The myth of free time when you’re a carer

It’s no surprise that family carers are undervalued. That people think we don’t deserve a decent carer’s allowance or one that’s not means tested. That our children don’t deserve respite.

Because don’t we get a great break every day when they are at school? (Or adult services)

Well no actually, we don’t. But I would be a millionaire if I had a euro for every time that has been said to me. And I know it’s meant kindly, but it makes carers feel even more isolated and misunderstood.

Here are some of the things that carers do while their children are in school:

Sleep
Because many disabled children and adult sleep very little or need a lot of attention during the night.

Self Care
Exercise – because carers need to be fit for their very demanding job.

Attend personal medical appointments (anecdotally carers tend to have more chronic illnesses, mental health issues and physical problems like bad backs due to their caring role).

Disability Administration and Meetings
Medical and therapy appointments with your loved ones.

Chasing up appointments and services that have not happened, and services that have been delayed.

Form filling. More form filling.

Ordering and collecting medical supplies.

Meetings with service providers

Preparing for meetings, writing minutes of meetings, sending them out and following up on all action points.

Social
Spend time with other family members (in my case my youngest).

See friends and others in the disability community for emotional support and information.

Organise or help organise social activities for their disabled loved ones who might otherwise have no friends or places to go to on evenings and weekends.

Housework and Maintenance
Yes carers have to do that too, and it may involve cleaning up more mess than the typical household as well as more laundry.

Disabled children who regularly get distressed may damage the house or break household furniture or equipment so repairs and replacements need to organised.

Cooking: Many disabled children and adults have specific dietary requirements or will only eat certain foods, so different meals for different family members may need to be prepared several times a day.

Research
To rights, entitlements , therapies, information, equipment.

Researching  a hard to get game or toy that your child must have and you know they won’t understand or accept your failure to produce it.

That’s all I managed to think of over breakfast. What would you add?

Note: I know I’ve written about this before, but this idea that I sit at home all day doing very little is extraordinarily hurtful.
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Summer of Smiles 2019

Summer of Smiles 2019
World Festival 2019, Alana Russell Memorial Run, our little bedsitting room, Zumba at Remember Us, Parkrun Marshalling, Meeting Place Arch Club, Hotter than July Festival in Smithfield, relaxing at a medical appointment

What does Summer mean if you don’t go on holiday and your children are young adults?

It could feel like a non event, I guess, the same of the rest of the year, but with a need for sunscreen and extra deodorant.

Some in Ireland are denying there was any summer at all – because there was no heatwave – yet I’m browner than I have been for years, and I’ve enjoyed the sunshine and showers, the cooler weather, fewer smelly bins, and less need to water the plants.

I made the most of it, and so did my daughter, as you can *probably* tell from the collage of happy smiles, yet the smiles were scarce at times, and it’s only in the last week or two that I felt she was really happy once again. I could not tell why she was sad, and she could not tell me either. But thankfully whatever was bothering her did not develop into anything significant.

It was also a summer of facing facts, of making choices when all of the options were less than ideal, of realising I have to find a better way to live, for myself and for the two young adults who depend on me. Time will be in shorter supply than ever, and there may be even less blogging and social media. However B’s place on her adult programme has now been made permanent, and that is one less worry, especially as she is so happy there, and the services provided make my life a little easier too.

Progress was made on some important projects during the summer. A lot of decluttering was done and, in related news, I did move in to B’s room, though I’m waiting for help to get it finished. It’s like a little bedsitting room now with two beds, two chests of drawers, B’s wheelchair and hoist, my desk, a telly and a comfy chair so I can sit with her in the evenings which saves heating the living room and means I don’t have to stray too far to help with whatever is bothering her during those hours. Our room is adjacent to the kitchen and B’s wet room, so it has almost everything we need close by. And as the weeks pass, I hope to keep making little changes that will make all our lives a little better.

Head over to Mummy From The Heart for more reasons to be cheerful:

R2BC at Mummy from the Heart 

When life takes away lemons

I used to love lemons. They evoke long languid days in the Mediterranean sunshine, gin and tonic sipped at fancy events, lemon cakes and Thai curries. Now I no longer eat them due to reflux, and you would rarely find them in my fridge.

Lemons are just one of the items I no longer enjoy from the supermarket of life.

And until this week, there was a terrible uncertainty over what else was on the banned list. Now it is much clearer.

But back to fridges for a minute (and if you’re a long time reader you’ll know I bought a new fridge recently after the old one began leaking into the floor, the final straw after a long series of transgressions..)

