Being a carer has a unique set of challenges that most people don’t have to allow for. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) concluded in 2015 that there are 2.7 million people in Australia who are classified as an unpaid carer; almost 12% of the population.
From the outside, being a carer seems close to the role of a parent or the manager of a company. It’s not and it is. It’s an odd combination of both and much more. You are responsible for an entirely separate human being and unlike parenthood, it’s unlikely that your charge is going to grow, change and eventually move out and become completely independent.
This is a role that most of us didn’t chose, a role we are often thrust into. These are people we care about and love that need our help, so we step up and take on their care.
There are support services like, Carers Gateway which can provide crucial information to carers or at least point them in the direction of organisations that can. This wonderful organisation understands that many people who have similar responsibilities to what I, myself do, don’t even identify themselves as carers. I, for one was just “helping” my grandmother for about a year before the magnitude of the commitment I had made fully sunk in.
If you care for someone and it is not your profession then you are classified as an unpaid carer. Government assistance like Carers Payment or Carers Allowance have no effect on this title. No wonder there are millions of us in Australia alone!
Caring is labour intensive, and often-times gruelling and mentally depleting. As carers we are sometimes “forced” to become skilled in areas we wouldn’t normally be. There are a lot of strengths that go into playing our roles effectively. Individuals who care for others in this way, are respectful, empathetic, patient, observant and practical. We are understanding and have the sensitivity and strength of trained nursing or psychological professionals.
We have these skills and more but tend to ignore them when it comes time to focus on anyone but our special person, including ourselves. Something I’ve learnt over time is that for fantastically talented people, we are terrible at taking care of ourselves. It’s time we realised that a part of being a good carer is ensuring your body and mind both have the energy to continue tending to others. Practically speaking if you aren’t in a good mood, feel ill or just have no energy, the person you care for is going to feel that too.
The respect, empathy and patience we show our loves, we need to extend to ourselves. Cut yourself some slack; you’re allowed to be tired, sore or frustrated. These are natural feelings for humans, what isn’t natural is ignoring them or pushing them to one side. Use your fantastic observation skills to understand the source and use that fantastic ability you have for creative problem solving to ease your pains.
There are many resources to help, including the ones I’ve listed but there are also carer’s forums such as this one on SANE which helps those who care for people with mental health issues. You can contribute on these forums or even just read through them, they give you a sense of comradery and mutual experience.
You can access information on caring for our own mental health on websites like Beyond Blue, which also has sections on support and forums for caring for others. These are only some examples, there is help for almost anybody in any situation.
I am part of a group on Facebook for within Australia. This group is amazing for two very important reasons. The first is you begin to truly understand the amount and significance of carers in our society in Australia. And the second is this group of forthright and experienced human beings never brings anything but love and support to the page.
There is an understanding that what is said won’t be judged or divulged and more importantly the group always seems to understand whatever you are going through.
After a few breakdowns and challenges throughout my caring years I cannot stress enough how important you are, yes as a carer, but mostly as a regular old human being.
You are your own person. You are physically separate from the person you care for; you are also mentally, and psychologically separate. There is nothing wrong with seeing this position as a job rather than a lifestyle (albeit one with minimal breaks, long hours, extra worries and everyday hassles).
Like myself, many carers live with their special people, and they need maximum or round the clock care. Unlike people in the workforce we aren’t entitled to strictly timed breaks or hours, but we ARE entitled to self-imposed breaks and a plethora of support.
So, don’t make feeble excuses. Don’t think you aren’t worth it. Don’t try to convince yourself there are more important things to do.
You are important. Don’t forget that.