It was when I heard that becoming a carer can happen at any age and that there are young children who find themselves in caring roles for parents or family members – it was then that I decided to abandon my ego and seek the help I needed.
I was about 18 years old when I became a young carer.
The father of my children received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and in that moment it felt like my world turned upside down. We had two children of our own and now I found myself caring for someone whom I loved and thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I felt confused and he felt even more so. I drifted along for the next few years doing as best as I could and as best as I knew how. I began to develop my own coping strategies and ways to manage. During this time I became close to my partners mother. She recommended I get in touch with Carers ACT and later with an organisation called Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) who work with carers to support them to share their carers story safely. I followed up with her suggestion of calling Carers ACT and made my first appointment.
Initially I felt some self-stigma and some shame, perhaps even embarrassment. Wasn’t this the place where “old” people go for assistance? Wasn’t I too young to be a carer? I missed my first few appointments, mostly due to some avoidant behaviour I had developed as a coping strategy, yet Carers called me up, you know just to check in. It was when I heard from them that becoming a carer can happen at any age and that there are young children who find themselves in caring roles for parents or family members, it was then that I decided to abandon my ego and seek the help I needed.
It started with counselling, I would have to take my young children along sometimes, and this seemed okay to do. After my counsellor got to hear my story and hear about some of the dreams I had abandoned for my carers role, she began to work with me to identify what I could do to begin to ‘find myself’ again. I continued with Carers ACT, getting counselling support, unpacking my hopes and wishes, making plans for the future. It felt good to be so supported. I felt that perhaps things may get better after all.
I started attending a support group, but I didn’t last long there, since most people were parents of adults with a mental illness who often lived away from home and I felt alone, since my partner lived with me full-time, I didn’t get a break like the parents in my group did. That’s when Carers ACT offered me some respite. I would go away with my mum and my daughters, down to the coast while my partner had his assistance, I was financially supported to have a weekends holiday. I’d take my notebook and write from my heart and my vivid imagination while my mother watched the girls.
One line that I remember from that time of sitting on the beach was “Sometimes I feel like I’ve come from the sea, the tears I cry taste just like the waves crashing down on me”. It was working with Carers ACT, talking with them about the difficulties of being a young carer, of trying to find the most basic of work/employment, of just trying to be myself and care for my children, that I began to heal. Over the coming years with the support of my counsellor, I gained employment, I returned to study and continued to parent my young ones as best as I could.
That was around 15 years ago. I’ve been to University, my children are now young adults and while their father and I are no longer together, my experience as a young carer undoubtedly shaped my life – believe it or not, for the better!