Carers need support, too

Over the last few months I have spoken to nearly 100 carers about their lives, their struggles, their achievements and what they would like to see change. And the one thing I’ve noticed is how they talk about their lives.

Everything is referenced to caring. It’s not just a task, it’s a vocation. More than once I have sat in a room with six people with over 100 years caring experience between them. Not once have I heard someone say “I wish I could stop and do something else with my life.”  It’s as if this would be like wishing away something that is important in defining who they are.

Part of the struggle of making caring integral to your identity is acknowledging your own need for care. Our mentoring project Carers Together specifically requires carers to identify themselves as needing support. But whenever I ask carers what they would like, they always ask for something for the person they are caring for- better medical co-ordination, confirmation over Disability Living  Allowance changes or something else to help the cared for person.

Even when the request seems to be about the carer, such as: “I need help with my patience”, this is often about providing better care for someone else. This is great to hear, it’s a true expression of altruism and people have sacrificed very large proportions of their lives to help someone in need, but it does make it difficult for carers to make time to receive their own support. If who you are is someone who looks after other people it can be difficult to be ‘selfish’ and make time for yourself.

Carers get told repeatedly that they get need to make time for themselves and many have said to me: “That’s a great Idea, in theory.” Lots of this reflects the practicality of not having someone  to take over the work they are doing, but some of it comes down to the challenge in letting go of the perception of themselves as being the person who does the looking after. Accepting help from Carers Together is an acknowledgement, not just that you need practical assistance, but also that you need the support of another human being.

Much of the project is aimed at addressing the isolation that carers face. Part of this isolation is not having emotional support from other people. Sometimes it is possible to be strong and just get on with caring and then things change. Problems appear on the horizon, the future becomes uncertain and the need for someone to talk to becomes keenly expressed as worry, tiredness and feeling isolated. Carers too often find themselves in this position and soldier on. Perhaps if you’re in this position you can accept that everyone needs to be cared for, especially when you are doing so much caring yourself.