All of us can feel lonely at some point, but caring for someone can bring up particular challenges. It’s difficult to maintain an active social life when you’re a cook, cleaner, driver and everything else. Even when there’s a supportive network of friends and family in place, it can sometimes be difficult to talk to them. Our carer community often tell us family and friends can either seem to think you’re some sort of saint, or they ‘just don’t get it’.
Not to mention, if we did happen to have an afternoon free, could we afford to go out? Caring costs money. There are expenses to plan for and so many have to give up their jobs to provide around the clock care. With these worries to consider and without these regular interactions, our social circle starts to shrink.
For Bryan, the loneliness crept in when his wife Jill had to go to a care home. Although there were fewer caring responsibilities, he was left feeling lost and missing the person he had shared his life with.
“I hate to say it but I partly quite enjoyed looking after my wife. It doesn’t give you any time to think and it gave me a lot to do”
Bryan has been married to Jill for fifty-six years. A few years ago Bryan noticed that Jill was struggling with her memory and she was finding daily tasks more difficult. She was soon diagnosed with vascular dementia. Over the years her symptoms grew worse and she could no longer do the things she had always loved, like cooking and baking the annual Christmas puddings for the family (all seven of them!).
“Caring can creep up on you. It was the little things she used to do, all of a sudden I found I was doing them all.”
As Jill’s health deteriorated, Bryan took on more and more. Then after a pneumonia scare, the decision was made with guidance from her doctors that she would need to stay in a care home.
“There were tears from her, it was very hard to walk away.”
After living together in the house they had shared for over forty-nine years, Bryan found himself alone and feeling quite lost. The evenings became extremely long and very quiet.
“Just the T.V and radio for company.”
Bryan has a supportive family, but they live away and when he’s feeling most alone in the evenings, he sometimes feels that he doesn’t want to disturb them.
“It’s a different feeling. We could sit there all evening watching T.V and barely speak, but when they’re gone it changes. Having that person there to comment in the moment.”
Bryan shares that one of the most valuable steps he took to tackle loneliness was to open up and talk to others. He connected with other carers by joining his local carer’s centre. He regularly attends get-togethers (virtually and in-person when possible) and found huge benefits in doing so. Finding people that ‘get it’ and that you can relate to, even if the caring situations are different can make such a difference.
“Share your problems, and talk to like-minded carers. The hardest thing to do is to ask for help. Remember you are not alone.”
Bryan also joined his local bowls club and found that getting outside really helped improve his mood. He’s also been taking on fun and crafty challenges with his family each week which has sparked joy for everyone. He’s even invited his next door neighbours to get involved!
So, what are some other ways we can stay happy and healthy in our caring role?
Despite caring affecting much of our society, there isn’t enough adequate support for unpaid carers in place. Caring needs to be understood, recognised and valued to better support the carer community overall. But whilst we wait for this cultural shift, what changes can we make ourselves?
- Find your tribe – As Bryan mentioned, talking to others that he could relate to really helped. Join our active Facebook community or see what’s on at your local carer’s centre.
- Do good, feel good – Volunteering comes with a lot of benefits. Not only do you feel good helping an organisation close to your heart, but you might learn a new skill and make some new friends. Contact local charities in your area, or search the Do It website.
- Be tech savvy – With the impact of the pandemic, connecting with people really is at our fingertips. There’s so many different ways to communicate from Whatsapp to Zoom. If you want to learn more about using different digital platforms, see if there are digital support courses in your area, or search Youtube for some useful videos to get you started.
- Get creative - Join a class or group, from physical fitness to knitting – see what’s on in your community.
- Access support – From befriender services, helplines to counselling, reach out if you need to.
And as Bryan very importantly said, you are not alone. We know it can feel like that sometimes but remember your community is always here to support you.
*Carers UK and Jo Fox Loneliness Commission. 2017. The World Shrinks: Carer Loneliness.
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If you look after someone, we are here for you. By joining The Carers’ Centre you’ll meet people who understand what you’re going through, and will listen to you. You will also gain access to a range of fantastic and free services to support you.