“So much of my life as a carer was about being alone. Working for Carers has helped me get the old Jaycee back.”
Jaycee is an unpaid family carer from Wandsworth. In this interview she remembers how the tears came streaming down her face when she finally got the support she needed to help her back on the path into work and personal fulfilment.
Jaycee’s energy and zest for life are obvious from the moment you meet her. So it’s impossible to imagine her as the same person she’s thinking back to as she relates how she became an unpaid carer.
It all began in 2014 when Jaycee’s mother, Aldith, was rushed into hospital after doctors discovered she had a crushed vertebrae.
In her mid-80s at the time, Aldith had to stay in hospital for the next six months, including three months on an intensive rehab ward. When she moved back home, it soon became clear to Jaycee that her life would never be the same again.
Until then, Jaycee had worked as a custody nurse in the Metropolitan Police Service. Her job was to care for people detained at the police station, before they were interviewed and either charged or released. It was a demanding job at the best of times. But when her mother came home from hospital, Jaycee had little option but to work night shifts so she could be around during the day. She needed to be at home to take her mum to regular hospital appointments, liaise with healthcare providers support her with her physiotherapy exercises, do the shopping, get bills paid, make sure her mum had the right supply of medication and organise things with the day carers who came to the home.
On top of all that, her mum required constant emotional support and reassurance to help her progress with her rehabilitation.
“It was really hard to get any rest. And before long I was really struggling, I felt mentally and emotionally drained”, Jaycee says. “Questions kept going round in my head. Would mum ever walk again? What about my mental health? Would I be able to manage? How would I cope if mum had a fall?”
Even though Jaycee had a sister who lived close by, she found it difficult to ask for help.
“With mum now back at home, I placed heavy expectations on myself to keep mum safe and well. Anything less would be seen as a failure by others, and not least by myself. After all, I was a nurse. This should have been easy for me. I thought it was just expected I’d be able to cope.
“So the feeling of responsibility just got bigger and bigger and more intense. And on top of that I had a really challenging and stressful job. I felt helpless. I soon felt like I was drowning and desperately needed to come up for air.”
Impact of caring role on Jaycee’s career
It quickly became clear that Jaycee was going to have to do what around half of all unpaid family carers end up doing so they can carry on caring: either give up work altogether, or drastically reduce their hours. Her employer was unwilling to allow her to reduce her hours, so she resigned and joined an agency which would allow for more flexibility so she could turn down shifts when she needed to be at home for her mum.
She continued like this for three years, finding it increasingly difficult to strike the right balance between earning an income and the need to care. And then in 2017 she went downstairs one morning to find her dad collapsed on the floor after suffering a huge stroke. He developed severe dementia overnight, and it was obvious he wasn’t going to get better.
“It was a traumatic time. Dad was extremely agitated and distressed because he couldn’t understand what was happening, or where he was. We couldn’t care for him at home, so the only option was for him to be cared for in a nursing home. And everything was so confused because I was having to constantly run between the care home and home. When I was at the care home, I felt guilty that I wasn’t at home looking after mum. And I’d always feel dreadful when I had to say goodbye to dad at the end of a visit. It was heart-breaking to look up and see him banging on the window as I drove away, it felt like a betrayal. On top of all that, mum had to come to terms with effectively losing her companion of the previous fifty years.”
Caught between the almost impossible task of caring for her parents in two different places, Jaycee found it increasingly difficult to find time to switch off from carer mode and find any time for herself and her own wellbeing.
“My mind was constantly on alert. There just wasn’t the time to socialise, go away on weekend breaks, go to the gym or focus on my own personal development. I felt a sense of grieving for the life I used to have and the person I used to be. I felt empty inside.”
As time went on, she found herself withdrawing more and becoming ever more isolated. Feelings of guilt and the emotional conflict of striving to be there for both her parents, yet never feeling she was doing enough, meant she was losing all sense of self and her own identity.
