As a carer for thirty years, Lee shares the journey that led to her finally asking for help. “In the dead of night, while everyone else was sleeping my mind would relax a little, a weight would settle, and I would yearn for a helping hand.”
Guilt prevented me from voicing out loud that I wasn’t coping as well as I thought. I had been soldiering on, pushing past fatigue, worry and lack of time, but last month I finally picked up the phone.
For the past thirty years, I have been a carer to my youngest son, who has a mild intellectual disability and is on the Autism spectrum. For the last five years, I have also been a carer to my elderly parents interstate, while my Mum was in a nursing home with dementia until her recent passing. And now I am also a carer to my husband after his cancer surgery and treatment in 2020–21.
In the dead of night, while everyone else was sleeping, my mind would relax a little, a weight would settle, and I would yearn for a helping hand. Other carers would encourage me to reach out, telling me that it was okay to ask for help. The couple of times I followed through, I found that I didn’t know where to start in the scant five minutes I had grabbed for myself. Who do I call? What should I ask for? Where do I start with voicing my situation? Did I really deserve to ask for support? I kept hitting roadblocks with websites that had no clear phone number to call, no clarity on what services they offered and time-consuming forms to fill out before someone would call me back.
For me, the feather had broken the camel’s back. I needed help that day, not in a month’s time. I had lived in a caring role for so long that I didn’t really have an idea of what a non-carer role looked like. I didn’t know what was a valid request for support and what were simply the challenges of normal parenting, even though I had also raised an older son without disabilities. Weighed down by my responsibilities, at times the effort to reach out was too much. Don’t get me wrong. This role is one I would not trade for love nor money. It just is how it is, loving and rewarding.
If only I had received a phone call when I first became a carer or in the years following, informing me of how carer support services could help me and my family. A call to ask if I was coping okay. Would that have meant that the impact on my mental health and wellbeing was lower? Would it have allowed me to be a more attentive mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend? Would it have allowed me to study or work in my chosen field? If only it didn’t take for me to feel like I was at breaking point to finally reach out for help.