Being a mental health carer

For the past six and half years I’ve been a carer for a family member who has serious mental illnesses. And this is the first time I’ve blogged about it. There are lots of reasons why I’ve never written about it before. It seems unfair to write about my tough times when her’s are so much worse. I never knew how to separate what she was going through from my experience, and it doesn’t seem fair to tell her story, that’s for her to do. But over the past few weeks I’ve become more aware of my feelings about my experiences, and since it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d try to put some of those thoughts in writing.

Being a carer is isolating. I’ve never met or even talked to anyone else who cares for someone with mental illness, and I’ve never been able to talk about my experiences. I wonder about how other carers cope, what they have to go through, whether I could ever help them.

Being a carer is inspiring. I’ve seen someone who has experienced the most devastating of life events and the effects of a life-defining, self-destructive, crippling illness and yet never give up. With every victory over a fear she shows me what being brave really means, and with every step she takes towards a better life she shows me what being strong really looks like.

Being a carer is physically and emotionally draining. Nights without sleep, days without eating, hours of holding her in restraints, even more hours of standing between her and the negative consequences of her actions, dealing with police, ambulance, doctors. No breaks, no days off, no holidays. All of it takes its toll. I feel it in the ache of my back and in the heavy slowness of my thoughts.

Being a carer is defining. It made me question the kind of person I want to be and helped me figure out what is truly important to me. When I hear people talk about TV programmes they’ve watched I’m glad I don’t have time for such mundanities. When I see people getting worked up about stuff that doesn’t even affect them I’m glad my stresses are the result of having a positive impact on someone else’s life.

Being a carer comes with lots of responsibilities. Last week was a tough week. Looking back on it I can see how one decision in particular that I made turned out ok. If I had made a different decision the repercussions would have been life threatening. That’s a huge burden to bear, and one that I bear alone because of the isolation.

Being a carer is an adventure. There are so many things I’ve done, places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had (good and bad) that I would never have had if I wasn’t a carer. I’ve never been one to settle for an ordinary life but being a carer took that to an entirely new level.

Being a carer is unappreciated. I never expected any gratitude for being a carer, but I also never expected the negativity, criticism and suspicion about my motives. I guess that’s just people being people and it doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it perplexes me.

Being a carer is awesome. Although no one will ever see the work I’ve done or know the things I’ve achieved, I feel like her life is my masterpiece. That probably sounds weird, and I struggle to find the words to communicate what I mean, but when I look back over the last six and a half years I know there is nothing I would have rather done with my life.

There have been lots of tough times, more tough times than easy, and I’m sure more to come. I get through the tough times by being tougher, because it’s the only way I know how. I feel lucky to have been prepared for all of this by my own life experiences, training from jobs I’ve had, and a stoic personality that doesn’t like to quit. Is my approach healthy? Probably not, but I feel a certain amount of self-sacrifice is called for in order to achieve something more important. I feel privileged to affect a life so profoundly.