Connecting with other Carers

Matthew Mckenzie

Hello again everyone and thank you for stopping by to check out my blog on caring and mental health.  As a reminder this blog is mostly about carers who care for those suffering mental health problems. There are still many parts of the site that is under development and when I am not often blogging, I am bound to be out and about trying to raise awareness or engaging with those interested in the carers world or mental health.

My background is that I am a carer for my mother and have been a carer for around 13 years or more. Sometimes my mother is well enough to look after herself, but unfortunately there are times when I have to step in, especially when I am not requested to do so, its practically like a leap of faith how things will turn out.

When things go wrong within my caring role, that’s when I figure on working out who to turn to or where I can get any support. As a carer you cannot just go anywhere to look for support. You would have to find someone or something specific.

Usually a carers centre is a good idea to get any support, usually most London boroughs have a carers centre. I am over in Lewisham, so my carers centre would be Carers Lewisham, for others in South London it could be Southwark Carers , or Carers’ Hub Lambeth  or even Mind in Croydon.

Why go to a Carers Centre?

There are several reasons, but the first would be getting advice and information, which I would rank very high for carers like myself. The next being emotional support and a chance to meet other carers, although carer centres offer a lot more than I have mentioned. You can always look one up and check out what they provide.

There are many other carers centre’s and they all offer carers just the thing they need in order to cope as a carer, get information and just a place to hang out.

I have popped over to Southwark Carers, Mind in Croydon and plan to check out the Lambeth Carers hub forum next week, which is on Thursday the 10th of July.

So ok, one of the things I like to do at a carers centre is speaking to other carers, but why? Well again there are several reasons and to make a long story far shorter, I ll list them out below.

– Learning from other carers
– Speaking to carers who come from similar environments
– Feeling I belong somewhere
– Answering their questions
– Having someone to listen to me
– Being another carer who listens to carers stories
– Having some confidential space

Let me just elaborate on a few of these reasons, just to give some people an idea of why such activities are so important for me as a mental health carer.

– Learning from other carers

When I first found out I was taking the first steps of my 1000 step journey as a carer, I just did not have much of a clue of what I was doing. Yes, I was given advice, but at that time I could not digest such information, I was suffering and I felt so distant from people.

Eventually I decided to go down to my local carers centre after phoning them up. The carers centre staff was so understanding and I just needed someone to talk to.

After a while I felt more at ease in talking at the carers centre, but it soon dawned upon me that other carers had been through the same journey, they were listening to my story and offering some comfort and advice. To be honest, these carers were almost putting up signposts on my Journey along road, which I could follow.

I never did set out to learn from other carers, but this is something that sunk in each time I spent the time with those who have shared my journey.

– Speaking to carers who come from similar environments

Speaking to carers is fine, but remember there are many different types of carers out there and one day I hope to do a blog post about such carer roles, but lets say you are a carer caring for someone who has dementia, or you are a young carer, or a mental health carer? What then?

You may want to learn even more by speaking to carers who are caring in your field. Usually carer centre’s have drop in groups for carers of different fields. I always advise you check them out when you can, as a carer you can learn even more from such specialist groups. You just get that extra relation factor, if you know what I mean.

Feeling I belong somewhere

There are times when a carers journey is lonely, be it at home, the workplace, heck! even in society. Carers can be ISOLATED. I am not lying, caring is something almost done for free, because we carers cannot bear to see our loved ones suffer, but so many expect us to do this for nothing and yet it benefits society. We all want caring communities right?

Ok! ok! enough of the rant, again I sometimes drop off to carers groups or carers centre’s. This is because I may feel that I cannot get out and speak to someone about my problems. Even once a month is good, never feel you have to cope on your own as a carer. It is so easy for carers to suffer from stigma, that being carers feeling embarrassed by caring for someone suffering from devastating illnesses.

– Answering their questions

After spending some time on my journey as a carer, I began to get just a bit more confident about my role. I knew the road was straightening out. I could see the signs and signals, I could read the directions. Then on my path I met other carers, they shared their story with me and I listened to them. I felt I could almost relate to them and understand fellow carers.

It was not long before carers kept asking me “What do I do?”. At first I was silent, because I did not want to give bad advice, but eventually I told them what I would do if I was in their position. Of course its always better for a carer to seek professional advice, but then sometimes a carer will ask another carer for information, perhaps its human nature.

We all want reassurance, we all seek others on the same path as we are and who could give us advice, hints or tips.

I hope I am answering some questions with this blog, I just hope this blog is a map for other carers who find themselves on a similar journey. All I ask for such carers is whatever you have learnt, feel free to share with other new carers, but do not judge them. We are all on a unique path for our Journey.

– Having someone to listen to me

As a carer for so many years, there are times when I just want to let it all out. The frustration, the anger and fear.  The Regret, worry and concerns. Its bad, so bad to keep it all inside. I just want someone to listen to me. I am sure if you are a carer reading this, do you not feel the same at times?

