WRITTEN BY GRACE SMITH
Growing up, while I recognised my parents weren’t as able bodied – they both struggle with mobility, such as walking/standing for prolonged periods – I never had the strong impression that I was a carer. This might be because I have older siblings, so we would share a lot of the responsibility which helped normalise our situation.
The first time I remember anyone referring to me as a carer was when I was 16.
I had convinced my parents to let me do NCS and my mum liked to keep updated with how I was doing, so had been on the phone with my group leader at the time. After the call, she mentioned something he had said towards the end of the conversation, which has stuck with me because it was quite a revelation at the time: “Grace doesn’t realise she’s a carer, does she?”
And up until that point I had never really thought about it.
My mum was initially diagnosed with ME, but as research improved, it was discovered she actually had a genetic heart defect. The central partition of her heart had expanded to the point that the flaps (technical, I know) of her heart, which cycle oxygenated blood, would snap shut after hitting the partition. So, she would quickly get breathless and wasn’t able to exert herself too much. Which meant we had to help out a bit more with different chores. I help by picking up medicine from the pharmacy, or accompanying my mum to appointments (for some this means waking up at 5-6am to be ready for hospital transport), and make sure she has stuff like her inhaler or walking stick or pushing her in her wheelchair.
And while things have definitely gotten easier in recent years as my parents have had access to better support, I still feel a loss for some of the family experiences we have never had, like family holidays, having friends over (our house was still always on the messy side) and so on. But I love my parents for always being there, and while they’ve struggled with their own insecurities, they have always encouraged me to expand my own boundaries. So, while I care for them they have always reciprocated by being a constant support to me throughout the years.
WRITTEN BY MEGAN GORHAM
Having been a carer for over a year now, I think I finally feel comfortable sharing my experience with having an ill mum. I didn’t realise at first that I was a carer, and it wasn’t until some amazing teachers noticed how tired I was that I realised telling your mum it’s her bed time isn’t normal.
I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs in my mental health, and I truly couldn’t say if finding out what my mum had made me feel more or less worried. There’s no cure for chronic fatigue, but there is mountains of help and support. Some days I find it hard to concentrate on my work in school or revise, but others I’m completely fine and laughing and joking as normal. Sometime I feel alone, like no one understands how difficult it can be to see your mum fall asleep at half 6 after struggling all day. But then I realise I’m so lucky that I have so much support in school and how many friends are there for me, willing to listen.
My mum has looked after me for 17 years, I think it’s only fair I look after her.
Only, I was expecting a few more years before I was helping her out of chairs. I’ve never seen being a carer as a negative thing, as I don’t see myself as a carer. I talk to her about anything, tell her to take pain medication, and at the end of the day sit across from her at the dinner table discussing school. I’m not just a carer, and I think it’s important for anyone who is a young carer to realise. I am still a child, and I think it’s important to allow myself time to relax, study, and do what I want.
If you are a carer, there is loads of support out there. Facebook groups, charities, your teachers; they’re there to help. It can be isolating to feel like the only one, but there’s so many people willing to help, you just have to ask.