It’s been a while.
I’ve been on holiday. A lovely one in fact. To the beautiful capital of Greece, Athens.
I write tonight after a late shift at work and visiting another powerful group of people endlessly fighting and hoping for a better mental health system here in England.
Recently, the news around our care system in the sector has made me sigh. Yes, news is usually dire – but they keep cutting like an over enthusiastic ‘whatever I say goes’ ‘I know what’s best for you’ ‘you can give me your opinion on what you want but that’s just tokenistic’ hairdresser until the hair aka funds/budgets or shall I frankly say – lives, disappear. It’s tiresome. It’s so frustrating it makes even the boldest and bravest of campaigners question their involvement and own voice – their own voice. This should not be happening. The networks of mental health activists in the sector I am privilidged to know, work with or even have just heard of are indeed, incredible. But – there’s a BUT. A big smelly one I’m afraid. People are being let down. The people they’re caring for are being let down. It’s not good enough. Stop cutting. Stop taking down lives. Enough.
One of the things that struck me the most tonight is a conversation about the definition of ‘carers’. When I was in a bad way between ages 19-21 I think I must have been, I remember a conversation with my partner. Light heartedly (it’s not light hearted by all means but at the time we were both new to being together and learning the depths of my mental illness) we discussed the possibility that perhaps my partner was like my carer at times the sacrifices and compromises he was making, the amount of time he was spending caring for me. It didn’t go very far because I stigmatised myself and believing that even thinking I ‘needed a carer’ (more on that later) was absurd, it could not be true and to even say it jokingly seemed insulting to those who do. He perceived carers as people who had been rightfully assessed and accessed ‘carers allowance’, people that 24/7 care for people as a living – without making one. Yes, it is a 24/7 job for many. But what if there was truth in the fact that sometimes, he was like a ‘carer’? There were times I couldn’t leave the house. Couldn’t wash and clothe myself. Definitley couldn’t cook or eat. I was bed ridden.
There were other times I was high functioning. A lot of people who are able to function well (get themselves to work and lead a fairly ‘normal’ life) suffer in silence, as they often feel guilt that they even classify with having a mental illness. So to have even considered that perhaps someone like me who had debilitating but temporary bouts of mental agony may have been in need of a ‘carer’ in the titled sense was surely just not even debatable…or was it?
Tonight people drew attention to those who they thought were most in need of finding out about the work that charities do and help that is available. They identified those people as those who were not in the room. They are people who may not know there are carers. They may feel sad, embarrassed and extremely isolated.
Carers are our unsung heroes. They are those who cares for someone with (in this case, mental) illness. Yes, there may be a scale. Some care for those severely affected by mental illness and some for those who struggle in temporary black months but at the time won’t know that their darkness may end, for example. You can be a carer when the person you care for is distant from you, in another part of the country. You live and do what you can to care for that person. Caring is full time in our minds when we love someone who is struggling. We may not always be able to be there in physical presence, but we don’t switch off our thoughts. Our to do lists. The support we need to give out ourselves or arrange for our dear loved ones.
People who are friends and family of those with mental illness who are carers are often not seen as them by society or even themselves because they should care out of love, right? Or they’re not on any allowance or access a service because they don’t think it’s serious enough and compared to what they know about other people who are in caring roles they aren’t as hard done by, right? Why do we even do that? Compare our hardships – “oh, we haven’t got it as hard as so and so has though.”
People with mental illness do the same. Put their illnesses down to a scale of camparison minimising their trauma. Carers may compare their caring to others. But what about their (carers) wellbeing? What about the impact on it? Who do they turn to? What support is out there when they think this is just what unconditional love is? There’s some truth in that but let it go acknowledged, recognition for carers and awareness is needed. With cuts cuts cuts to support, advice and information, on top of caring responsibilities, commitment and dedication, a volcano is constantly erupting and we need to stop it.
We need services for carers and groups are one of the most incredibly empowering places of peer support out there, but they’re not known enough. Outreach is needed.
People wander whether you get de-sensitised working in mental health with all that you hear. It gets me. Every. Single. Time. I won’t stop fighting for awareness. I do it for my mum, I do it for those affected, and I do it to get people talking
.We need to care for all who care
Caring saves lives. Care for our carers.
Abs x 💛