As someone who recently was a Young Adult Carer and still cares for a parent with a mental illness, I know it is hard for other young people in this situation to have 'me time'. Balancing education or work is hard let alone doing this on top of caring with little time to recharge or means choosing between caring and other goals and enjoying life.
I am writing this blog intending to share my story and point of view to help Young Adult Carers and to help others understand and better support them.
I help my Dad care for my Mum who has Schizoaffective Disorder, it can be challenging both in an immediate way and through having subtle long-term effects. My caring role involves giving emotional support, noticing the triggers of the illness and reacting quickly. Sometimes this has escalated into a crisis and sectioning. I also help with practical tasks that are too difficult to complete due to debilitating medication side effects.
Needing to help could come up any time and might mean I have to stop other important commitments or not have downtime. In the long run, I am impacted due to feeling a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about my family's situation. I find this takes a toll on me and I need more time to recharge but don't feel I have enough hours in the day so have to be very mindful when possible about how I use my time.
Caring for and having a family member who you love who is ill is often exhausting and upsetting though also rewarding and an opportunity to learn. Factor in being a young person who not only wants to achieve a career and succeed in addition to caring it can feel impossible to balance it all. Often some areas of life are neglected.
I completed A-Levels, and university and am in a career path I want to be in although it did take longer than some of my peers and care for my Mum, I manage it all but still find it tough. I don't think I would have coped with it all without support. I was helped by my local carers centre Carer Support Wiltshire who provided evidence to the university of my caring role after my Mum had a psychotic episode and which meant taking time out from university to look after her and then re-start when I was ready from a distance.
Not only did they provide evidence but I attended in-person cafes with other young carers at a time I felt lonely. It made me feel understood and was a valuable time for me. My Young Adult Carer Support worker took the trouble to make sure I was ok and made sure I had someone to talk to if I needed it and helped me secure a grant for counselling. The time I took in those sessions helped me to slow down and better understand the challenges I face and that my mental health matters’.
If I hadn't had this support in place either I would have felt I couldn't complete my studies or I would have done it alongside the crisis my family was facing and my well-being suffered severely. I have taken this attitude into employment, that my work matters but I can still do it even if things are hard at home. I am motivated and driven in my work but it doesn't make me a less valuable employee. If I need to take some extra time for a break or if my caring role sometimes has to come first I accept that and try not to put pressure on myself but to do it all at my own pace when I can.
Tips from my own experience to make more time for you (for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers):
- Say no when you need to, this includes friends and family (even your cared for) when you need to.
- Don't feel guilty about putting yourself first at times, I recommend once a week you can put in your diary some time for yourself even if it is watching a show, taking a bath or doing nothing you deserve it.
- It can be hard to repeat your story and situation and there can be a fear of feeling misunderstood. However, you must tell your school/university/employer your situation and say you do need some adjustments and support.
- Making time for you can be incorporated into every day. You could take as little as ten minutes to do something positive for your well-being like a walk or a meditation video on YouTube and it will help or something you enjoy. Sometimes as a carer, you can get into a mode of putting yourself last, but you matter too.
- Make time for the things that will benefit you outside of caring, your future matters too. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming but if you allocate another small chunk of your day as much as you can to learning, or improving your CV it will benefit you.
If you are an employer, teacher, university lecturer or someone in a position to make a change to a Young Carer or Young Adult Carer, these are some ways you can help:
- Take the time to talk to your student or employee about what is going on for them, make yourself available and listen.
- Be open-minded if a task takes longer to complete it doesn't mean the carer at your education institution is less able or hard-working by giving them the flexibility they need and understanding you may need to make adjustments you will not only be looking after their well-being but getting the best from them. Allowing them to flourish.
- You can help by encouraging them to take time for themselves. If they are having a tough time in their caring role they will need breaks. Encourage them to feel it is ok to do so.
Carers Trust works with a network of local carers centres that provide support for Young and Young Adult Carers. Signposting young people to these services could open up all kinds of opportunities from helping with the respite to social opportunities meeting other young people in their position. This could make a big difference as often Young and Young Adult Carers can be isolated socially due to caring and having this time could make them feel understood, supported and part of a community.