My latest column on a carer for someone with ME/CFS for the ME Association’s magazine ME Essential:

There’s no such thing as apprenticeships for carers. You’re pitched headlong straight into the full-time role without any form of induction, training manual or qualifications.

You learn on the job, so to speak, and you have to learn fast. There’s a lot at stake when you take on the responsibilities of a carer and often there’s not much of a reward or glittering prize waiting for you as each week draws to a close – other than the gratitude of the person you are caring for, which is reward enough.

As a carer you simply get on with it, as quietly and efficiently as possible, rarely acknowledging what you do or what you might have accomplished on any given day.

I was reminded of these basic characteristics of life as a carer when reading a preview of the current series of The Apprentice – the BBC’s annual search for the next big corporate superstar.

No, really, I was. Stick with me.

I am happy to admit that I’m slightly addicted to The Apprentice. In my defence I approach it as one of the finest slices of parody and fly-on-the-wall comedy currently on television – The Office in real life, if you like.

So, what does that have to do with my role as carer of someone with ME/CFS?

It is guaranteed to put a smile on my face, which is always vitally important for carers. It also serves to reassure me that no matter how hard the career-carer juggling act can get at times, it certainly keeps my feet firmly on the ground and completely in touch with reality.

The obsession with wealth and the superficial trappings of success (sic) are, sadly, all too familiar these days. As is the staggering lack of basic common sense displayed by most of those who take part.

You learn little of practical value from The Apprentice, other than how not to do it.

In comparison, the career-carer juggling act has taught me so many lessons that would serve the average Apprentice candidate well.

Over the last few years I have learned important stuff about life in general, relationships, teamwork and financial management – I’ve had to learn these things as often you are left alone to simply get on with and survive. It has been a very steep learning curve, but a rewarding too.

My relationship with Rachel gets stronger every day and with every hurdle safely negotiated. We have learned the importance of asking for help, putting false pride to one side and realising it isn’t a sign of weakness. We have learned to survive on one income – and I’ve always been much more of a fan of words and sentences than figures and sums.

Above all, I think we have learned to appreciate exactly what is important in life (it is something that never features on The Apprentice). It is an attribute that I’d suggest is shared by each and every carer in the country.

Unlike stars of reality TV, carers rarely get the opportunity to stand up and shout about our achievements. But, then, perhaps that isn’t entertaining enough, not least because we have done a pretty good job of coping, of learning, of simply getting on with life.

And we’re not known for shouting how we’ll always give it 150%, making boastful statements like: “I’m the reflection of perfection”, or making pointless claims such as describing ourselves as “better than unique.”

Carers only ever give it 100% because that is all we can give. Anything more simply isn’t possible, is it?


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