Many people say that becoming a carer has made them a better person: I’m sure that can be true, as I saw it within my own extended family.
But I don’t think it’s made me a better person. Instead it’s highlighted my flaws: my lack of patience and tolerance, my self centredness, my incompetence in the face of overwhelming domestic duties and repetitive paperwork. Sometimes I strive to overcome these failings. At other times I rage against the unfairness of it all. I rage at being forced to live a confined life of fear and anxiety. My skills getting rusty, my brain less sharp, my mental health deteriorating.
Sure, I do my best. I do all that self care stuff: I exercise, as I’m sure you’ve noticed! I do social media – often the only opportunity I have to use my communication skills, and writing a successful blog post – or even just a popular tweet – gives me a boost that I badly need. I practice being grateful, I make myself do things that are challenging. I keep going. But it’s not always enough.
It’s not just me either.
There was a Carers Week competition to win a break at a luxury hotel in rural Ireland. Wonderful, you might say. Well deserved (especially if my friend @autieland wins, and I hope she does because she really deserves it as you can read here) but it also rubbed salt into the wounds of those of us who cannot get away from our caring duties, because those we care for have no respite. And even those families that have respite, may not be able to get it when they want or need it.
You see it’s different for everyone: some carers manage to lead relatively normal lives – and I used to be one of them – holding down jobs, perhaps enjoying holidays, a busy social life. Even then they may be facing challenges they don’t talk about. But many of the family carers I know live lives so difficult that the rest of us sometimes wonder how they keep going at all (no choice is often the answer to that question), perhaps due to the number of disabled dependents they care for or the severity of their difficulties; perhaps due to totally inadequate housing, no support, poor health, chronic pain, being housebound for months or years at a time, lack of money, lack of interest, feeling ignored, unappreciated and left behind by the rest of the world. It’s a recipe for despair.
The manicures and other little treats being offered to carers are thoughtful attempts to mark Carers Week, and undoubtedly appreciated by many. But those carers stuck deep in the trenches may not be able to leave their duties to enjoy a little pampering, or they may feel under so much pressure that doing something for themselves becomes just another item on the ‘to do’ list. And a set of pretty painted nails would not last long with the amount of hand washing that many of us have to do each day for hygiene reasons. It’s just not worth it.
There are no easy answers: my disabled daughter has been given a ticket to see Taylor Swift on Saturday, with support and some friends. A great break for me, you might think. Not quite. You see I won’t really be able to relax, as I will be dropping and collecting her, I need to be on standby in case she wants to come home early, and when I do bring her home there is a long bedtime routine that includes hoisting her onto the toilet and her night time stretching exercises that help her to sleep. We are both going to be exhausted! But we’re going to give it a try anyway. Oh and I forgot to mention I will still have one person to care for while she’s out….
What can I do except keep trying to raise awareness? This week I’m joining @Carer49 and tweeting using the hashtag #RealCarersWeek to highlight issues and possible solutions. I hope someone will read them, someone who can take action to improve our lives and the lives of our dependents. It’s hard to hope though, when UK Councils chose Carer’s Week to announce further cuts to vital care services. Does anyone else think that old, sick and disabled people and their carers are actually held in contempt by many people in today’s world? Yes? Not just me then.
As you can see, becoming a carer has not made me a better person, but I feel better after that little rant, and I promise my normal cheerful service will be resumed soon..