I’m a carer. An unpaid mental health carer. And a mental health carer campaigner. It’s not all of me, but it’s a very important part of how I’ve chosen to be. I’m proud that I care.
It’s easy to become apologetic and lose self-confidence when you tell someone new that you’re an unpaid mental health carer. Because people tend to respond to the news in one of four ways:
• People switch off. Distance themselves from you. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe my face becomes a mirror reflecting big stuff they’d prefer to sweep under the carpet? Things like ill-health, lack of control? I don’t know, perhaps they’re frightened? A hopeless emotion that doesn’t help any of us. Best leave that because I’m digging myself a hole.
• People start saying strange things to me like: “You’re get your reward in heaven.” Framing me as if I’m some sort of card totting up the points to heaven. This is a wee bit patronising.
• People start interrogating me and questioning my judgement: “Why didn’t you . . . . .”
• People presume you don’t work and time is not important to you which simply isn’t true in my case where my experiences have blended into my professional life.
So what can you do to help? Please ask:
• How is . . . ? This is a really powerful question because someone is connecting with you about something that’s really important to you (the person you care for).
• How are you? 50% of carers will become ill because of their caring role. So the more you can remind us to self-care the better.
• How can I help? Kindness goes a long, long way; and can turn a tough day into a brighter one.
We’re all in this together: living, loving, being. It’s just that some of us – at a point on the dial – have chosen to step into the world of the unwell to help someone out a bit.