In 2011 Sarah’s partner had two procedures on his legs which drastically affected his mobility. At this time Sarah began providing care which she was able to do alongside her part-time employment. The level of care required was manageable and the couple was able to adjust relatively easily. However, in 2020 things changed dramatically, Sarah’s partner suffered two strokes causing a major increase in his support needs. At the time Sarah (50’s), living in Middlesbrough, was on furlough as this was within the Coronavirus pandemic. For the first time, Sarah started to struggle with anxiety, witnessing the person she loved having a stroke made a significant impact on her and she became fearful of it happening again. Sarah recognised she was struggling and contacted her GP she has since had counselling and is on medication to help her to manage her anxiety. Sarah was on sick leave for a short period of time and recognised for her own mental health and the needs of her partner she was not going to be able to juggle employment and caring responsibilities and resigned. Leaving the job, she loved was difficult. “It broke my heart having to leave work, I felt worthless, this was where I mixed with other people. I have always worked my entire life, I like to keep busy and have my independence, my own money but I couldn’t have continued with work out of sheer fear. When (my partner) was at his worst I couldn’t eat or sleep, I lost a stone and a half, I was paranoid and anxious and worried all the time.”
Sarah provides full-time care for her partner which includes personal care, physical help, finance management, help with medication and blood tests for diabetes checks, practical support such as organising and managing health care appointments and arranging travel and emotional support. Since the strokes Sarah’s partner became depressed, he had lost his independence and life as he knew it. Sarah found his decline in mental health just as traumatic and challenging to support him through as the strokes. “When someone who has always protected you is scared and vulnerable and needs you to protect them, it is truly awful, I have really struggled with my anxiety since all of this and at times have unintentionally made his mental health worse and vice versa. He is a very private man and as much as he hates to see me dealing with and coping with some of the daily tasks that I do, such as personal care I said to him at the start of this, me and you will deal with this ourselves and together. It isn’t easy but we try to focus on the best of each day. We have a great son with two beautiful grandchildren and each other”
Sarah keeps in regular contact with her best friends over the phone but rarely gets to go out and see them or connect with others outside of her close friendship circle. Sarah became a full-time carer during, the pandemic, an isolating period for many people, “the pandemic meant we couldn’t have services in the house to help and we have got on and managed ourselves and will do until I can’t then I will ask for more help. The pandemic was a very isolating time, days and nights blurred into one with only the routine of my caring responsibilities to provide any structure. When you are so absorbed by daily tasks and chores, it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel trapped in a mundane cycle. It's often in these periods that I get upset, seemingly small things make me emotional, a clear sign that I am getting run down. I am a sociable person and as a couple, we were both very sociable both together and with our own groups of friends. Some mornings when I get up and look in my wardrobe, I am triggered by all the clothes I used to wear to go out in, the shoes I would wear on special occasions that I haven’t worn in years and don’t imagine I will again. It's in these moments the routine can feel too much. I am trying hard to find the best in all of this, to seek out the positives. I read a quote recently which was along the lines of ‘keep your things for best, when you wake up alive, that is your best’ which has stuck with me. I now get up on a morning and wear my special perfume which gives me a lift.”
There is no denying caring for a loved one is challenging; it can also be rewarding. “We have always had a close relationship, but this has most definitely brought us closer. I used to work with my partner, and we loved socialising together, so we were used to being in each other’s company a lot however this is totally different as we always had options to see our own groups of friends and have our own independence and space. He appreciates everything I do for him, and I am very aware of that. I do things that I never thought I would have to such as personal care, and I know that it is not at all easy for him, but I wouldn’t want anybody else doing it. He says to me ‘I wouldn’t be alive without you’ and that is what keeps me going. I love him and will do what I can for him for as long as I can.”
“I have had fantastic support from Carers Together which has really helped me. I was a member of Ageing Better Middlesbrough receiving their regular ‘What’s on Guide’, around the time of my partner returning home from hospital I had received the latest copy which had information in about Carers Together, so I contacted them and explained my situation. I was then offered a Carers Assessment which help me to process my responsibilities and we identified that I would benefit the most from regular telephone support. I have since been receiving calls from the same member of the team each week who is supportive and helpful and despite never meeting in person feels like a good friend. I appreciate everything she has done for me. She is there for me to pour my heart out when I have been at my lowest, she has connected me to services and given me helpful advice, always making sure I am in touch with the right people and asking the right questions. I always look forward to her calls. I was able to get along to an event Carers Together hosted recently, they arranged for me to be picked up and ensured I had everything I needed, I honestly felt like royalty being chauffeured and pampered. I now feel more comfortable getting out for short periods and recognise the value of having that time to myself in supportive company. I am looking forward to joining more activities in the months ahead. We also have the Memory Clinic visiting us in a few weeks’ time so we are both looking forward to hearing about how they can support us”
The best piece of advice for somebody newly starting on their caring journey is… “Focus on the good days and do not dwell on the bad. Do not preoccupy yourself with what could have been and be conscious and thankful of what you have now”.
Thank you to Sarah for sharing her caring journey with us. If you can relate and would like to connect to local services that can support you, take a look at your options here. Sarah's story is real however the images and name used in this article are not.