You’re Entitled to Help While Caring
If you’re caring in the United Kingdom, under the Care Act (2014), you are legally entitled to support. Your local authority is required to provide you with a Carer’s Assessment. The Carer’s Assessment can be conducted in the home or over the phone. Sometimes they can be conducted online or through the mail. There is no requirement for the person you care for to be present. The assessment may identify you as requiring replacement or respite care.
Replacement care is care designed to cover your usual duties while you attend to other matters. You may need replacement care in order to go shopping, attend a doctor’s appointment, catch up on sleep etc.
Respite care is where the person you care for takes up temporary residence in a care home. Such care is usually offered when it is deemed the carer requires a break or holiday.
Sometimes, It’s Not That Easy
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible for every carer to take a break. There are limited funds available to support replacement or respite care.
In some cases, like mine, taking a break might make things more difficult for the person you’re caring for. My mum isn’t a selfish person. She is, however, a proud person and a tad stubborn. It would be awful for her to think that I found caring for her difficult. I could even imagine that she would feel like too much of a burden if I asked to put her in a home while I took a break.
I know this might make her sound bad. She’s really not though. I love my mum. Growing up, I spent a long, long time coming to terms with my bisexuality. I hid it from her and almost everyone else for years. When I ended up in a relationship with a girl I wanted to be with, and plucked up the courage to tell her, my mum supported me. My mum supports me with a lot of things and she tries to make things easier for me where she can. For example, she heads to bed early on a Saturday night and watches TV with headphones on so I can spend some alone time with my girlfriend.
And the truth is, I know that if I asked her, she would go into a home for a week and let me do whatever. But I cannot have her feeling like a burden to me. And the truth is, I can’t afford a break anyway. Between the costs of plumbers, electricians and replacement microwaves (thanks, Samsung!), it would take me a year to save up for a decent break!
Looking After Yourself
Even if you can get respite or replacement care, there will still be times when the pressures of caring start to overwhelm you. The first thing to acknowledge and accept is that this does not make you a bad person. Carers have this knack, myself included, of hating themselves for their own human nature. Just remember, your humanity is why you’re a carer. Try not to mentally punish yourself for feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities. It’s completely natural.
However, I’m no use to my mum if I’m a stressed out, angry mess. For as long as I can remember, depression has blighted my life. In the header text of this site, or on my Twitter profile, you may notice I call myself a “Depression Survivor”. I call myself this because I haven’t let that illness beat me yet, and I’m determined not to.
So I do need my breaks. I need my “me time”. Yet when you’re looking after a housebound woman, it might not seem all that easy. However, over the years, I’ve learned a few things that can help lighten the mental load.
Like all my posts on the subject of caring, this is not intended to be universal advice. These are my personal strategies for coping with the caring load. They’re based on my experiences of caring, and I’m aware that some, many or even all would not work for every carer.
Lose Yourself In Imagination
I firmly believe that everybody has a creative streak. Unfortunately, I also believe most of us have that beaten out of us at school (because STEM, dammit!). I’ll save the bulk of that rant for another time.
If you’ve visited this site before (yay! thanks for coming back!), you’ll probably have noticed that I like to write. I don’t profess to being a great writer, and certainly I don’t have literary agents bombarding my inbox with offers. Yet, that doesn’t really matter. Writing gives me an escape. I can imagine myself to a different place, a different time, a different body etc. Creating something in my head gives me an escape from the day-to-day, and writing it down gives me an outlet for what’s inside me. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s light, but it’s all a way of self-expression.
Those who battle depression know that the hardest thing is feeling that there’s nobody to listen. Carers might often feel the same way. We have to be the strong ones. Our bodies must be bulletproof and our minds unshakeable. Ironically, I feel like the burden when I’m crying out to be heard. So I create people to speak and listen for me. My “Embrace It” screenplay is a deeply personal semi-fictional reflection of my own fears.
A Break From Being Yourself
On a similar note to writing, I find that becoming someone else can be a welcome break. Video games have been my saviour over the years. My elven alter-egos have slain dragons in World of Warcraft, Skyrim and Dragon Age. I’ve saved the galaxy (at least three times) in Mass Effect. I’ve designed cities from the ground up! Heck, I’ve even broken more than a few laws and stolen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold in GTAV!
Yes, I know, games are childish and nerdy – but then so am I! Video games, though, provide you with a chance to be someone else for a bit. An hour or two, here and there, in the body and mind of somebody else is like a small holiday. And I think what really helps is actually experiencing emotion. I was devastated when certain characters died in Mass Effect, just as I was exhilarated when my WoW-guild downed the final boss in Karazhan to clear our first raid.
Online games, like WoW, also have a social element. My current guild, Dark Wolves, is full of wonderful people. I’ve become firm friends with several people I’ve met through WoW. When your chances to get out are limited, then meeting people with similar interests, even in an online game, can be a massive boon for your social life!
Caring doesn’t mean we can’t look to better ourselves. I’ve studied many modules with the Open University. I recently scored myself a distinction on A363 Advanced Creative Writing (not to brag, or anything!). On my most recent course, I’ll admit, I wasn’t the most social person but on previous courses I’ve been able to meet a few new people. If I could shuffle on down to the tutorials I could probably meet more people. Yet, this isn’t just about meeting people. It’s about achieving and feeling the warm glow of accomplishment. I punched the air and yelled out a “f— yeah!” loud enough to get admonished by my mum upon seeing “Distinction” written on my Student Profile.
It can be tough to put in the requisite sixteen hours per week, and I’ve given up on doing modules that have an exam at the end of them. Of course, with the new tuition fee rules, it can be daunting to take on so much debt although I thoroughly recommend reading Martin Lewis’ thoughts on student loans before you dismiss the idea.
To Be Continued
I didn’t expect to write as much about coping with caring as I have, so I’ll sign off here. In the future, I’ll add another post about other coping strategies I’ve developed. In the meantime, I hope that something I’ve said resonates, supports or inspires somebody. Remember, you have every right to pursue happiness as a carer. And you’re also a wonderful person for doing it.