Rebekah shares her impactful story with us of her experiences looking after a parent and her siblings. Thank you for sharing your story Rebekah.
I cared primarily for my parent who has lifelong severe mental health issues which have led to alcoholism and suicide threats. When I was 21, they were diagnosed with a large cyst in their head which caused seizures, memory loss and processing issues.
During this time, they were frequently taken into A&E in ambulances. On more than one of those occasions, my parent looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are.”
I remember feeling like the floor had fallen out from under me when that happened, but I had no choice but to square my shoulders and continue explaining to the doctor what was going on.
I also cared for my younger siblings. My youngest sibling was born just before things got worse, so I looked after them for most of the formative years of their life. This meant everything from changing nappies, to putting them to bed, to walking them to school, which irreversibly changed our relationship dynamic. If you have a child yourself, imagine having to hand them back to someone else and taking on a secondary role in their life. That’s what I am currently struggling with.
I was identified as a Young Adult Carer aged 25, but it’s hard to specify how long I was one as mental health is difficult to define.
It took several years of health professionals repeatedly telling me that I was a carer before I really accepted it.
I think this is because when you’re caring for someone in your own family, it feels like something you should be doing - like it’s your duty as their family member - and you feel very guilty if you’re ever angry or resentful about it.
An aspect of caring that is difficult to explain is the absolute lack of time. My parent’s health can be unpredictable, so it was difficult to know when and how much caring I would have to do. Every second of my day had to count. I had to balance my caring role with working full time and studying for a degree. I used to study early in the morning before work, through my lunch breaks and late into the night. I wrote more than one assignment on the floor in A&E and several others while putting siblings and an unwell parent to bed.
There’s only so much you can juggle at a time, and when the person you’re caring for needs help, you’ll always drop your own things - no matter how important they are to you. I constantly prioritised my caring role over my degree and as a result had to defer more than once which had a serious effect on my career progression.
My degree was not the only part of my life that suffered. I found it difficult to maintain any friendships because when my colleagues met after work, I had to hurry home to deal with my parent’s current health crisis and collect my sibling from school. If I did manage to go out, then I felt guilty. I felt trapped and often wished I could just run away. I did and still do find it difficult to connect with others that have not had to shoulder the same sort of responsibility that I have. I was very lonely for a number of years.
The constant stress and overworking have caused me many mental health issues including panic attacks, depression, anxiety and difficulty eating. I have found myself pulling my own hair and pinching and scratching myself to deal with the overflow of emotions that caring still causes.
Carer Support Wiltshire was able to help me access counselling, which has had a huge impact in helping me address the mental health issues that have come from being a carer for so long. It’s also helped me start to find out who I am outside my caring role.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from counselling is that I need to look after myself too!
If you are looking after someone and need support, register with us (Carer Support Wiltshire) here.
You are not alone.