The question is: what do you do with left over food: I know people who scrape every plate and tip the remaining contents of every serving dish into the bin straight after eating.

But what if you can’t get to the supermarket to stock up with all those lovely fresh ingredients?

What if money is tight?

If you have food allergies?

If you were brought up to be frugal, like me and put them all in little labelled bowls and boxes for later?

You see based on what I was told this week, there will be no trips for me to the fancy supermarket of life with aisles devoted to exotic holidays, fulfilling careers, trips to visit family, shiny new affordable homes, or girls weekends away.

The life I have now is apparently what I can expect for the foreseeable future, because the State trusts that I will not abandon the two disabled young adults in my care, no matter what.

I was trying to find a positive way to view this information when I thought of my fridge. As you do.

I thought about how I will be stuck with the leftovers of life, like the stuff in the fridge at home.

But that’s not as bad as it sounds. You see I always enjoyed the challenge of trying to make something tasty from an odd assortment of leftovers, so why not look at life the same way? Yes there’s a good chance I will never get to visit Paris or any of the other places on my bucket list, but I can visit everywhere within an hour or two of Dublin. That means city, country, mountains and sea. Can anyone really ask for more?

My disabled daughter and I share so many interests, while youngest is happy enough at home for short periods. Both are reasonably good sleepers right now, which makes a huge difference.

I can help other people online and in the real world, but I’m not going to kill myself trying to beat down the resistance to change here. I’m done with that.

I’m going to be more selfish, do more for me, stop saving for a rainy day – look outside, that day is here. I refuse to become just another downtrodden carer. You can keep your lemons, I’ll be making carrot cake instead…

Not another bloody hand massage! #CarersWeek

Are emergency department nurses offered free hand massages to entice them not to resign from their stressful jobs?

Or speech therapists, office administrators, housekeepers. No? Well why are little ‘treats’ like these expected to satisfy family carers who fulfil all the above roles and more, for little or no financial reward?

The week beginning June 10th is National Carer’s Week, and the role of the 370,000 family carers in Ireland will be acknowledged and highlighted, and thanked by a grateful nation who will then mostly leave them alone for another 12 months to get on the with their essential work with very little support.

Society still wants us to be saints, and if you look at the smiling kindly faces of carers in publicity photographs, that’s the image they are receiving.

Not photos of exhausted, resentful, angry carers with stained clothes and greasy hair. Or children juggling homework with changing nappies.

You see carers are not a homogenous group. Some feel privileged, some feel burdened, some feel it’s a private matter, some feel they have no choice.

Some care for a few years for an elderly parent, others face a lifetime of caring for one or more disabled children.

Some have plenty of support, financially and physically, with reasonably good services, as well as help from family and community, who live in suitable accommodation and who enjoy respite allowing proper breaks from caring and even holidays. Some are in situations so dire that they feel suicidal at times.

There are carers of all ages: Children who care for parents or siblings after school, perhaps missing out on activities and friendships.

Men and women who give up their careers to care for disabled children or elderly parents.

Partners of older adults who cope with the declining health of someone they’ve loved all their lives.

All make sacrifices, some willingly, some reluctantly. Few are truly acknowledged for what they do, or given the support to ensure that they and those they care for, can lead good lives.

My wish list this carer’s week would be for a tailored support plan for every family with regular reviews that could include services such as real respite, an end to means testing of benefits, suitable housing or adaptations, counselling services (in home if necessary), and future planning. What’s on yours?

As for me? If I have any free time this week, I won’t be getting a free hand massage. Instead you’ll find me at the gym, trying to work off the anger I feel about how carers are treated.

Happy Carers Week!

When carers have to rest haha haha

It was 10.37. The dishwasher was finally doing its thing, and it was time for me to crawl into bed with my tablet and catch a bit of Netflix and rest…

But tonight even the crawling bit was difficult. A suspected cracked rib means that almost every movement is sore.

You can guess what the recommended treatment is for a cracked rib: lots of rest. The one thing not available to family carers like me.

My own gut feeling was to Google compression bandages, as I’m trying very hard to keep the area rigid, but they’re no longer recommended as using them can lead to pneumonia.

‘Ouch’ may have become my favourite word, but the pain itself is not that bad, it’s the frustration that this injury resulted from housing and equipment that is less than ideal, and the consequences of this injury mean that I will have to give up most of the activities that sustain my physical and mental health. At least for a while. Normally a cracked rib takes about 6 weeks to heal, but how much longer will it take if I cannot rest? It’s a scary and depressing thought.

