My name is Ben and I have been a carer for around 17 years. It’s hard to know exactly how long because nobody fires a starting pistol. All that happens is after a while you realise that what you’ve been doing is caring. My wife has a progressive physical health condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, as well as bring partially sighted and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Because my wife is at home permanently to keep herself safe I am doing all the shopping. I don’t mind that at all, but I am trying to take the guidance to keep 2 metres away from people very seriously so that I can keep my wife safe. The trouble is that some people in supermarkets are considerate and appreciative and some people are not.
Where I live the shops have introduced 1 in 1 out polices, one way systems and put tape all over the floor to indicate how far 2 metres is. I spent two or three weeks doing shopping 2-3 times a week cursing people under my breath as they got way too close or made safe navigation impossible by walking whichever way they felt like. To some people the two metre social distancing rule may seem insignificant, but just because they feel comfortable putting themselves at risk of catching the virus, doesn’t mean they have the right to risk spreading the virus to others. Especially those who are caring for vulnerable members of society for whom catching the virus could be fatal. Impatient means inpatient. I just thought of that slogan and I'm trialling it here. Let me know what you think.
My wife told me I should start challenging people who are not sticking to the social distancing rules. The next day I made one guy go back in the other direction and another guy wait until I was able to move forwards. It went ok, they both gave way, but I found this brief encounter so stressful that I really wanted to finish my shopping and have a stiff drink. It did get easier initially, as I adjusted to the idea that some people would make a face but give in, and some people would either thank me for pointing it out or actually apologise.
Unfortunately I have also faced instances where people have refused to stick to the rules when I’ve challenged them and my anxiety of confronting people dramatically rose all over again. I found myself too nervous to even ask people to move for a couple of days and watched anxiously as people seemed to be socially distancing less and less. Until we’re really sure this virus is behind us, can we please give everyone some room? It may mean a slower shop or a longer wait for you. But it means the world to those of use who are protecting our loved ones.
Carers often say that their caring role has a significant impact on their mental health. I for one am still learning what a mentally healthy me really looks like, but I think it’s fair to say that being a carer does affect my mental wellbeing. Being emotionally invested in the wellbeing of another person can be stressful and at times frightening. I hate to see my wife in pain or unwell and on a couple of occasions when we have needed an ambulance it has really frightened me.
My advice for other carers would be to never compare yourself to the person(s) you care for. Their pain and suffering may be or may seem greater than yours but that shouldn't devalue yours. If you're tired or stressed or sick that still counts, and sharing that with those you care for may offer them the chance for a sense of connection, autonomy and capacity to return what you have given them.
I would also recommend getting some respite if you can. I have connected with my local carers group Care for the Carers, who have been excellent. The difficulty with respite is that what I would take a break from most readily if I could would be worrying. I don't know how anyone can take that away really, but to get some time for yourself to do your own thing without thinking first of the person you care for. To put yourself completely first for a short time can mean a great deal.