Megan is the eldest of four siblings, and she grew up supporting her mum to care for her whole family. Megan provides emotional support for her dad, who developed a mental health condition when she was young, and cares for her autistic brother and two non-disabled siblings. Megan says she ‘filled in the gaps’ for her mum, who worked full time when Megan was younger.
Megan made breakfasts, did the school run, taking her siblings to different schools from her own. After school, she took over childcare from her dad, preparing dinner and getting the younger children in bed if her mum was late, before starting her own homework.
It took Megan many years to realise that she was a carer, but looking back, she was only six years old when she started to support her mum. Megan found it hard watching her mum struggle, so she stepped in. She got up early to prepare packed lunches, pick up her sisters from nursery, changed nappies, and watched her brother to make sure he was safe.
Megan’s life was different to that of her peers, as she couldn’t join in all the social activities and having friends round was tricky. She says she kept her caring role very private, coping by keeping a separation between home and school life, but with hindsight, Megan now thinks it would have better if her school had known. Megan would stay up late after the younger ones were in bed to study for her GCSEs and A-Levels, so having more flexibility with handing in homework would have been helpful.
Megan’s mum encouraged her to study art and design at university. Leaving her family for her degree made her feel very guilty, especially as more of the care burden fell on her mum and sister, but Megan is grateful her mum supported her to go away to study. Megan got the time she needed to enable her to find out who she is without her family, and Megan now knows there are more parts to her identity than simply caring.
Megan credits her three-year stint at university to enable her to have the space to reflect on her experience growing up as a young carer, and she understands more about her dad’s condition. Now, after the end of her third year and graduating, Megan has come to realise how her caring role shaped her, but that it doesn’t define her.
Megan moved back home for a while during the first lockdown from a flat she shared with her housemates near university. During this time, Megan cared for her mum, who became ill during the pandemic, her dad, her brother, her two youngest siblings and her nan, whilst studying to finish her second year. Megan’s nan broke her leg during the pandemic and had to move into Megan’s family home. Getting medical information about how to care for her nan was stressful as there were no home visits from district nurses to help her get care, equipment, or advice on how to provide care to someone who is bedridden.
Despite the challenges, Megan acknowledges what caring for others has given her. “I love my family to bits, and I wouldn’t change them. They have taught me so much. I’m able to accept people for who they are, as you never know what’s going on under the surface. I’ve been on the receiving end of people judging myself and my brother, if he’s having a meltdown in public, there’s a reason for it, but they don’t know that. Caring has given me a strong work ethic, resilience, and the ability to cope with unexpected circumstances.”
Megan’s course has given her the confidence to make work that matters, and the ability to share peoples’ voices creatively. Her caring experience means she has empathy to understand others, and she has used this to create art projects that communicate real stories that resonate. Megan created an animation based on her own experience of caring, which she shared with Carers Trust.
Megan is excited about the future. She continues; “Looking forward, I hope to give back through volunteering. In the short term, I’m going to move back in with my family to help out for a little while before moving back to where I studied to look for work. To other young carers, I’d say you’re doing an amazing job -if you feel frustrated or angry, it’s totally normal as caring can be emotionally draining, you need to make sure you save some time to look after yourself, after all, we are all only human and can only do our best. I hope to continue to make a difference in any small way I can and have a positive impact on those around me."