Walk a Mile in... Mick's Shoes
Mick, 54, has been looking after his dad since his mum passed away in the mid 70s. His dad has had a number of issues over the years, including bipolar disorder, heart problems, sciatica and more recently mobility issues. Mick talks about the pressures of caring, from being a being a young carer still in school to the present day, with many ups and downs along the way. He also speaks about the effects of his role on his own mental health, the value of peer support and how he hopes his experience can help support and advise others in a similar situation.
Listen to Mick's story to hear what it's like to walk a mile in his shoes. Or you can read his story below.
I became a carer for dad after mum died in the 70s, early 80s. I'm not dad’s main carer anymore as dad is in care home but over the years it was me that looked after him. It was a difficult decision about eight years ago to say that I think you should go in a care home because basically it was doing my head. I used to get worried in as he was in sheltered housing and I worried that I would find him on floor, I would phone for paramedics and he would be fine for a bit and then it would happen again. So thinking back it may be better for both him and me that we do it sooner because he’s a lot better now. He’s getting 24 /7 care, getting meals at the right time, he gets medication and basically he’s a lot better off. So I’m not my dad’s main carer. Thinking back in the 70’s and 80’s there wasn’t the care organisations, caring was done in the family basically. There was nothing like Derbyshire County Council or NHS or the care that’s available. I did find it a bit of a struggle because I was at school; I found it really hard work to do different things especially things I wasn’t trained for, it was just landed on me and I just got on with it basically. I do remember I felt resentful sometimes that me mates were out without me and I was stuck looking after me dad I found that quite debilitating at times. And even when I was 13 / 14 playing football out in street at 10 and I used to sit in window watching. I can remember that was difficult.
What issues did your dad and why did he need you look after him?
He’d had a heart attack and he was in Ashgate hospice for a while and he back home and he couldn’t get about like he used. He had a knee operation which laid him up for weeks and he’d got two walking sticks and when he was out and about he couldn’t wait to be mobile again. So for me I felt a bit like a nurse maid. Mum had died and grandma had died. She used to live across the road my grandma so there wasn’t like a maternal person around. My dad had mental health issues and like I say he had angina. About 10 years ago he had double bypass operation and he wasn’t the fittest of people and after he retired from work he deteriorated.
So with mental health issues what kind of issues did he have?
He had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder so he was either very low and depressed or he experienced mania. When I was a kid we’d be out in the car in the middle of night and I didn’t realise that it was mental health at the time it was just a bit of my dad. He experienced mainly low and for weeks or months at a time he would not go out in society, he would hibernate. Thinking back it affected me as well because I had to cope with me as well as I became like a house son. I had to do the shopping, cleaning, again which is something I feel resentful about. I sooner been out playing with my mates instead of doing housework.
As you got older did your caring role hold you back in terms of what you wanted to do – for example with work?
I moved out of my dad’s house. He said I ought to get a place of my own which felt quite painful at the time as have so didn’t give much support to my dad as he was going through a good patch. And there were time thinking that when I got married, had children – I used to see him. I think because of my upbringing I don’t think we’re all that close. Sometimes we had quite a strange relationship as well. He was getting a lot of support from mental health team and social services so for me I felt like I could step back and let other people do what I had been doing for years.
Was that a bit of relief then when more support became available?
I think it was relief but I remember feeling guilty that doing it for long that I was not doing it there was a bit of a gap, I sorted of missed his presence although sometimes it wasn’t good. Eventually it was relief and it took me a while to adjust.
Do you feel that as a carer yourself that you have got support from agencies or from other people. Do you feel that you have been supported in your role?
Some of time. I think one of my main barriers was asking for help or knowing that help was out there. Thinking back I was more I’ll just get on with it. But nowadays I get a lot of support from a voluntary group, North Derbyshire Mental Health Carers Forum. And that peer support feels more valuable sometimes
For people listening to this who have never heard of that kind of organisations, just what kind of things do you do with the group and have to do you find it helpful?
I found it helpful basically because there are other people like me there as sometimes you feel like you’re on your own your whole world stops as your front door sometimes, being able to talk to people in a similar situation, in a caring role, the empathy and the peer support for me, that is really valuable. I know that the meetings that we have at St Thomas Church at Brampton on the last Wednesday of the month there’s guest speakers from the NHS. Derbyshire County Council, Alzheimer’s and all sorts. It’s good, it’s a bit like a coffee morning, people can just chat. Sometimes you don’t want anyone to do anything you just want people to listen, to get it off your chest.
