Fade or Last – story of a carer

Original illustration by Debbie de Mornay Penny – www.debbiedemornaypenny.com

In my thirties I was working full time in a position that came with many responsibilities. Life for me then was about obtaining a good income, few select possessions, and perhaps a certain type of lifestyle. I was single, fiercely independent, and life was very much about me. This way of living brought with it an increasing circle of friends, a busy social life, lots of fun and my very first mortgage.

The paths of our lives twist and turn, and sometimes the unexpected can happen. Someone once said to me “there is only one thing in life that is certain, and that is, there are no certainties”. My parents have always instilled the belief in me that somehow things always seem to work out. I pondered on this for a while – do I believe in magic? Do they? Do I? I answer: a resounding no.

So how do things always seem to work out?

My thoughts are that perhaps it is about how we adapt, manage, and accept what life gives, takes away, and challenges us with along the way.

In my late forties I became very unwell. A year on and I was looking after a relative who had herself become seriously poorly. Now I was giving time for emotional and practical support, hospital trips, form filling etc.

In my fifties, older relatives’ health started to decline, and again the windows of ‘me time’ started to narrow further. Loss (people, possessions, time etc) can impact on us in many ways. Losing ‘me time’, became frightening – my mind was full of ‘what if’s?’ that periodically bombarded my existence. I questioned; ‘how can I care for others if I am no longer me? Might I be neglecting myself? If my time to do the things that make me who I am, that bring me joy, laughter, happiness decreases and decreases, what then?’

I reduced my working hours to free up more time to help others, and also to buy back some ‘me time’. “Ah yes”, I hear you say, “that’s ok if you can afford to do it”, and for many years I may have said the same. I go back now to my adopted belief that “somehow things always work out”. I discovered that by giving myself that extra bit of ‘me time’, I regained my focus. With that extra time, I was able to think clearly and creatively about how I could top up my income, reduce my outgoings, and still get by – and get by I did.

So, is there a deeper message here?

A wise lady once said to me, “contentment is longer lasting than happiness”. As I move through life, with all its twists and turns, I endeavour to keep those wise words in my mind. We can all fall into the trap of focusing our attention on discontent, those things that trouble, annoy, and perhaps challenge us in life. I ask, how useful is that? What might be more useful? How can we refocus our minds, so that we can manage, cope, and accept life’s challenges, when the need arises, in comfortable ways?

I ponder the difference between ‘contentment’ and ‘happiness’ – one fades, while the other lasts.

Happiness involves moments of joy, which fade away.

Contentment includes a calmness that lasts.

So why is contentment so important? What is the deeper message on this day, a day that highlights the rights of unpaid carers?

In my story, I find contentment among many transitions and challenges, as I learn to accept the changing phases of life – I know many will have similar stories. It is inevitable that most people will care and support others during their lifetime, to some degree. How we adapt, manage, cope, and accept this inevitability, I believe is key. It is important to note also that there are people out there who have been looking after others for many years, and in some cases all their lives. Young and old, these people are the specialists – those who can show us the way when we are challenged to adapt to new circumstances, manage during challenging times, and accept change. Today, we reflect on what these people do, and what we can learn from them, because one day, their story may be our own.

I will leave you with these few questions:

What is important to me in my life? People? Places? Activities? etc.

What might it be like if I lose ‘me time’?

How might my loss of ‘me time’ impact on me as an individual?

How might my loss of ‘me time’ impact on those around me?

What can I do in advance to prepare myself practically and emotionally for new responsibilities?

Will this bring me contentment? If not, revisit point 5 and adjust.
– Deborah Penney, Carers Voice Somerset Project Officer