So as the dust starts to settle on a carers in crisis story, the news agenda for many might have moved on but the issues still remain largely untouched.

It was good to see carers in the media spotlight for a brief time and yet I can’t help feeling that carers’ stories are usually for life, rather than just 24 hour news cycles.

I wrote earlier this week about how I seem to have become Mr Angry since the start of the year…well, Mr Obviously Angry, as I’m normally pretty good at keeping a lid on a myriad of seething resentments and irrational irritations flooding my head on any given day.

Now, you see, there I go again. Making light of dark thoughts.

Maybe it is time to stop laughing at myself and ask a few more serious questions? Maybe its time to stop pretending that I’m my usual laidback self?

It isn’t just the anger bubbling to the surface, you see. I’ve been ill and feeling under the weather more in the last six months than I have in the last six, or even 16 years.

It go so bad in December that Rachel, the person I’m supposedly caring for, had to look after me.

I’m completely unmotivated at work – not that surprising, perhaps, given the fact that we’re all being made redundant on July 31. There is still plenty to do, yet I’m struggling to summon enough enthusiasm to leave the house in the morning.

I’m job hunting and although I’m actually enjoying the process and the challenges that brings, such things inevitably throw up their own set of stresses and concerns.

Also, I haven’t been out on my bike since October.

This last point might seem trivial to some, but it is hugely significant for me. It is actually a pretty good barometer of how I’m feeling.

I love getting out on my bike. It really is a release and it helps keep me fit and motivated, not just to ride my bike but for everything else as well. When I’m active, I’m happy and when I’m happy, I’m motivated.

Of course, juggling a full-time job with full-time caring responsibilities means I am usually active. But that is a different kind of active and not necessarily a healthy one for mind, body and spirit all of the time.

I’ve said before that my bike is symbolic, maybe even a sign that I can get a few hours of freedom from all the stuff and nonsense that life throws at you and has thrown at both Rachel and I since she first became ill.

So if I’m unmotivated enough to leave the bike locked up in the garage then things could actually be quite bad.

There is plenty of evidence of carers suffering burn out, not just the stories that make national headlines and involve Prime Ministers. Another reason I’m lucky is that the amount of care I have to provide is nowhere near the 24/7, 365 day a year, unpaid effort that so many others give.

There are surveys that show how carers become prone to physical and mental health problems. Little wonder when you read the life story of someone like Riven Vincent.

My carer story will never make the front page of national newspapers and dominate news websites for 24 hours. I’m not sure I would want it to, but that isn’t the point.

The fact is my carer story is no less important as Riven’s or the millions of others facing a daily struggle. We’re all under pressure, we all struggle, we all wonder who to turn to at times and none of us are remotely interested in competing for the title of UK’s best carer or most extreme tale of hardship.

We simply do what we want to do and let that be an end to it.

Riven’s case needed to be aired, but once her story slips off news lists the struggle will continue day in and day out and largely unseen.

Little wonder, therefore, that burn out is a problem that affects us all and is something that also remains unseen until it explodes. Burn out does hit us all, even those of us in denial.

So, after the self-deprecation of being Mr Angry a couple of days ago, its time to be a little more serious.

I took the excellent Carers UK survey yesterday and learned a lot about myself in the process.

I do a lot. I know I do a lot. I’m lucky to get help from family and friends and from my wife.

I’m lucky that I’ve maintained my career and I have an employer – for now at least – who is based close to home and who is flexible when I need them to be.

Above all, I’m lucky to be married to Rachel – and feel luckier with every passing day. Life is great when I’m with Rachel.

But, do you know what?

Its bloody tough.

All of it.

Not all the time. Sometimes it is possible to just sail along serenely and get everything done without blinking an eye. But then other times it just isn’t so easy, I think I might be going through one of those phases at the moment, for all sorts of reasons.

And I’m not Superman, nor would I want to be.

The Carers UK survey included a section on respite, which is timely given the recent headlines. Apart from about a week in total (for a short lads’ break in Spain and various rugby matches), I’ve pretty much been caring full-time for the last five years and working full-time as well. But that week still sets me apart from many other carers.

