Posted by Beth Britton at 27/09/2012 11:41:37
Maintaining your own identity when you care for a loved one is something many people find very challenging. During the last nine years of my father’s life, everything in my world revolved around his care. Even when I was not with him, I was only a phone call away from hearing that I was needed because he had been taken ill.
Despite being in my twenties, I was very far from being footloose and fancy free, and there was no such thing as ‘normal’ life. I would feel guilty if I had a rare night out with friends, thinking how unfair it was that I was able to go out and socialise whilst my father was sat in his care home. Much to the irritation of some of my friends, I would be constantly checking my phone to see if Dad needed me.
Booking tickets for anything, whether it be flights, concerts or football matches left me scrutinising returns policies in case I could not be there because I needed to be with my dad. Accepting invitations for social events always came with the caveat that I would attend providing I was not with Dad. In fact everything you think about doing, even down to the most mundane tasks, can never be planned with any certainty because when you have a vulnerable, elderly family member certainty is replaced with fear of what the next day, or hour, may bring.
I never found the fact that my father was receiving professional care in any way alleviated my concerns. In fact it added a new layer of worry about whether those professionals were caring for him as they should be. For family carers, the demands on your life are even greater, and opportunities for much needed respite are all too scarce. I personally always found that it was impossible to ‘switch off’ from my role as carer and next of kin to my father. Even in the months since he has passed away, my natural instinct is still to be doing shopping for him, visiting him and dealing with everything that our lives together created.
Life after caring means focusing on yourself and your future. I found that I had no concept of the future when my life was immersed in caring, and I think this is true of many people in that position. You live only in the present, and as a safety mechanism you dismiss thoughts of any other life because you know it is not possible and dwelling on it can leave you feeling disillusioned and resentful.
Finding the spotlight in your life being firmly on you, instead of on your loved one, is not an easy adjustment to make, especially if it is many years since you have been in that position. Thankfully the courage and determination you needed as a carer will help to build your confidence again, and provides a reminder of your strength in those darker moments.