For most of us, "carer" was not something on our career wishlist. Nonetheless, Carers UK estimate that 10.6 million people will become carers to elderly, sick or disabled relatives in the next five years. It's a daunting prospect, but if you are new to being a carer, here are some important tips to know.
1. You are Not Alone
Caring is hard - physically, mentally and emotionally. You will often feel alone, but there are many sources of support out there. From your own friends and family to specific carer support groups, in real life and online, there is always someone you can turn to for help, advice or just to rant. Search online for support groups, or ask your GP - and make sure your GP is aware that you are a carer.
2. Me Time is Important
You cannot give your best to your loved one unless you have first taken care of yourself. Taking time to enjoy a hobby or to go out with friends is not selfish, so there is no need to feel guilty about it. Your GP or a carer support service can help you find out about respite breaks, but the odd evening here and there to yourself can go a long way towards maintaining your own mental health.
3. Know Your Rights
As a carer, you have certain legal rights. Did you know that you have the right to have your needs as a carer formally assessed by your local authority, who will then be able to offer you a range of help? Did you know that you have the right not to be disadvantaged (for instance, at work) by the fact that you are caring for someone? Read up about your rights as a carer, and don't hesitate to have them enforced.
4. Financial Help is Available
Carers, dependent on circumstances, may be eligible for a variety of different benefits. It doesn't make sense not to claim what you may be entitled to, so find out and go to the trouble of filling out the forms.
5. Educate Yourself about Your Loved One's Condition
The last thing you need is more homework, but if you take the time to read books about your loved one's condition, or to join online forums on this topic, you will pick up a lot of advice from people in exactly the same boat as you. Who knows, you might also be able to offer help to someone else who is new to the situation.
6. A Journal Doesn't Judge
You probably feel bad if you want to complain about your situation as a carer, let alone about the person you're caring for - but you're only human. There will be times when you want to rant, and that's OK. Keep a simple journal and record your feelings there. A journal won't judge you, and nobody else need ever see. Besides, looking back at more positive days via your journal will also help to keep you positive, which is a huge part of being a successful - and sane - carer.