Welcome back, Its not long until “Carers Rights day”, which takes place on the 21st of November. I am sure to do a blog and maybe a video about it, but still it is a couple of weeks away, but keep a look out for local carer events in the meantime. This particular blog is on carer character traits.
Basically when people think about unpaid carers, they often think that the person is just caring for someone. In a way there are correct, but delve a little deeper and they could be off target. There is a whole lot more to a carers world than what people might think.
So I have decided to list and briefly explain some unpaid character traits, this blog is aimed not only at health professionals, but carers themselves who might wish to understand what they might find helpful on their carers journey.
Please take take note, not all unpaid carers are the same and due to trying to keep the blog post short, I have missed out a lot of carer character traits and skills.
Providing a simple hug.
Not all carers do this, it really depends on the relationship with the ‘cared for’. Some unpaid carers are very close to the person suffering either mental or physical ill health, but giving a simple hug to that person can help more than any words can say.
Just caring for someone shows that you are wearing the badge, you are wearing the carer’s badge and no one can say you have not been there. If asked to speak about your carers journey, then you will understand. An unpaid carers journey can be difficult, full of tension and a roller coaster ride. As a carer you can expect to take some massive blows, but at the same time you are growing stronger in your cause.
Being a shoulder to cry on (very difficult)
Not always easy especially if the ‘cared for’ is distant from you, but as a carer you can always be there as a shoulder to cry on. There will be times that the ‘cared for’ will be let down by everyone, be it friends, health systems and so on. If you are close to the ‘cared for’, just being a carer will give them the opportunity to be the last person they can cry to.
Being Present (most important!!)
The most important trait of an unpaid carer. There are only a few other ways to care, but being there is the ultimate role of a carer. Some people have big families, but not everyone in that family is going to equally care for the ‘cared for’. Sometimes the carer is the one who will sacrifice or put on hold their life to provide that much needed support. A carer will be there at hospital appointments, doctors appointments, care plan assessments, benefit assessments, they will provide medication or chase things up and more. Being there for the ‘cared for’ is what it takes to be a carer.
Being there when times are tough (difficult)
Being there is NOT enough, its when the chips are down that the true worth of being a carer is on the line. Its no good providing support when the crisis is over, but I am aware that carers cannot be around the person all the time. I am also aware that it is not a criticism of carers who tried so hard, but were pushed away, especially mental health carers. Still, there will be times when the impossible may be asked of you, as a carer you will need to be there especially when there is a crisis.
There are not many rule books on being a carer, there has been times when I am thinking to myself am I doing the right thing, because no one can really tell you that you are living your life the best way. There were times my ‘cared for’ hit crisis after crisis and I was banging my head against a brick way with all the bureaucracy, confidentiality and red tape. I was even dealing with bullying from NHS staff siding with the ‘cared for’s’ criticism of me and to be frank, I was on my own. The keyword is ‘Belief’, you as a carer might have to dig down and start believing in yourself. What are you caring for? What are you fighting for? What are the costs? The sacrifices? Is it all your fault? Sometimes only you can answer those questions.
Very close to being there as a carer, you will need to show compassion, patience and to be kind. It is not easy to do if you are under stress or constant pressure, being compassionate can even extend to others if you practice being compassionate to the person you care for. If you lack compassion, then you could do damage to the relationship.
Confidentiality (Can be very difficult)
Sometimes carers have to be confidential about who they care for, but most times a carer will have to deal with confidentiality. It is frustrating because in the end it will be you that providing the carer and support, but how can you do your role if no one is saying what to expect for the ‘cared for’. Its like they are saying ‘Just get on with it’, when the patient is discharged into your care. I have noticed a culture where health professionals state the ‘cared for’ is discharged to the social worker’s care or the care coordinator’s care, but what happens they move on from their jobs or leave? The carer is the constant person in that role and should never be pushed aside or forgotten. Learn how confidentiality works, especially when Carer’s Rights Day takes place on the 21st of November.
Being a connection to someone is not easy at all. It depends how close you are to the ‘cared for’. Sometimes a carer is just a person in name and role, but being a connection to someone is highly psychology. There are whole books on the subject on connecting to others and the subject is also one of the ‘5 ways of wellbeing’.
It is not always easy connecting to someone who is unwell, but it can benefit yourself as well as the ‘cared for’.
Similar to compassion, Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what the ‘cared for’ is experiencing. This is why many carers try hard to work out what the situation is, so that they can provide adequate support and care. Without empathy then you are making guess work, but sometimes it is not always the carers fault. If unpaid carers are pushed out due to confidentiality or not involved, it is difficult to understand what the person is going through, especially if its mental health. Remember, if the health professional is not always present and the ‘cared for’ is very unwell, then it is usually up to the unpaid carer be it friend, neighbour or relation.
Helping (knowing when to help and how)
Sometimes caring is a grey area, there is more to caring than just helping with physical or mental health support. It is also being around to help, this might be arranging meetings, advocating, helping the health professional, helping with money situations and so on.
Hope (Very common among carers)
Without this trait, you might even want to give up on caring for someone, there should be some form of hope that the ‘cared for’ will recover or at least live with the illness. Sometimes unfortunately there is no recovery, so all you can hope for is to be a witness to the person’s suffering, but deep down inside all unpaid carers hope for some change.
