I have always been a carer for my family. I worked in London for nearly 40 years in a job I thoroughly enjoyed but never thought one day my life would change so drastically by becoming a full-time carer.
Unexpectedly, I made the decision to early retire to look after three members of my family. Their conditions varied from mobility, long-term illnesses, depression, loss of memory, serious health issues and mental health disorder.
My time was spent each day not knowing what challenges I would face on a day-to-day basis. Managing and juggling my caring responsibilities was my main priority which did not leave any time for myself especially health and wellbeing.
I often felt very tired at the end of the day, sometimes not eating, or sleeping properly, forgetting to take my medication, and not really looking after myself. I did not realise my own health over the past few years had deteriorated gradually. The constant worry of how I was going to cope with all these responsibilities would eventually become a reality I did not want to face.
Then Covid hit the world in March 2020. My caring role increased during the pandemic, as I was now having to do all the shopping, cooking and cleaning, etc with additional responsibilities in three different locations. However, I was more fearful of going out in case I caught the virus and took it back to my family or became infected myself. My main fear would be who would look after them in my absence?
With all the government restrictions my family and I were now isolated at home, not meeting anyone, or going out. I soon got tired and uninterested doing the same thing every day and felt really stressed and frustrated this would never end.
I truly missed my time meeting friends as I used to go out every day for a bit of fresh air, even for a coffee and a chat. My world evolved around my mobile, online apps and watching TV.
I felt all alone and thought I was the only one striving to cope the best I can. Too frightened to go out to meet people or come into contact with the virus my attention turned to how my family would cope, as I am the only driver.
My stress, worry and anxiety increased as well as my anger and frustration which did not help my mental health. I became aware that I would often take this out on my family which I regretted. I was often upset which ended in tears most days.
I was successful in my career but felt I had failed as a carer. I could not cope to a point of “burn out” and had to eventually admit I was struggling to care for my family.
Eventually, I decided to get help from my GP in Merton Borough who referred me to Merton Talking Therapies.
The Merton Talking Therapies Wellbeing Team referred me to one-to-one CBT therapy which helped me to understand my stress, overcome my thoughts and feelings affecting my behaviour towards others. Having shared my anxiety and concerns with guidance counsellors willing to listen to me I felt more confident and secure to tackle and discuss many other options as a way forward for the future.
I also attended various Merton Talking Therapies Wellbeing online courses e.g., managing anger, sleep, stress etc to learn strategies to tackle my concerns. I met participants who shared their experiences and how they try to cope. I then realised that others were worse off and struggling like me. By learning new coping skills to handle problems or situations gave me vital knowledge and tools to overcome my difficulties. It also gave me a break from my caring role as well as more quality time for myself.
Every month, I attend the Wellbeing “Mindful Walks” at Morden Hall Park. It enables me to relax more, discover mindfulness techniques and just being aware of nature and the environment around. But most important, sharing experiences and making new friends. I gained more confidence to walk every day on my own to improve my fitness but also my mental health.
Last year, I joined the Merton Service User (SU) Forum. It is an important and valuable opportunity for me to give feedback and make suggestions as a carer to improve or make changes to the Service to help others within the community.
This year, I returned my passion for photography. Inspired by my dear friend I bought a new camera. The joy of photography is capturing that moment of beauty, sparking the imagination and revisiting memories in a way otherwise not possible. My photos have been exhibited during Carers Week this year and used in newsletters and websites.
I gained vital knowledge, understanding and confidence to look after my own mental health and wellbeing and started to feel less isolated. It empowered me to help other carers.
This allowed me to feel more relaxed, my anxieties started to ease and felt more in control of my life again.