I may have to go to the GP if the pain continues to get worse, but do I ask for extra help with my disabled daughter? Will I get it? Do I deserve it when there are so many other people in greater need?

In the meantime my only plan is to look for lots of reasons to be cheerful, so watch this space…

 

 

A battle won

Parenting one or more disabled children involves many unexpected roles, including becoming a fighter. In an ideal world a family would get information, appointments, a plan and advocacy support at the same time as a diagnosis. But that almost never happens. Instead families are pitched against each other for scarce resources all fighting a system that seems determined to deny our children what they need and deserve. But sometimes persistence pays off and I have to report that I finally FINALLY won the battle to get effective help and support for youngest.

This is giving me a bit more free time (less than you might think though!) so I’m doing a bit of catching up, from boring stuff like filing, paperwork (and finding lots of things to chase up, oops!) to fun stuff like my first proper run since I got injured.

Reasons to be cheerful 9.2.19

There’s also been lots of sleeping, apart from one night when my disabled daughter B was awake from 3am. For the first time ever I tried hoisting her onto the toilet in the middle of the night, but that wasn’t the problem. She wasn’t upset, just chatting and singing along to the music channel on the telly. Perhaps there was a full moon, I forgot to check!

The house has been calm and sometimes empty: less demands on me means more gets done, and time for the occasional leisurely bath instead of quick showers.

Of course I left the house a lot too: I caught up with friends, carried on bungalow hunting, and began the round of medical checks that are pretty essential once you’re in your 50s… And it seems that my eyes are healthy. Phew!

I know this is just a lull, and there will be more battles ahead, but for now I intend to enjoy the peace.

Sharing with Reasons to be Cheerful hosted this week by Mummy from the Heart.

R2BC at Mummy from the Heart 

On New Year’s Day

2018 ended with the very sad news of the death of a wonderful woman and former work colleague with whom I’d reconnected on Twitter in recent months. That made it extra hard to feel any sense of celebration about a new year.

January 1st began at 3am as usual with the now nightly clean up due to the issues affecting one of the members of this household, then the morning started with a beautiful new year smile from my disabled daughter B. It should have been enough to put me in a good mood. But it wasn’t.

This will be a milestone year : my youngest turns 18 in April and I will then be the mother of adults. But no prospect of an empty nest or a chance to live my own life.

Instead my parenting duties seem more intense and overwhelming than ever. I feel so trapped by it all, and crushed by the knowledge that I’m the only one who can engineer an escape plan that ensures a better future for all of us.

Yet I felt bad about feeling bad at the start of a new year that many will not see.

So I did what I have to do most days, and chose an activity to boost my mental and physical energy and endurance to do all that has to be done.

Today’s choice was another parkrun with B, with a more civilised starting time of 11am.

In the afternoon B and I actually stayed in the house: we put together my first playlist since 2015, and I may as well continue my blogging tradition of sharing the songs, though free wordpress won’t let me embed the videos:

We are scientists – after hours

Ash – Annabel

Green Day – good riddance

Bastille – Pompeii

John Newman – love me again

Heathers – November

Oasis – the importance of being idle –

Super furry animals – golden retriever

The stoat – try not to think about it

Carter USM – the only boy

Then we made a non alcoholic tiramisu to use up more of the left over naughty food in the fridge, and after dinner B ‘supervised’ me doing the laundry and putting the bins out followed by one last video before bedtime.

Between her bedtime and 3am I got some free time for Netflix, some sleep time and some worrying time about how much longer I can keep going.

But at least this New Year’s Day I did more than just chores and supermarket shopping trips.

There’s more to life than cleaning showers was what I used to mutter under my breath when the student flat cleaning rota was being given out. And I guess I still feel the same today.

As for 2019? It’s going to be a bumpy rollercoaster ride of a year, but as my new necklace says

Do no harm and take no shit

Words to live by for the months ahead!

How was your New Year’s Day?

 

Baby, it’s dark outside

Velvet black skies, even at 7am. Just the glow from the orange street lights out the front. Not a sound, except the drone of the fridge.

Wide awake for the night shift, sleep did not return, and I gave up before 6 to see in St. Stephen’s Day in the calm of early morning.

Pacing around the house quietly, tidying this and cleaning that. Creating a new normal with all the lovingly given Christmas presents. Finding new homes for them. Squeezed onto shelves, squashed into drawers.

