When you shift from being a relative or loved one to a carer there are undeniable changes in the emotional relationship you hold with this person. Their independence is taken away with the responsibility placed in your hands, which means a new strain can exist as you become a parental figure in their life. It could be guilt, anger, frustration, sadness, or denial but, overall, it is a rainbow of negative emotions that can replace the once usually happy relationship you maintained with each other. This becomes just another factor to have to deal with, but in essence, feels less of importance than other commitments you now hold to your loved one.
However, sitting back and looking at the bigger picture, the emotional relationship you hold with the person you’re caring for is a huge factor in bringing well-being to everyday life. We all know what it’s like to live in a negative bubble where you hold a dysfunctional relationship with someone, so why ignore it when caring for someone is so much bigger than feeling depressed about the change in circumstance. It is imperative, therefore, to confront this challenge and to introduce exercises and time that will help recognise the true value of your relationship outside that of carer and patient.
Completing simple little tasks disguised as bonding exercises brought me and my father together, this could have been building a jigsaw puzzle, colouring in, reading quotes from our books to one another or watching a film. By building conversation, it allowed us to bond and become closer as well as to lessen the emotional toll of how our relationship had altered as his health declined. If it’s possible to get out of the house then be sure to make the effort as it can become all too easy to feel isolated and anxious about confronting the outside world. It could be as simple as nipping to a nearby drive-through coffee shop and sitting together watching the world go by, just pop the radio on if struggling for conversation.
Writing letters may feel like an old-fashioned nuance, but it is also a great way to say things that you feel you can’t say out loud. Of course, you have to remain sensitive to the feelings of your loved one but, by telling them honestly how you feel, it is a constructive way in which to gain their trust rather than to keep plastering on a supportive role all the time. Allowing them to speak how they feel will be difficult to hear, but remember they need to voice their concerns, their fears, and their thoughts in order to achieve a better sense of well-being. By letting them write down their feelings it is a sensible way to bridge the conversation that can be otherwise demanding.
It is also wise to reach out for extra support when you both need it. There are always options for providing respite care – local hospices can provide day centre visits or even at home visitors that can give you a couple of hours off. This enables you to go for a breather, to recuperate, and feel refreshed for when you return home to your loved one. It also opens you both up to the wider community who can be on hand for when things become increasingly difficult to manage and to provide guidance if the situation alters. If you are also active on social media you can find like-minded people in the same circumstance by reaching out to charities that raise awareness of your loved one’s condition.
While it is absolutely challenging and complicated to come to terms with a chronic or progressive illness and becoming a carer, it must also be recognised as a blessing. It can be considered so because it is you who is being entrusted to take care of your loved one, it is ultimately your responsibility to give them the best quality of life so, by identifying the positive, you can breed this behaviour into those around you. Find reasons to smile, to feel the benefit of the closeness you now achieve with your loved one, but don’t be afraid to seek help when needed. Speaking from experience, the traumatic memories will fade if you choose to find the good in the time you’ve spent together and sought the good out of an otherwise overwhelming situation.
Katie Bagshawe is currently a Student Diagnostic Radiographer at the University of Derby. She holds an MSc in Psychology from Sheffield Hallam University.