In response to National Carers Week I wanted to write a post in support of the movement. Being a carer is not something which is talked about very often so I think this is the perfect time to raise awareness and to offer advise to people who otherwise may not be able to find it!
To offer some background, my brother is severely disabled and it has been really hard for everyone in my family, so I felt that the best way to present this post was using our own personal experiences. I will speak about what it has been like for me when caring for my brother, offering some tips and advice for young carers and some common questions carers may have which have been answered by my amazing mum! (see Q&A)
I have been preparing for this post for a while now and it’s a little different from my others! This is a topic which is very close to my heart and I hope by opening up me and my family can support others.
What does it mean to be a carer? 💙
Rather than pasting the Oxford Dictionary definition of what a carer is, I thought I’d answer this question in my own words in the hope that it is more relatable.
Personally, I think a carer is someone who invests their own time into making somebody else’s life better and easier for them to live. Caring requires a lot of effort and energy and it can make you tired, achy and sometimes even unwell.
Nevertheless, caring for someone isn’t all bad! It is a refreshing and rewarding feeling when you see an improvement in the cared for persons wellbeing. This could be something so small like a smile, or a huge milestone such as the person starting to communicate with you. No matter what the action, seeing the person you are caring for happy and well is a huge reward.
Common misconceptions 💙
A lot of people forget that just about anyone can be a carer regardless of your age, gender or race! This means that unfortunately there isn’t much support out there for young carers and lone carers who aren’t fortunate enough to have support from family and friends.
The wellbeing of the carer is also often forgotten about, especially those who have to care for someone all by themselves. The government have massively cut carers allowance and support for carers over the past few years and I have seen the impact of this first hand. Depending on the required commitment, you may not be able to work full time or even part time due to the cared for persons needs. You can see how these kinds of cuts then impact the carers life.
A lot of people also forget that cared for people aren’t always elderly or ill. There are many conditions which a person may have which require care from somebody else, including learning difficulties, motor disorders and mental health conditions. This is really important to remember because it is often assumed that unless you are pushing a wheelchair, you are not a carer, or your job is not as difficult as someone who does have to push a wheelchair.
Every persons situation is different, and depending on personality type, emotional responses and many other factors, carers will deal with things in different ways. Just try to be sensitive and supportive as often as you can.
Things I struggled with as a young carer / Advice for carers 💙
For me the hardest thing about being a young carer was coming to terms with the fact that my brother was ‘different’, and from a young age I didn’t quite understand why he couldn’t speak and didn’t like playing games. Now, at 20 years old I still struggle with the fact that we can’t have conversations and talk about each others days.
Even though it’s hard, try to educate yourself as much as you can about what your cared for person might be going through to help you to understand some of their thoughts or behaviours, especially if they can’t communicate it to you themselves. This way you will be able to relate to them more, and your relationship will grow stronger. There is a lot of information online and you could also seek support from groups and services in your local area with people who are having similar experiences to you, or have a lot of knowledge that may be able to help.
Another thing I struggled with when I was young was understanding why our family activities were shaped around what my brother wanted to do. I couldn’t comprehend why, if my brother was upset or uncomfortable, we would have to go home, or we would have to go to places that I didn’t really want to go to.
Now that I’ve grown up, I understand his needs a lot more, and try to enjoy any situation that he does. Find out what your cared for person enjoys doing most and try to enjoy doing it too. This could be walking them to the beach, or going swimming for example. Even if it wouldn’t be your first activity of choice, you will find enjoyment in it just from seeing that person happy and spending time together.
I also found (and still find it) difficult to communicate with my brother to find out what he needs. It can be hard when he’s distressed to try and figure out the best way to help him.
I would recommend finding a way to communicate with your cared for person which works for both of. Spend time with them trying to understand their needs, and if they can’t communicate them to you then look out for signals or behaviours which could indicate what they would like. For example, they may point to something if they would like you to give it to them, or sit in a particular place which is near to something they would like to interact with. Just look out for small clues which can help you, everyone is different!
💙 What do you enjoy most about being a carer?
‘ Being a carer is very rewarding seeing the person you care for happy and confident.’
💙 What is the most difficult thing about being a carer?
‘When you have not always got the support around you that you know the person you care for needs, for example they may need extra help out in the community if you are on your own this can sometimes be very difficult.’
💙 What have you found most supportive for you as a carer? (e.g. family, friends, charities?)
‘Family have been very supportive with helping look after the cared for person, sometimes giving me a break (which is very important). Friends just being there for you and you know you can just pick up the phone and speak with them. Charities and support group are also very beneficial and make you feel that you are not alone. One of the support groups organises social evenings, this can be a pamper evening, afternoon tea etc. which is a very welcome break!’
💙 If you could offer one piece of advice to other carers, what would it be?
‘Try and seek support from other people. This may be a charity or support group of like minded people you may not need to speak to them all the time but at least you know they are there and willing to help.’
💙 Describe being a carer in 3 words.
‘Fun, rewarding, challenging’
I hope that people can relate to this post and that I have been able to help some carers with things that can be a struggle.
Feel free to reach out to me through my contact page if you have any questions or would like any advice. I have a fountain of knowledge and advice, and I would love to offer it to anyone who needs support,