When it comes to caring, many of us will not know the responsibilities involved – not, until we are thrust into the role ourselves. Young carers will be caring for someone, while still attending school, college and trying to live a normal life – but how normal can they be?
To support Young Carers Awareness Week and help make people more aware of the life young carers live, we spoke to Carers Trust, who put us in contact with Becky, aged 16.
Below is Becky’s seven-day diary.
Woke at 7am, normal time, had a quick check to see if I could hear mum moving around downstairs. I could and all seemed fine, so jumped in the shower. Rush downstairs, pack my schoolbag, eat breakfast. Whilst I’m rushing about, mum is curled up on the sofa holding her arm, wincing with pain (mum suffers with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and gout). I ask mum if she is going into work today and she just shook her head – obviously too much pain. I started to wonder how I’d get to school – then she added that she would still attempt to drive me. School is my only real break away from caring, and even though it’s busy, it gives me some time for reflection, and a break from the house. I do try to focus on my schoolwork but more often than not my thoughts end up wandering back to home, what mum might be doing and if she is coping without me. Also my thoughts go to Lindsey, my sister, who has M.E. and heart failure, and I wonder if she is having a good day.
Bad start to this morning. Mum was in so much pain that dad had to take me to school. I was up late last night doing homework and housework, so I was feeling pretty tired. School passed in a blur; mum came to pick me up from school – obviously feeling slightly better, but she still had pain shooting from her shoulder down to her hand. Wednesday evenings are in theory my ‘evenings off’ although this doesn’t always happen. It’s the evening that I have agreed with mum to spend catching up with my friends or doing something for me. I did see my friends for a little this evening, but then had to cram in homework… and the stress was getting on top of me a bit. I manage to get into bed at 10.30pm, but then couldn’t sleep for ages. My mind filled with concerns about mum, Lindsey and my Nana (my Grandad recently passed away) and whether I’ve paid enough attention to my homework.
Today has been a complete rollercoaster of a day. I was able to get into school on time this morning, thankfully, as I had an important assembly, but then I kept almost falling asleep during it. During my ‘silent directed’ (meaning quiet) study time, I didn’t complete any work because I was just too tired to focus. It was a relief to come home, cook for myself and then I finally thought I was settled down to watch some TV when my sister, Lindsey, came through the door. I was glad because I had been thinking about her a lot recently and so it was good to see her in the flesh. She had had letters from DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and her claim for PIP (Personal Independence Payment), and needed us to look through them. Lindsey suffers with something we call ‘brain fog’ as a symptom of her M.E and so struggles to concentrate/read through things. By dinner time, mum’s depression had overtaken her and she decided to go for a drive for a change of scene. I was a bit nervous about her going out on her own, but at least this gave me a little space to clear up all of the dinner stuff and get cracking on my homework. Mum came home feeling a little better and so I went to bed feeling OK and was able to sleep by 10.30pm.
All the normal stuff happened this morning and then period 4 at school I developed a pretty bad headache and felt faint. All I wanted to do was get back home but we were only halfway through the lesson and I knew I needed to persevere. I got to thinking. Most of my friends complain about being tired; or get headaches, or can’t concentrate at school, but for them it’s because they’ve been out drinking the night before, or stayed up late to watch a movie with their friends or go out to the cinema. For me, I know it’s because I’ve been up late worrying about mum or doing my homework at 10pm because the rest of the evening I’ve spent doing household chores or just sitting with mum chatting to her and keeping her company. I don’t even particularly want to be out doing those things my friends are doing – I’m much happier staying in making sure mum and Linds are OK. But if I did have the free time? I would get to bed early in the evening and try, for once in my life, to switch my mind off and get a decent sleep.
Thankfully, today is Saturday! On Saturdays I am able to have a lie in and not have to go through the motions of the rush to get ready for school. I know I have the weekend to sort homework so that’s a bit less pressure on me too. I sit in the morning and get some homework out of the way then have a shower and give my room a much needed clean. I go downstairs and help mum do some chores and tidy up. Then mum and I head out to the shops. We meet up with my boyfriend and his sister. Mum leaves me with them for a while. Mum picks me up about an hour later as she is getting tired and needs to get back home to rest. We get back home and unsurprisingly after being out and about, mum is exhausted and her joints are causing her a lot of pain. Dad says he will cook dinner tonight so she can rest. Lindsey comes in, and is down because she has a cold. Every winter when Lindsey gets a cold it’s debilitating, because the tightness of her chest has a big impact on her heart and restricts her breathing.
I went up to my Nana’s today – Sunday – to help her cook lunch. Nana had a mini stroke not long ago which weakened her left side and means she can no longer do any heavy lifting; she also struggles with walking. My Grandad passed away on Christmas Day, and he was her main carer. With his passing comes the realisation that I am now caring for three generations of my family – helping my mum to care for my sister; caring for my mum herself, and helping my mum care for my Grandma. After helping with the dinner, I wash up and then we take Nana to have a look at the place we are holding my Grandad’s Wake. I stay close by her side helping her walk, whilst keeping an eye on mum and Lindsey and wondering if they are both getting tired now. Lindsey will go back to Chelmsford tonight. I am sort of looking forward to school tomorrow to have a bit of a break.
My suspicion is right; today was much less of a struggle, which was good, just besides the fact that I seem to be continually tired. After school, chatting with mum and in an unusual quiet moment, we sat down and tried to plan some things for the future, such as my driving lessons. It was a quieter evening too as mum was feeling OK and I had done most of my household chores before school, so I had time to catch up on ‘Matter’ the website set up by Carers Trust for young adult carers. I have a look at someone’s asking for support and read through the answers, which gives me a bit of motivation. Knowing that others are going through similar busy caring roles like mine makes it feel less like no one understands what life is like for me.
I managed to catch up with my Young Carers Lead at school today (given to me through Bartholomew School’s Young Carers in Schools programme, run by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society). It’s good to talk to someone who understands. After school I stayed to go to choir. I don’t always get to go to choir if mum texts me or calls to say she needs me at home, but when I get to go, I love it – it’s an escape from the mundaneness of the everyday stuff. I play a lot of instruments but I think my real dream job would be to do something with singing and touring; travelling across the country. Mum would want to support me with my dreams but I know that if an opportunity came up for me right now I couldn’t do it, because mum needs me around, to help with caring. Hopefully though in the future, if mum becomes more stable, and Lindsay gets the heart transplant she needs – my dream job might just happen. After choir I head home and help mum with some cleaning and the dinner before heading in to attempt an earlyish night.
If you’re a young carer and resonate with Becky’s story, remember that you’re not alone and help is available. Counselling is one option – you can talk about how you are feeling in a quiet and safe environment without judgement. For more information on young carers and how counselling can help, visit our fact-sheet.