:
- It's ok if you don't get along with people and sometimes it can't be helped, you just need to accept it and move on.
- Anxiety sucks and it's ok if it rears it's ugly head as long as you push through it and don't run away.
- Meeting new Christians (and people in general) is awesome and I am so proud to be a part of this huge family :)
- It's (sometimes) good to get out of your comfort zone.
- Surround yourself with awesome people even if it's not in person and instead over Facebook or text message. Having that support is invaluable to helping you manage your anxiety and mental health in general. I loved being able to message my bible study group asking for prayer points and Facebook messaging my friends when I needed support,
- Be honest with people when it comes to your mental health. If you need space just say so, don't feel bad about putting yourself first.
- Broken ankles take forever to heal and I am over my right ankle.
- It doesn't matter what your age you can still stay up until 2.00am helping run an awesome zone.
- You will come home to a sooky cat who needs cuddles and will follow you around because you left him for 6 nights.
- Teenagers will do anything to sneak in drugs and alcohol to a drug and alcohol free event. I did know that one already but I have learnt their ways now.
- The correct amount of layers for the zone is five - single, long sleeved shirt, G team shirt, water resistant jacket and G team hoodie.
- The zone is awesome and more states need to implement it.
Will I do it again next year? At the start of the week I just wanted it to be over, but then I started enjoying it and as of yesterday I think I will do it again next year. I also really want to get a group of young adults from church to come down with me and I'm trying to convince my sister too.
*Photo is me before my first night at the zone (wearing the fluoro vest to identify me as a first aid person) chilling in the movie tent before it all started!