The cost of caring that no one talks about

So if you're reading this you may well have found yourself in the position of being an unpaid carer for someone you love - a spouse, relative, parent or child. I say find yourself because in most cases this isn't something people plan for or a position many desire to be in, it is something that happens and normally life situations catapult someone into this role. No matter what age you are people are never normally fully ready for this and it can be a huge shock to the system.

Caring for someone is a role that is all demanding and those demands can increase and multiply over time. It's not just the physical aspects of caring for someone that can take a toll it's the emotional and psychological impact this can also have, the things no one talks about.

Many things happen behind closed doors and it's not until you're living this path that you truly understand the impact of all that it entails.

Broken sleep for a sustained period of time is common for many carers, reducing the threshold for tolerance and ill health, both physical and mental. Resources within the community for care and support are few and far between and quite often carers can find themselves quite isolated in their role with no one to turn to or share the load with.

For many caring is a non stop role with no set lunch break or tea break. Serving others, ensuring their wellbeing and quite often doing lots of physical tasks as well as paperwork and liaising with professionals or dealing with appointments and co ordinating things can be an extra layer to all that is required of you.

Carer fatigue is real and it is not talked about enough. It's more than being a little bit tired - it's a state of exhaustion brought about by prolonged stress and demands of caregiving.

Some symptoms of carer fatigue can include physical issues such as muscle pains, changes in diet, frequent headaches and migraines, emotional and mental health issues including depression, anxiety, difficulty thinking clearly, making mistakes which are out of character for you, becoming withdrawn or increase in use of substances or alcohol to try and manage your feelings or calm yourself.

Carer fatigue is serious and should not be ignored.

Many carers neglect their own needs but it's exactly this which can contribute towards carer fatigue. Isolation will increase the impact of the strain of this role on you and in order to be able to care for your loved one for longer and do the best job you can whilst trying to preserve and maintain your wellbeing it is essential that you understand that self care is not selfish. It is essential to your survival and longevity in this role.

When your depleted and with nothing left in the tank so to speak it's easy for tempers to fray and to become snappy and less tolerant when you're overloaded and over whelmed. You may well find yourself speaking in a way that you don't like or even feeling resentment for the person you're caring for and then later feel awful for this, adding to a low mood or feelings of shame or inadequacy.

It's important to recognise this is probably not how you feel about them, more a symptom of how exhausted and overworked you are right now. It can also be very hard to identify all the positive good things you do, of which there can be many and instead focus on all the things that you perceive you're not doing well at and slip into a negative cycle.

Some things that can help are

(1) Connect with others - Everyone needs support and to find their tribe, people who get what you're going through and where you're at. People who won't judge only support and those you can talk freely with. This can be in person or online if it is difficult to leave your loved one or the house. Connection with others helps to reduce feelings of isolation and feeling you're on your own.

(2) Reach out for support - This can be scary and many people have mixed emotions around this but everyone needs a break now and again. Even just an hour can make all the difference, take the pressure off and help renew your energy levels so you can go again. Research day centres, those that can come and offer respite at home or services within the community. It doesn't mean you're not doing a good job or not capable - it means you're human and looking after yourself as well as the person you care for.

(3) Earmark some time for you - Make sure you have some time to do something that you love, something that brings you joy. A call, hobby or just visiting the local gardens, grabbing a coffee or reading a book - there are some many things that you could do and you absolutely should. If you had an illness that required medication you'd understand you needed to take that in order to stay well - you need to view this in the same way.

(4) Don't be a martyry - be realistic and accept what you can and can't do and stick to this. Don't expect to do everything and contact services for support for the things that you are struggling to do or don't to of feel capable of doing. No one can do everything and no one expects that of you either, even if it feels like it at times.

(5) Be your new best friend - Step back and think about what you would say to a friend in your position. Likely you'd treat them with more compassion and kindness than you might be giving yourself right now so take a breath and give yourself the grace to apply what you'd say to them to yourself.

Are you paying the hidden price of caring for someone and feeling the effects of this on your wellbeing?

If so, as difficult as it may seem you need to take steps to try and ward against this continuing and improve your situation in whatever way you can.

As a carer your role is so important and makes a huge difference to the people you care for and you deserve to be supported in this too.

Take some time to consider if you may be experiencing carer fatigue and if so what steps are you going to take to help with this.

If you're struggling emotionally and want to speak to someone for support then reach out via email at [email protected].