There are times when people speak to me and I cannot get a word in, other people know it all and perhaps they do know it all, but what about the problems that can never be solved? What if your world is falling apart? Time is drifting away from our loved ones and us carers have got to let our emotions out somehow.

The good news is at carers centre’s they usually have counselling sessions, please take advantage of them.

I used to have counselling for myself and some of it worked, it might not be for everyone though, but to have someone listen to you without judging can do you a world of good.

– Being another carer who listens to carers stories

I talk and write nearly all the time, sometimes I feel as if its therapy where I let my own emotions mark the page and also share the wisdom from my mind.

However there are other ways to heal and one of the best ways is just being there. As the saying goes “If you cant with the one you love, then love the one your with”, was that not a verse from a song?

I guess you know what I am getting at, there are times when you are healing another carer just by acknowledging them, by listening to their story. I have been on carer groups run by a mental health trust being “South London & Maudsley“, at times their carer groups offer an excellent session of healing. We listen to other carers and acknowledge them, as we learn from other carers, we learn about ourselves.

– Having some confidential space

There are times where you want to get away from caring. You ARE you!!

Its not like you were born as a carer, even though you may have taken on such a role.

We all need some space and to care almost 24 hours without having such a space is asking for disaster. The time to get such space can be again at a carers center like the ones I have mentioned before around South London, or perhaps one in your own borough.

I have even heard of carers even forming their own groups (peer support) and sometimes a carer may just want to go out by themselves to reflect and think things through.

Having confidential space should be a refuge of healing, a sanctuary that us carers can call our own. In order to help our loved ones, we should also do ourselves a favour and rest and heal ourselves with our own confidential space.

I am not saying this will be easy, sometimes it depends on how bad things are for your loved one, maybe you cannot bear to leave them alone for some time, but its vital for you to at least think about your own confidential space.

* Carers Groups

I have mentioned carer groups a number of times and there are so many activities that can happen at such carers groups. Carers groups can offer the following ways to connect to other carers.

– A place to relate to other carers.
– Information on services and updates.
– Learning from other carers.
– Sometimes you can have speakers come along and do a talk about a subject.
– A place to eat and relax.
– Update other carers on what you are doing.
– Raise concerns when its an acceptable time to do so.

There is so much more such carers groups can offer, I am sure some have skipped my mind, but if you as a carer do not belong to such a group, again check out your carers centre or maybe your mental health trust provides one in your area.

* Reading Carers stories

Have you checked out Carers Trust? Or Carers UK? They have blogs and stories from many carers. You do not have to be physically present to connect to other carers. Sometimes I have read blogs from Mind or Rethink Mental Illness. You can learn so much from carers stories or those similar from your loved ones illness.

* Connecting with other Carers at Events

There are many events that I have been to and although most of these are mental health events, you will get the odd carer event every now and then. Luckily South London & Maudsley have a carer event coming up for mental health carers in South London. This being the carers “Listening event”, which takes place on the 18th of September 2014 over at Prospero House. However why go to such events? The simple reason is it offers another opportunity to connect to other carers.

Some events can last all day, while some last perhaps around an hour or two. These events are usually tailored to the type of carer who attends them. If such events are successful, then its possible to form a network of carers supporting each other and engaging with the health services. Carer events are the place to be seen for carers and you can learn so much being at such events. Do not be put off by being surrounded by health professionals since they are their to learn from you as well, which is probably why the event taking place in September is called the “carers listening event”.

If your in the North, East or West of London, UK or in a different part of the world, try and attend a carers event to get yourself educated and connected.

* Connecting to Carers Online

I guess we have arrived at my favorite part of connecting to carers. We all come from different backgrounds and my background is Information Technology, notice the word “Information”? I like sharing my skills, knowledge and tips as information via technology. Its free or fairly cheap, its quick to access and you can have a global reach. Reading my blog? well that is because your online. Notice my twitter channel? well that’s because you are connected.

Connecting to other carers online need not be difficult, a quick Google search can bring up a wealth of opportunities, but be aware not everything is true online and its always good to seek professional advice, however the power of being online is the range of CHOICE that it brings.

* Celebrating with Carers

Sometimes we do it to ourselves, we sit back and fall into caring. Us carers just place ourselves last, its in our characteristics, have you met someone who calls himself a carer place themselves first before anyone else? Well ok, perhaps you have, but I am sure more carers just sit in the shadows doing what we do best without making a complaint, or making a statement or even engaging.

Us carers need to connect to other carers, we need to celebrate who we are and make a stand not only for ourselves, but for other carers. My comrade in arms Bridget Jones and myself have just been nominated for carer of the year 2014 from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

We may or may not go far, but for sure I am honoured and proud to have such recognition and I am not going to the ceremony looking to win, but going there to celebrate. This celebration is in order to connect with carers and mental health professionals.

Us carers need to stand out from the shadows to form a network and be counted, we sometimes just fail ourselves and plod along caring hoping someone will notice our efforts, but its not always like that. Its time to connect and the time is now.

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