I’m a carer. An unpaid mental health carer. And an active 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 very easy for us – unpaid carers – to become apologetic and lose self-confidence when we tell someone new that we’re an unpaid mental health carer. Because people tend to respond to the news in one of four ways (all unhelpful):
• 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? Perhaps they’re frightened? Best leave this alone because I’m digging myself a wee hole.
• People start saying strange things to me like: “You’ll get your reward in heaven.” Framing me as if I’m some sort of sad soul totting-up the points to my miraculous assent to heaven. Is this a tiny bit patronising or is it just me (being “sensitive”)?
• People start interrogating me, questioning my judgement: “Why didn’t you . . . . . Why don’t you” Framed in a way that they have the answers to my “problem”. Problem is I don’t see how I choose to live my life as a problem it’s how I’ve chosen to be because it’s important to me to be that way (to care).
• People presume you don’t work and time is not important to you. Untrue. My experiences as a carer have blended into my professional life so that everyone gains from the “journey” I happen to have been on with others.
So what can you do to help me and other carers?
If you care about us, please ask the 3 hows:
• How is . . . . . . [the person you’re caring for]? I love it when people ask me this question because it tells me that they understand a bit about my life and what’s important to me; and that they care about me and the person who I care for.
• How are you? 50% of carers will become unwell because of their caring role. So the more you can remind us to take care and look after ourselves the better.
• How can I help? Little acts of kindness go a long, long way; and can turn a tough day into a better, brighter one.
We’re all in this together. It’s just that some of us – at some point on the dial – have chosen to step into the world of the unwell to help someone out a bit; and they’re helping us in some way that we might not even understand yet.