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What being a carer means to me

Reflections during Carers Week from Drew Edwards, Marketing and Communications Manager at Certitude

When does caring and support for your family end and being their carer begin?

It’s not an easy question to answer, especially if like the 5 million unpaid carers in the UK, you’re doing it alongside work. For a long time, I didn’t really understand that I was a carer.

You can’t flick a switch between the time you spend as a mother, spouse or daughter to the time you spend as a carer. It’s blended. For me being a carer to my adult son and my partner over the last few years has been about flexibility and patience. I thought we had it under control.

However, lockdown brought everything into sharp focus. Our coping strategies, which had been patiently constructed over many years, were removed. Mental and physical health suffered. Now that we’re out of lockdown, the care and support I provide is about building back the confidence that supports an independent life. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a skill that I need to practice. Frequently.

Yesterday I spent 40 mins on hold waiting to speak to somebody about a piece of assessment paperwork for my partner. I put the phone call on loudspeaker and continue my work. I’m lucky I have this flexibility in my job. When the call is answered I don’t mention the wait. Previous experiences have set my expectations, often on hold for 1hr and in rare cases 1hr 30.

Instead, I make a mental note that at least the jangly hold music isn’t played anymore, they must have updated their system. I spend 10 mins going through security checks to ask a 5 min question about the evidence we need to send in. Armed with the answer I say thank you and return to my work. I don’t question the process anymore. It doesn’t help. My partner is pacing with anxiety and stress in another room, just knowing that the call is taking place and that he has a 24-page document he won’t be able to fill in. Paperwork is his nemesis.

For me caring is learning to be the calm one when you see the people you love in anguish and pain. Being the patient one who can support them to navigate endless official questions and form filling. The researcher who can help them find answers to the stressful questions and thoughts that keep them awake at night or stop them from remembering to eat or wash. The travel planner who will help them rehearse their new route to school, work, hospital, or home.

Rather than a carer, I see myself more as a juggler. However, it can be very isolating and so, during lockdown I joined an online carers network. It helps keep things in perspective. Now lockdown is over, I’m able to go back to the other things that help me unwind – swimming, a bath, a walk, or a coffee with friends. In time I hope that the support I give will help my family members regain the confidence and independence they felt before the pandemic so they too can return to the things that give them joy in life.

This week is national carers week. More information about the support that is available for carers can be found here