Being a carer to a loved one, friend or neighbour can be stressful for many reasons. The constant worry about that person not having their basic needs met, whether or not they are getting enough social interaction with others, getting them to their health checks and hospital appointments … the list is endless.
Couple that with feelings of guilt, frustration and sometimes resentment for having to give up your identity or livelihood to care for your loved one and it makes for a very unsettling and difficult period in your life. Caring can become very isolating and lonely.
The Catch 22 is that many carers neglect themselves and risk not being fit to take care of the person who has come to depend on them. Our Hidden Carers project aims to help carers understand the importance of their own wellbeing, offers access to services, support and social interaction.
Since I became the project co-ordinator for Hidden Carers I have come into contact with more than 100 carers, some of whom have been carers themselves and decided to pass on their experience. They act as volunteer facilitators at the workshops we run to support those caring for family members or friends, who for social or cultural reasons don’t identify themselves as carers. The facilitators lead on a day of interactive tasks, exploring the role of the unpaid carer, what they do and who they care for.
Everyone at the workshops contributes to the list of things a carer does and that’s when it hits them. They realise how much they do as well as trying to balance and meet their own needs. At one workshop carers came up with the phrase: ‘Struggling and juggling’, which really illustrates the difficulties they face, especially those who are miraculously holding down full time work at the same time as caring.
We listen to the story of Julie, a teacher who gave up her career to care for her elderly mother and husband, both diagnosed with Parkinson’s, whilst raising two boys. It’s this part of the workshop where the tears are most likely to come. Participants and volunteers identify with Julie and the challenges she faces. Although there are common themes of financial disadvantage, decline in social interaction and sometimes psychological despair when you become a carer, all carers have very different needs and requirements. The workshops aim to unpick those needs and put a plan in place to support our carers.
There comes a point when the carer stops being a carer. This can be for a variety of reasons: the person they have been caring for may have recovered and no longer require the same level of support, they may have a professional care plan in place, moved into a residential care facility or sadly died.
Whatever the reason, there can be a void or sense of redundancy and a feeling of what now? Some of our volunteers and participants have been through the caring process yet still have the capacity to want to care for others, to share their experience and wisdom, and offer support to other carers in a similar situation. Their abundance of empathy, compassion and kindness is exceptional. Sometimes it’s hard to sustain the day to day care and responsibility of someone with complex needs close to you. Yet with support and understanding from others we as carers can carry on caring in so many ways.
If you'd like to know more about our Hidden Carers project, take a look here.