Re-Evaluating My Role in Life
If you’ve read my previous entry on my journey as a carer, you will know that I probably wouldn’t be the first person you’d expect to be taking up the role of a carer. Sure, it was my own mother than I became a carer for. There are clearly deeply personal reasons for doing it. Yet still, it was a difficult adjustment for a young woman who was still very much a child in mind.
You might think that after my father’s death, I would have been forced to grow up. I shirked such responsibility. As mentioned in my previous post, to cope with his passing I began to exist on a diet of unsatisfying, unloving sex and recreational drug and alcohol abuse. These vices permitted me to temporarily escape the hurt that I was feeling inside. Not once did I allow myself to confront the real issue. The fact that my father, the man who raised me, guided me and loved me had gone. I think what truly stabbed at me is that not once can I recall a single time when I told my father I loved him. I needed that fact to be gone from my mind.
As I mentioned, I was on a better path by the time I discovered my mum could no longer cope without help. I still had the feelings of loss, and I still struggled with my depression. However, with a mostly sober head and a job I was feeling better about myself. My mother had helped me through the darkest patch, and there seemed some light at the end of the tunnel.
New Job, New Chance.
I didn’t particularly like my job, but I got on well with my colleagues. Having endured several years of torment at high school, it was nice to no longer be treated like an outcast. I was still far from maturity, however. Some of us would take our opportunities to muck around at work. At weekends, I would hang out with friends. I hadn’t quite ditched the cannabis habit at this point, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get high and waste evenings laughing, munching or just finding snooker to be absolutely fascinating.
My mother had started to show signs that not everything was well with her. I found myself taking over quite a few chores at home. Eventually, I found that I would have to nip home on my lunchbreak to prepare meals and drinks for her. Slowly, I was slotting into the role of a carer, although not realising it.
Once her diagnosis came through, I knew I had to quit my job and start a new one – carer for my mother.
Oh Poor Selfish Me
I would like to say that I took up the reins of this new role, took charge, and never looked back. That would be a fib.
The first thing that became apparent was that money would be tight from now on. After all these years, I cannot remember the specifics but I believe I claimed Carer’s Allowance for the first time shortly after it replaced the original Invalid Care Support Allowance. My original “award” was somewhere in the region of £40 per week, topped up by Income Support to the government-mandated minimum to live on. It’s currently £62.10 per week, and I receive just over £91 per fortnight in Income Support.
I had gone from earning almost £1,000 per month after tax, to this. It was a shock, and one that frustrated me greatly. The selfishness began creeping back in. My friends were going on expensive holidays abroad, buying fancy things, and I was living day-to-day. I had some savings from my previous job, but they soon dried up because I didn’t adjust to my changed income quick enough. It got to the point where through a combination of naivety and stupidity, by the time the money would hit my account at 2:30am on a Saturday morning, I’d already spent it.
Suddenly, I could rarely go out. My weekends were no longer a time to cut-loose and have fun because I couldn’t afford it. It was just me and my mum, and I’ll be honest, at times I again resented her for it.
Learning Who Your Real Friends Are
They do say that times of great difficulty are when you learn who your real friends are. My social circle dwindled rapidly and quickly in the months following my change in circumstances. There are four people I can now class as true friends. One of them, who I shall refer to on this blog as Ellie (not her real name), has been the greatest friend I could ever hope for.
Despite my difficulties in high school, Ellie made everything bearable. She was my friend through the toughest, darkest moments. There were many times, if I’m honest, that I probably didn’t appreciate her friendship as much as I should have. Looking back, I can see everything she did for me.
When I was too unwell to go to school for a long period of time, it was Ellie who came to visit me every weekend. When my father died, it was Ellie and her family who supported my mum and I. There were many times when I pushed Ellie away. I didn’t want her to perceive me as weak or see my vulnerabilities. In truth, I also didn’t want Ellie to know that I was attracted to her. Homosexuality is not something that my wider family have much tolerance for, and I spent many, many years trying to suppress my bisexuality. By order of myself, I was not allowed to have those inclinations. Even knowing Ellie was bisexual wasn’t enough for me to take the risk.
I mentally punished myself for my feelings, towards women, and particularly towards Ellie. But Ellie, thankfully, wasn’t going to let me go as a friend. She saw past my facade of strength and made sure she remained in a position to help me through the difficulties I was facing.
Readjusting to New Circumstances
Ellie helped me start budgeting. She knew I was struggling, so she’d ask questions and whenever I was a little short she’d pop up with some help. Whenever she came around to visit, which was once every three or four weeks, she’d bring food for everyone. I believe it was her way of helping my finances. With her assistance, suddenly the money wasn’t leaving my account quite as quickly and I was able to start putting a little bit aside each week. Ellie would give me goals, reasons to save and even reasons to live. She’d arrange for her mum to look after mine some afternoons so we could go out together and I could get some respite from the everyday.
Because of this I started to grow a little more confident in asking for help, and suggesting things to mum. After a year or two, I suggested that mum spend a week with her sister so that Ellie and I could go on a cheap holiday to Europe. Up until the point that my mum’s sister passed away, this became an annual thing.
With Ellie’s help I became a semi-functional human-being. The resentment I felt towards my mother started to fade, and in fact, this is where my appreciation began growing for my mother and father. Doing the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking etc. made me realise just how much effort my parents had put into raising me. I found myself appreciating all the times my parents had told me off for doing something stupid, because now I was doing that. When I caught my silly mother trying to get on a step-ladder, I barked at her the way she had at me when she caught me throwing darts, blindfolded in the garage when I was ten.
Romance as a Carer; My Selfish Nature Rears It’s Head Again
Eventually Ellie met somebody and began pursuing a relationship with them. I was seething with jealousy, but I couldn’t let her or anyone else see that. During one of our nights out, I met a guy myself and started a relationship. He was a really sweet guy who understood my situation as a carer. It didn’t matter a whole lot, because he worked away a lot of the time. We rarely saw each other, and I’ll be honest, it was again another example of my selfish nature.
Having a boyfriend not only meant that I clearly wasn’t gay, but it also meant I wasn’t alone. I, of course, imagined that Ellie and her new love would get married and live happily ever after in a Kath-free world. I may have been presumptive on that one. Ellie would still visit, with the same degree of regularity. She would still take an interest, and she still refused to abandon me.
When the situation changed and my boyfriend would no longer be away as often, that relationship broke down. I can only thank him for his understanding. He accepted that it wouldn’t really work out, and even though I didn’t deserve it, he agreed to remain friends. He’s now engaged to a wonderful woman, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
As for me, well over the past few years, I started to accept who and what I am. Thanks to another friend, I was able to slowly open up, dropping hints that I’m a “bit gay”. Such little steps towards personal acceptance freed me from the self-imposed shackles. Finally, at the end of last year, and much like a teenage girl, I had a few drinks for courage and propositioned the now-single Ellie. We’re now a couple.
To Be Continued
I’ll add another post in this series soon. I appreciate this one has been less about the caring aspect of my life, and more about my personal development. However, I feel that the two go hand-in-hand. I believe that as a happier, more adjusted person, my ability to look after and care for my mother has improved.
I don’t claim to be the greatest carer ever, and I’m learning new things about both caring, and myself, all the time. But I would like to share my experiences. I do still get some stress from caring, and things do still get on top of me. It is my hope that other carers in similar positions find some solace in the fact that they’re not alone.