‘Making Carers Visible and Valued’ is the theme for this year’s Carers Week  7th – 13th June.

“I can put up my own shelves.”

Mum’s always been fiercely independent. Her home is beautifully tidy, even when she thinks it’s messy. She loves to ‘do the garden’, and she always seems to have a new home improvement project in her sights. Mum never drove again after Dad died. She took on other roles, however, that had always been his. Despite her anxiousness about them, and her dyslexia. Bills, utilities, home admin. She even asked for her own drill for a 60something birthday so she could put up her own shelves. If he was here to tell, Dad wouldn’t believe that she now uses a computer and a smart phone. Her determination and strength of character I’ve always admired. She’s in her 70s now and still talks about going to see ‘her old ladies.’ The older friends she bakes for, or helps to do their hair, or puts the world to rights with. She doesn’t see herself as old at all. She sees herself as someone who ‘cares for,’ not ‘needs care.’

An excess of hedgehogs

When she had her last big fall the day before Mother’s Day I was thankful to be a 5 minute drive away. I zipped round in the car, as I usually do when she’s distressed or in an emergency. Anything from falls, to chest pains at bedtime, fear of water leaks & heating failures, scam phonecalls, pushy salesmen, medication confusion, a poorly doggy, and even an excess of hedgehogs in the garden making the dog bark. All shoot her anxiety levels through the roof. Her balance isn’t what it was. On this occasion she’d fallen badly outside and crawled indoors on her knees to get to the phone. Luckily the only thing she’d broken in her fall was her confidence, but that isn’t healing well. She’s firmly in the category of ‘furniture walker’ now. Holding on to whatever she feels offers stability as she moves around a space.

“Have I overdosed?”

Not being able to visit a doctor during the pandemic, or have people in her house outside of our bubble put extra pressure on me to try to ‘have all the answers.’ Is the skin irritation something to worry about? “Is it ok to have my friend round for a cuppa yet?” “Why am I so tired and forgetful lately?” “When can I do my own shopping again?” “What does this email (or letter) mean?” “Have I overdosed on my medication? I think I’ve accidentally taken double today.” “How do I manage paying for this thing with the other bills coming out?” “Why am I losing my voice when I don’t have a sore throat or bad chest?” Is she using her inhaler properly? “This thing I ordered online is terrible quality, how do I send it back?” “Can you come with me to my outpatients appointment?” “There’s not enough tablets in my prescription to last the month.”

Independence not inability

Mum’s falls are getting more frequent. Referring her for an Occupational Therapy Home Assessment after that last big fall meant having to convince her that walking and bathing aids, someone coming to teach her balance exercises, and applying for a benefit to help pay for care of her feet, or help with the garden, were not about her ‘inability.’ They are very much about her maintaining her independence.

Help, please?

In asking for the OT assessment and someone else’s help to look out for mum, I realised I felt I hadn’t been able to find all the answers myself this time. Her needs were changing and growing, and along with them, the weight of responsibility I felt. It was now more than I could carry on my own. Trying to solve things by myself might be detrimental to her, and that entirely defeated the object. We’re not even at a level yet of her needing help with washing, dressing or feeding. Which is how I’d previously defined ‘care.’ That doesn’t happen overnight, but the road to it starts somewhere. It’s reassuring to know there’s support available for so many steps along the way.

A taste of my own medicine

Just as mum didn’t categorise herself as someone needing care, I didn’t think of myself as a ‘carer.’  I was simply ‘being there’ for someone I care about. Asking for help brought such relief. I realised the advice I was giving mum to accept aid, was something I also needed to listen to myself. So… the process has started for mum’s extra support, and I’m now getting in touch with Suffolk Family Carers for some for myself.

Get involved

Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring. It highlights the challenges unpaid carers face and recognises the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. It also helps people who don’t think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support.
Suffolk Family Carers are asking carers and the community to come together. It is important to recognise carers for the valuable work they do and to ensure they have access to information and support.
If you are a carer, friend & family of a carer or local business find out how you can get involved by going to the Suffolk Family Carers website.