Carer Support

How to survive being a carer

Carers need help too – how counselling can help you cope

Being a carer

Are you looking after a parent, spouse, disabled child, or friend? Many of us in the UK are now shouldering the main responsibility for looking after a loved one, either with us at home or living elsewhere.

We all know that this is a very valuable job, often undertaken out of love and very willingly. Sometimes the situation is different, and you end up being the main carer simply because nobody else will do it.

Feeling swallowed up

All carers know how demanding a task caring can be. You may feel as if your whole life is being swallowed up by these responsibilities, or as if only you can care for the other person, especially if it is your partner or child. This can make you feel reluctant to take any time away – or you may feel guilty if you do. It can sometimes even feel as though you don’t even remember who you are away from your role as a carer. Talking this through with an experienced counsellor can help you to make sense of these contradictory feelings.

They’re not who they used to be

You may be looking after a family member who is becoming less able to do the things they used to do, or losing their faculties or their memory. As well as being distressing in itself, this will change the relationship between you. You may be caring for a parent but find yourself becoming more like the parent of the two. How can you come to terms with this when there is a deep part of you that believes your parent should always be there to look after you?

What if you feel you are expected to do more for your parent than your parent ever did for you? Or you are moving into a parental role with your husband, wife or partner? Challenges like these to your relationship can be very difficult to navigate.

Finally, caring for a relative with dementia means trying to process the loss of that person as they once were, and withstanding behaviour that may be hurtful, as dementia sufferers often experience mood swings and personality changes.

How to survive

All these challenges are very real, and often go hand-in-hand with practical and financial challenges too.

Remember: you are not alone, however much it may sometimes feel like it.

Steps you can take to help yourself:

Take time out. Even if it is just going into another room for a few minutes, sitting with your feet on the ground, closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths.

Get help: Consult websites like Carers UK, Carers Trust, ask your GP, social services or friends and neighbours. Plan some time off from your caring duties.

Talk to others about how you’re feeling. You might think they already know, or you might be wary of complaining or boring others. But often other people just don’t know how to be supportive, or are waiting for you to make the first move.

Get in touch with a counsellor or therapist. This can really help to bring your feelings into focus. Simply talking to someone who is there purely to listen to you can be a huge relief, and you can let out all your worries, frustration and anger in a space just for you.

Use counselling (short-term or long-term) to think about how you deal with being a carer, what issues it brings up for you, and to think in a safe, non-judgmental place about the future.

Danielle Coleman

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