Being a carer isn’t a choice, but I wouldn’t change any of it

7th June 2016

Most people see carers as people who look after physical disabilities but it is so much wider than this. Mental health and substance misuse is on the rise – what happens to the family members who have to adapt their lives and deal with these problems?

I lived in a ‘typical’ family: two parents and two children. Both my parents worked and we lived in a lovely family home until a messy divorce, and a parent moving 30 miles away. At 13 I made the decision to stay in my home town to live with my dad. From here my dad began suffering with mental health problems which caused ongoing alcohol abuse. This lead to a long, strenuous battle for me as a teenager. I had to deal with my dad’s severe episodes of depression after a long day of drinking, giving him masses of emotional support and someone to listen to his problems when he was feeling low. I ensured the house was secure after he arrived home on school nights, sometimes at 4 or 5am, locking up, turning off the oven and checking to ensure he was safe. My dad was bad with money so I supported him in dealing with bills, ensuring enough money was there for food and other essential items, but we often went without as he would spend the money on alcohol. To my friends I would make excuses as to why I couldn’t let them come round or why I couldn’t stay out and throughout my school life I kept my secret life at home close to my chest. I left school with amazing GCSE results and no one would have known about the roles I was taking on at home.

College was hard and with my dad’s drinking getting worse, I found it hard to commit my time and concentration into the 5 academic subjects I had chosen on a whim. I asked for extra support but when I didn’t show up for an 8am session, as I was up with my dad until 5am, it got cancelled. By this stage my own mental health had deteriorated and I was put on anti-depressants at 16 with no explanation of their side effects. For the next 6 months I struggled with every aspect of my life and dropped out of college as I had given up. I took the wrong path in life, spent my time with the wrong people and saw no future for myself.

In 2012 I found myself at a point of crisis: with no education, employment or training in place I was spending my days with my thoughts and was coping poorly in every aspect of life. I called every service I knew of that covered children support and alcohol support and eventually found myself at my local carers centre. Over the past 3 years they have guided me to where I am today. I have a strong head and an even stronger mind set, my dad is still drinking but I have learnt to support him from afar. I moved out of my dad’s home and got my head together. In the past 18 months my carers centre have given me the fantastic opportunity to work with them where I can give back to other carers what I received and am forever grateful for.

The work I have completed with the carers centre has been fantastic. I have spoken at schools, colleges, NHS events, the houses of parliament and event got to interview Simon Stevens, the CEO of the NHS. I support many young people on a daily basis, giving them the empathy and support they need to aspire to achieve and become something other than a label. Seeing the support I provide change lives is the most rewarding feeling I have come across, to date, and I hope to continue to implement change for carers locally and nationally in the future.
     
Being a carer isn’t a choice, no one asks you to sign a contract and no one tells you that you have become a carer. Being a carer is normal life to you. You are a child, a parent, a loved one first and foremost and you care for them out of love. My caring life was hard and I still struggle with areas of my caring role but I wouldn’t change any of it as it has made me appreciate everything in life and with support I have truly used my experiences for the positive.

Lauren