Lisa is 49 years old and cares for her mum.
Weathering the storm
My name is Lisa and I am a 49-year-old full-time unpaid carer, living in the beautiful Isle of Anglesey. I am married and I am the youngest of ten children. I care for my 90-year-old Mum who moved some 300 miles, to be with us 9 years ago. Since she moved here, she has suffered with her second breast cancer and High-Grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma - the latter was diagnosed with a life expectancy of 6 months, some 4 years ago. She is now completely immobile, following a hospital stay and the increasing frailty that comes with age and illness. By the way, she is amazing and still cheerful and mentally sharp!
It’s a strange experience caring for a parent. I feel blessed in so many ways and at the same time under strain. I am lucky to have my Mum still with me and yet, 9 out of 11 years of my married life have been almost entirely given over to her care. I was able to give my Mum a home when she was starting to lose her ability to lead an independent life. My husband has been a major factor in this - he was able to build the annexe where my Mum now lives (a few yards away). He enables me to care for her financially, despite the derisory Carer’s Allowance. He also helps to support my Mum’s day to day care needs and props me up at the end of a tough day. We have three carer visits a day which my Mum pays for via Social Services. My Mum also privately pays a carer to come in during the week to give me respite. I was only offered three hours a week respite within her normal care package and if any of you out there live in a rural area, you will know that three hours is not particularly useful (my nearest supermarket is 12 very slow miles away). Despite still being under Palliative Care, Mum is not considered to be poorly enough to qualify for Continuing Healthcare and funds all her care needs from her State Pension, Attendance Allowance and her life savings.
I am a very lucky person to be supported in a way that I am. There are many carers living in financial dire straits and because of my husband supporting me from his own retirement pension, I can keep my head above water. I have given up my independence, my job, my pension and all the associated benefits (including the social aspect of work). A social life has to be squeezed in, as I either don’t have the respite care available or I am just plain tired! The dichotomy for carers is that your eventual ‘freedom’ comes at a price. In every case, your loved one either passes away or, they go into residential care. Neither option is attractive and you feel guilty for dreaming of those ‘carefree’ days. Nevertheless, as one of my sisters put it ‘your life is on hold’. There is no doubt that this is a 24-7 occupation and when you are not physically there, you certainly are there mentally. My dear Mum has a wireless doorbell to call for help and I hear it in my head when it is not ringing, like some form of audible torture.
My mental health situation is probably fairly typical. I take anti-depressants, have a tightly clenched jaw and I whilst not addicted, alcohol can make a handy emotional crutch after a hard day. The job is physically hard and is becoming more difficult by the day. Health advisors tell you to lose weight, give up all drinking and exercise more but I often think there should be special advice for carers which is more, shall we say, realistic! Despite this, I am an optimist and actually a cheerful person (a ‘Smiling Depressive’ is an actual thing, in case you didn’t know).
If you a carer reading this, you are a very special person. Not everyone can do this job, so you should be proud of yourself every single day. Thank you for reading and for my Welsh friends , diolch yn fawr iawn.