Love (most common thing among carers)
Another common trait with all unpaid carers. You care because you love the person or are emotionally tied to them. Love is a vague word, but without some form of love, it is difficult to care for someone let alone care for anything. Sometimes people overlook the love between carer and ‘cared for’, but it is there. Even if the carer had to walk away from their role, this still could be done out of love and when things really go wrong, then love hurts.
Very difficult for carers to do, but being loyal to the ‘cared for’ can be an important trait, but what happens when the ‘cared for’ refuses help? When does the question of being loyal become a risk? This is when carers need to break confidentiality and raise the issue if the ‘cared for’ is at severe risk. E.g. reporting to the doctor, social worker or another professional.
Open and loving friends
Not really a carer trait, but something a carer would find helpful. Unfortunately, friends tend to go off packing when having to deal with a carer fighting something depressing. It does not help that carers due to their role will lack a social life, so it is harder to make new friends, but if you are lucky to have friends around who are open and understanding, it can help you in your carer journey.
A risky trait, but expect to use it sometimes. As a carer you will have to be honest about a situation, you might expect to be put between a wall and a hard place. Basically when the ‘cared for’ is refusing help, you will have to raise the call for help, even against the ‘cared for’ wishes. A carer will have to be truthful and open about what is going wrong and expect your relationship with the ‘cared for’ to decline, but think to yourself, what is the risk? You might be thankful one day that you were open and honest about something. Expect the relationship to be slow to build back up again, if ever.
Phone call to check on how someone is
As a carer, it helps to use many tools in your carer’s journey, this is often used if your a distant carer (someone caring from a distance). Even if the ‘cared for’ is not in crisis, a carer might call to see how things are, you might never know what the ‘cared for’ might say. Take note, that with the advent of smart phones, it might help to add the person on Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook or other applications.
Sometimes it is not always about care, care and caring. Spending quality time with the person can help make a difference. Think of it this way, what was the person like before they became unwell? Your relationship might have changed somewhat, but deep down they are still that same person. Sometimes spending quality time is what is needed and expect to do this as a carer to help connect with them.
Safety (common among carers)
Did I say common among carers? It probably is the number one rule book for unpaid carers. You might think providing a safe space for the ‘cared for’ is all that it is, but that is not the full story. Ever heard of the consequences when things go wrong in the health system? Carers will sometimes protect the ‘cared for’ especially when serious incidents will occur, think of wrong medications provided, or wrong decisions putting the ‘cared for’ at risk. Then it can be a tug of war when the carer has to push for the ‘cared for’ to get that support from the health and social care system. Overall the carer will have to be a shield for many things and expect to take some blows.
Show up physically and mentally
Not the same as being there, expect to take on health and social care settings. Sometimes you as a carer might think some things are being done as a tick box, well you could be right. As a carer you will have to deal with the following professionals.
- Clinical Psychologist
- Nurses (different Bands)
- Mental Health Counselor (families)
- Social Worker
- Care Coordinator
- Ward Pharmacist
- Occupational Therapist
- Ward Manager
- Admin for services
- Peer Specialists
- PALs Team
- Home Treatment team staff
Yep! and this is only the HALF of it. So as a carer how would you prepare in an important meeting, if you are not sure what that person does or if the professional is being difficult? Well, I am sure at some point I will blog about engaging with professionals, but as a carer, do not expect the ‘cared for’ will do the legwork.
Smiling or trying to
As a carer you don’t have to do this, in fact it is better to seek support if you are feeling down rather than pretend and put on a false smile. It does obviously help to keep one’s spirits up, but be honest with your wellbeing and reach out for support for yourself as well.
Someone to really listen (listening skills)
This is very important for unpaid carers. If the ‘cared for’ has no one to talk to then expect to listen and avoid saying much or criticism. This is not something easy to do, because it depends on your relationship to the ‘cared for’. There has been times I have had to listen because the person I care for ended up ranting due to being unhappy with how she was treated. It was just because there was no one she would trust to rant to instead, not even the Samaritans. In the end, I just kept quiet and listened, then walked away hoping that her complaining helped in some way. As a carer, expect to listen, but also expect to learn some listening skills.
Time alone (Important!!)
It is so important that you as a carer get time alone for yourself, it might be for recharging your energies, thinking things through or just relaxing. This is probably because a carer has to go through a lot, especially all the things that can play on the carer’s mind. If a carer cannot get time alone, then they could themselves become the next patient.
Trust (Very common)
In health professional we trust! As carers you will need to put your trust in professionals because you cannot do everything yourself. You will have to hope and trust that your doctor will involve you in the ‘cared for’ situation. If that does not work, then pray the doctor is skilled in being diplomatic enough to remind the patient why they need support from those close to them. Sometimes doctors tend to take the easy way out and let the patient’s word be law, but life is not always as simple as that, why? Think about the serious incidents when the carers or public were right about someone being at risk and the health professionals were wrong. It does happen and unfortunately it won’t be the last, but until then the carer will have to trust in others and trust the ‘cared for’ will seek support.
Words of encouragement (what words to use)
Expect as a carer to encourage the ‘cared for’ to not give up hope. The carer will need to be skilled in being supportive with words and not only just in listening skills. In fact a carer may end up becoming some form of counselling for the ‘cared for’, but only if support structures are lacking.
Unfortunately these are just some of the carer’s traits in the carers journey. The carers world can be a difficult long struggle, but it can also be rewarding as you share the ‘cared for’ life successes, hopes, dreams and struggles. It need not be unbearable tough if you learn as much as you can on what it means to be a carer.
Good luck in your caring journey.