What would you advise other carers, say they have just to come into a caring role, what would you advise them to do in terms of getting support how to cope with it?
Good question. Well there’s no sort to pack that I’m aware that ‘you’re now a carer here are the people you need to contact’. When somebody dies there’s information that you can get. Thinking back to my own situation, its ok to ask for help because without it – I felt I would have been a lot better off, physically, financially, mentally so it’s just, the main barrier is just finding out what help is available – I knows there’s lots of cutbacks recently so it makes it more difficult but there’s lots of organisations you can google and find things in my area. I’m sure I know the answer to your question as thinking back to when I was a carer I didn’t see myself as a carer – it was my dad and I did it because I loved him so I just got on with it. I think sometimes that that is the main barrier, that people don’t see themselves as carer’s or they don’t want to be burden. That there’re thinking its trouble to other people and extra hassle to them and others.
Are there any positive sides of caring; obviously it is difficult but is there any sort of reward from it ever or does that depend on the situation? Did you ever personally feel rewarded caring for your dad?
I’m not sure that I did, no. I did feel that sometimes I did feel I was doing something that was not my choice; I did it but I got on with it anyway. Thinking back I think for me it’s been helpful with my mental health the fact that I am as stronger person because I’ve been through a lot and been hard work sometimes it’s been really difficult. Also at the same time, the knowledge that I’ve got if I can help someone else because of my experience then hopefully I can pass down things, like, you’re asking me questions and I can say this is what happened then and this is helpful now. Yes, I am thankful that the things that I’ve done in the past with my dad and that I’ve learned as well wouldn’t be half the stuff I don’t know without other organisations like DCC and LHS, the carers forum, other mental health support groups in chesterfield. I think I’ve got a better insight into people. Again if I can pass on knowledge to someone else further down the line and help them I feel it’s been worthwhile.
You touched on your own mental health, is that something that you’ve struggled with and do you think that’s the result of being a carer?
I have struggled and thinking back I thinks its probably some inherited some of my dad’s mental health stuff like my dad’s bipolar and stuff like that . As I said earlier, as much as I think there’s a downside to being a carer as I lost part of me and I felt quite resentful, I thinks it made me more empathetic with people, most of the time, so for me, my own mental health has been affected by my mum dying when I was 11 so that I feel that didn’t help.
How do you look after your own health and wellbeing now? I know you said you go to groups but do you do anything else to keep yourself healthy and well and to keep your mental health on track?
I’m actively looking for work at the moment and I’m still involved in mental health support groups, which is helpful. That’s like good therapy in a way. I think that looking after my dad has made me look at other people and how I can help them really because there’s nothing worse than feeling like, when I was 17 years old, feeling like you’re on your own even though there are groups and organisations out there that offer support its sometimes like I said, it’s difficult to find where they are and what they provide. Sometimes they can’t help because you don’t fit the criteria and stuff like that.
Tell me, you said you are looking for work, do you think your carers role do you think you have developed skills that would actually be useful in the workplace, I know you talked about empathy?
Absolutely, I did a job for chesterfield time bank as a mental health development worker to try and get people into (time bank) and into employment so that was useful. Sometimes I don’t realise that I’m 54 and I don’t know where the time has gone as the years fly by but the skills and the experience, even though some of it didn’t feel positive at the time, I can look back, and I can see people where I was back in the day, and the same things that I said, or similar things or there’re in the same situations, or there’re a one parent family, you’ve got grandma living in with them and stuff like that. In that way it’s easier for me to say, this is what did or this is what would have helped me so I can signpost people.
Just to pick up why we’re here, sometimes it’s easier for people to judge these days, TV and such is about judging people. It’s like you say, you know, don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes because you don’t know what it’s like.
Do you think people do judge carers; have to ever felt that from anybody? Judged for being a carer?
I imagine that some think that while you’re a only carer you’re only caring for your family and it’s not a real job; for me carers are unpaid. Family carers, don’t get the credit that they deserve because sometimes it is a full time job because you can’t work. You can claim benefits for that but how many billions it is on some website, unpaid carers save the government every year (£880million in Derbyshire, £1.3 billion nationally).
Carers, for me, are not credited enough because without them the system would ready to explode. We all do it sometimes because we have to do it or for some other reason we’re forced into doing it. Some people give up work or people move in with them and stuff like that so there are a lot of sacrifices that go unnoticed.