One-in-eight Australians provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend. But what is it really like to care?
Ever since I can remember, I have been helping out at home, caring for my mum who has depression and a heart condition. I also help care for my older sister who has been diagnosed with ODD, autism, Asperger’s and epilepsy; and my younger brother who has been diagnosed with ODD, autism, ADHD and Asperger’s.
As a young carer I cook, clean, and mentally and physically support my mother and siblings. Until April last year, I didn’t identify as a young carer. I’ve just grown up with my siblings, helping them out and being there for them — I didn’t realise that what I was doing was caring.
I now know that there is support available to me and other young carers. Meeting other young carers has also made me realise that I’m not so different to other people my age and that there are lots of people who have grown up caring for their family and friends — sometimes without even knowing it.
Like life itself, there are challenges that come with caring: these can be emotional, physical, and mental challenges — sometimes there are social challenges or challenges at school too. I think being a young carer has made me more mature and tolerant — and I’ve definitely learnt good leadership skills. Caring for my family and experiencing things that not all young people go through has definitely helped shape me and made me a kind-hearted person.
I did not wake up one morning and decide to become a carer. It just happened — I was suddenly a carer. I was a mother with a beautiful, healthy baby boy and all of a sudden he needed constant care and support and, above all, lots and lots of love. And so began my journey as a carer. I remember, at 20 years old, receiving the terrifying news that our baby may not make it past his third birthday. I remember the pain and anguish of thinking my beautiful boy’s life may be limited.
To make a very long story short, our boy Patrick surprised everyone. Not only did he survive past his third birthday; he also learned to walk and ride a push bike and joined the local athletics club. Patrick is now 41 and still needs many hours of support each day — as a carer you really are on duty 24/7.
My life has been greatly influenced by my son Patrick: he has taught me humility, compassion, and patience. Through the need to gain better services and recognition for people with a disability, I also learned to be assertive and confident to lobby at all levels of government for better outcomes for those that need help.
Being a carer is often not a choice, life circumstances put you there. What keeps you going is knowing the care you give your loved one is making a big difference to their wellbeing. I do my very best every day and — although it can sometimes be overwhelming — I quickly overcome my emotions and realise there are always others worse off than me. Especially when I look at Patrick and see that big wide smile, his eyes shining with love and happiness.
My sudden role change into a carer occurred when a surgeon phoned from America asking for my consent to perform decompression surgery on my daughter, Emily. She had fractured a neck vertebra in a fall, resulting in a spinal cord injury, which rendered her quadriplegic. After three long weeks more than 16,000km from home, Emily returned to Australia. While resident at Royal Rehab in Ryde, Emily was busy with physio, occupational therapy, psychology sessions and vocational training.
From the outset I collaborated with Emily as her most ardent motivator as she worked hard to regain independence: applying to return to university, negotiating public transport and domestic and international travel; and embarking on new sports and relationships.
Over time, my role as facilitator dwindled and I’m delighted that my involvement has subsided — my primary aim was always to initiate independence and self-belief in Emily. Four years have passed since Emily’s accident. I have learnt we can’t fix all that confronts us in life but through sharing, and with support, we can retain perspective and manage our everyday demands with resilience.
- Source Carers NSW Australia