Meantime outside the darkness wraps around the red brick terraces like a new blanket, while the people who live in them sleep off the excesses of Christmas day. It’s giving so many the chance to rest, nest and reflect.

We’ve survived another year as my eldest always says. And we survived Christmas Day too, with the help of my girls and a dear friend. Today we look forward. There’s a week to fill before the manic chaos of normal life returns. Decisions, decisions.

By 8, I am joined by the early birds tweeting, and a lone bin lorry rumbles its way down the street – not ours. Our overflowing bin will have to wait until the weekend..

The first rays of light are spilling over the rooftops. Soon, very soon, my disabled daughter will be the first of the household to wake, and my time will no longer be my own.

And then I hear a giggle from the next room. She’s awake and she’s happy. It’s going to be a good day.

Baby it's dark outside

 

 

No place for disabled people

The handles of her wheelchair were touching the door. The footplate was touching the toilet seat. If she could stretch out her arms, she would easily have touched the walls on either side. This was the disabled toilet in our local accident and emergency department.

My daughter wasn’t even the patient. But I am her sole carer, so if I have to go somewhere outside the hours of her day programme, then she usually has to come too.

I had to seize an opportunity and we left the house in a mad rush, just a few random things thrown into bags and hung off the back of the chair. No time for her to use the toilet, I just had to hope that there would be a usable facility available and that we wouldn’t be waiting too long. I *may* have been a bit too optimistic.

Phone calls were supposed to have been made, and we were promised we would be met on arrival. It didn’t happen. And when I saw how many people were waiting to be seen I understood why. There wasn’t an empty chair to be seen. Luckily my daughter was okay – one advantage of bringing your own seat with you everywhere you go.

Once I realised we were in a queue of indeterminate length, my first priority was getting help, and this is where Facebook is a life saver for me. I did text a couple of people first, but they were not available. And yes it was close friends who responded again, but I felt more comfortable putting out a general plea instead of approaching them directly and perhaps making them feel pressurised.

Being stuck in A&E means very little choice of food and drink, especially if you have a disabled daughter who needs a mashed diet. Again my friends were able to bring something suitable for her, and later a bag of (very good) chips for myself and the patient.

But my friends couldn’t really help with B’s toileting needs. I had to sort that out all on my own. I sat on the toilet seat and changed her while she lay half out of her moulded seat – dangerous and uncomfortable for both of us. I’m still amazed I managed it at all.

Later she was crying due to needing to go again, but I was trapped while the patient was getting attention and there was nothing I could do to help her until I got her home.

Really hospitals are no places for severely disabled people, even though the busy staff were friendly and welcoming and made sure we were seen quickly.

This particular hospital is due to get a new Accident and Emergency Department soon, and I really hope that a changing places toilet with a bench and hoist is part of the plan.

My daughter is very healthy right now, but that could change at any time, and she should have the same right to a suitable toilet as everyone else.

Out of My Comfort Zone

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious and depressed? Perhaps it’s not a problem for you. Perhaps you meditate or exercise or take a bath or just breathe. Me? I tend to curl up on the sofa with Netflix and maybe a glass of wine. But all that does is take my mind off things for a while. The stressful routine of a carers’ life does not work well for someone like me who thrives on variety and new challenges.

And while I can’t easily change my current circumstances, I can make little changes to my daily routine, and this week I managed several big ones!

Smallest first….

I cut my own fringe. I’m always afraid of making a complete mess of it, but no one has noticed so I think it will do until I manage to book an appointment with the hairdresser.

Meeting new people for world mental health day. Always scary. Will I make a complete eejit of myself due to nerves? Will I trip or spill my coffee? In fact I enjoyed myself and it was great to have a brief chat with others who are dealing with crises similar to the one in my own family.

Finally, I went wall climbing at the nearby Awesome Walls with my fabulous running group (on a day off). I must have the climbing gene, as when I was a small girl I climbed trees and rocks with no safety harness and often on my own. Not usually a problem apart from the day I fell into a hollow tree…  And some of my friends will recall that even last summer I seized the opportunity to climb a tree when no one else would. Awesome Walls looked absolutely awesome. And it was. I don’t think it will become another hobby because it’s quite time consuming and lacks variety, but as an occasional treat, bring it on!

Awesome Walls collage October 2018

So those are my three challenging reasons to be cheerful for this week. Check out more at Lakes Single Mum.