When I have arranged to other nights and days away from home, it’s usually been because the day job has required me to be elsewhere – hardly respite.

I know I have Rachel and loads of other people looking out for me, keeping an eye on me, available whenever I need them.

I’m not writing this to seek help, wise words, or support. The fact you’ve read this far is a far bigger help than I can describe and I thank you for it.

Rather, I’m writing to explain that when I’m asked how things are going, I often choose to say: “Yeah, great thanks. How are you?” because it is easier.

It is easier for me, rather than explain all of the above and more. And that makes it easier for others too, which isn’t meant as a criticism but points to the fact that we all have busy lives to lead.

So, generally, I think I’m doing OK at the moment in spite of it all. But I also know I need to start looking after myself as there’s a lot of this “stuff” flying about at the moment.

It seems being Mr Angry of Ye Olde City is no laughing matter after all.

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6 responses »

  1. Cusp says:

    You’re right…it’s all bloody hard and there simply isn’t sufficient recognition of that fact. Mind you recognition is one thing…action is quite another and there’s precious little of that. As someone with M.E. who also has a disabled child I can see this whole thing from multiple perspectives. I actually know someone who is going through exactly the same process and thoughts as Riven….she was sitting on my sofa yesterday bawling here eyes out and I bet there are many more like her and Riven. Today I heard the mother of a disabled child speaking on TV and she said ‘I don’t know any parents of disabled children who feel they have an appropriate care package or feel supported’…and she’s right…and sadly that’s right about so many other groups of people who need care and the people who care for them. These present cuts are savage, untried, untested, uncaring and not thought through at all…it will end in disaster.

    By all accounts you do a marvellous job and Rachel is great at keeping motivated and creative but I wonder what happens to the many people who dont know how to express themselves as well as you or I or cant find their way round The System ?

    • Paul Groves says:

      If I lingered too long on your last question, I would have sleepless nights.
      We’re very lucky, which seems an odd thing to say at times but is actually true…and that’s a depressing thought as well!

  2. Mark says:

    A controversial suggestion I know, but have you tried going to church? Even if you think it’s all a load of old tosh (and I have no idea of your views on this), it can’t hurt to try – new social contacts and lots of caring people (some exceptions – we’re not all perfect!). You’ll find most church-goers are open and non-judgemental, willing to share and discuss problems and difficulties more, as (again, on average), we *ought* to be less concerned about putting up a pretense of invulnerability and perfection.

    I go to Emmanuel, next to the Tesco Express on Netherstowe, which is a lively evangelical church (1045 on Sundays); there are plenty of other choices. Why not give it a go?

    • Paul Groves says:

      I’m not sure new social contacts and lots of caring people are what I need. I am making new contacts pretty much every day thanks to this blog, Twitter, Facebook et al – and they are often people in a similar position who are able to offer insights, share experiences and provide advice, or others who are able to provide fanatstic diversions and get me thinking about other stuff. I’ve got more practical help and support via these contacts than any official channels.
      I guess that makes Social Media my church.

      If I’m looking for anything then it is greater understanding from the decision-takers and policy-makers.
      We elect these people, but unless we fit into neat little tick boxes then they seem to lack the wit, imagination, flexibility or desire to listen and act accordingly.

      • Mark says:

        Fair points! 🙂

        Not that I’m an expert, but society as a whole seems to be feeling more personally “alone” than ever – despite huge leaps in communication technology, “real” communication is on the decline. I read into your post that this was how you were feeling, maybe incorrectly.

      • Paul Groves says:

        I think that is a fair point about a general lack of communication or understanding in society – some do seem rather blinkered by choice.
        But the post is more about me being a bit more open about “stuff”, rather than just the stock, polite, British response of: “Yes, I’m fine thanks. How are you?” I think carers generally often carry on regardless without making a fuss – which is a major fault, as it effectively lets politicians off the hook.
        Maybe the time is right to be more open, honest and proactive. A lot of policies from successive governments (not just the new coalition) have had huge and negative impacts on carers and the people they care for, either directly or indirectly, but no-one knows about it because we don’t tell people until its too late. The same is true for other groups in society.

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