On top of that, Jaycee had come to the conclusion that it simply wasn’t feasible to renew her nursing registration now that she needed to care for her dad as well as her mother. She started to think about developing an alternative source of income. But it was impossible to think what that might be. This fed into a wider anxiety and fears about her future. And having had to give up on her career, Jaycee was now relying on Carer’s Allowance of just £67 a week. This was a huge dent to her pride and self-worth, especially as she was now having to dip into her savings. She kept on coming back to the same question: “how could I use my skills and experience to create an income for myself whilst still being able to fulfill my caring responsibilities?” But no answers ever came.
And then in December 2018, her dad passed away after suffering a bleed on the brain. In the weeks that followed Jaycee found she was able to process a lot of her emotions and had more time to focus on herself for the first time in years. She began to realise just how much she had been bottling up.
Moving forward through the Working for Carers project
She also started to think more about herself and her future, And the question she kept coming back to was how she could start to make an income by doing something that would help other unpaid carers, while continuing to care for her mum.
And then she was approached by Wandsworth Carers Centre to see if she would be interested in presenting three online laughter sessions for carers. Jaycee jumped at the chance. She’d participated in something similar during the 2020 lockdown and had really benefited from the experience, especially because it had helped her re-connect with like-minded people and break through the sense of isolation she’d been feeling.
“We started off with three ‘laughter medicine sessions’ “, she recounts. “And as well as being fun for the other carers, the sessions really helped me. They boosted my self-confidence, and provided me with an outlet to express myself. For the first time in years it felt like my spark had been reignited, and that I could start moving forwards in a more positive way. And if these sessions worked for me, maybe they’d be helpful for other carers, too?”
But she still felt stuck with how to turn her concept into a business. So she contacted Tracey at Wandsworth Carers Centre to ask what support there was for unpaid carers wanting to start their own business. Tracey immediately referred her to Working for Carers, a project run across every London borough by Carers Trust. She very quickly realised that asking for help had been the best thing she could have done.
“I have this vivid memory of the tears coming down from my face when I met my Working for Carers employment adviser, Ama. She just got it, and I felt understood for the first time in a very long time.
“She really understood the challenges that carers face and was able to empathise. She listened to my particular issues and gave me space to talk about how I was feeling, so when we came to questions like how I was going to set up a website for my business, she understood the challenges of balancing time pressures with managing my self-care. She was also able to ground me, help me organise my thoughts and break things down into small steps so it didn’t seem so overwhelming after all. Ama was so enthusiastic and supportive in helping me develop my business idea and instilling my belief that I had the necessary skills and experience to make a success of it. The other thing that made such a difference was the way Ama championed me, making sure I celebrated every success along the way.
“Working for Carers helped me decide on my business name, get a business model together, supported me financially to get a website set up and organized some great workshops on confidence and self-employment for me to attend.
“They also gave me a one-to-one session with a business consultant, who advised me on sources of funding and how to promote my business on social media
“The workshops also really helped because I was able to connect with other carers in a similar situation. I drew a lot of inspiration from this and am still in touch with two of them.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from Working for Carers is you don’t have to be alone. So much of life as a carer is about being feeling alone with your caring responsibilities. That’s when problems build. I’ve now learned the importance of sharing how I feel and reaching out for support. I now know there is no shame to admit I am struggling. And even though I couldn’t actually say what support I needed, Ama at Working for Carers was able to signpost me to the right support. And that’s when doors started to open for me.
The other great thing about asking for help is that when you get that support, people tell you when you’re making progress. It really helped build my self-belief.”
Jaycee has successfully registered her business with Companies House as a not-for-profit organisation. She is delivering her laughter medicine sessions to other carer centres.
If you work with unpaid carers and are interested in hearing more about Jaycee’s laughter sessions, please visit Zen Laughter here.
About Working for Carers
Working for Carers ran between October 2016 and June 2023 and was funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund. The project supported unpaid carers in London to move into or closer to employment.