The Difficulty Of Managing When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

So last week I did a whole blog about tips as to how to manage when carers go away on holiday and do you know what? I was totally unqualified in giving that advice because good lord…as of today it has been seven days since my parents, aka my regular carers, went away (with three still left to go), and boy have I not been managing to a degree I seriously didn’t expect.

I think the hardest thing about planning for your carers to be away on holiday is that until it happens, you don’t realise how much you needed them in the first place. It is easy to imagine how you will cope without your mental health carers around, but it isn’t until it actually happens that you see all the little things that they do for you that you never would have thought of.
In my last blog I mentioned the importance of writing a list of the things your carers do for you so that you can figure out solutions and alternative ways to manage those things without them, but something I have realised in this past seven days is that I don’t just need general carers, I need my parents as carers specifically, and as a 25 year old I am ashamed to admit how dependant I am on both of them. I am 25 years old so I should be living an independent life without needing family around, but as much as I hate to say it…this past seven days…I have really needed my mum, and you have no idea how pathetic I feel in admitting that.

As you know, in preparation for the holiday my parents hired a nurse to look after me, but it only took a few minutes with said nurse for me to realise that things were not going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, the nurse my parents hired was lovely. If you were to be casting parts in a play and needed someone to play the role of “extremely kind, supportive and understanding mental health nurse” you would have cast this guy in a second, no audition needed and I doubt he would even have to read the script before knowing all the lines required. In short, this guy (we shall call him Eggbert for now because I am fond of names that start with the three letters used to denote the object laid by chickens and often eaten by members of the public for breakfast), was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Indeed, I knew he was going to be lovely from the start so I expected it all to be fine but like I said, I don’t just need a general carer, at this stage in my life with my mental health as it is, I specifically and ashamedly need my mum so this guy was not going to work purely due to the fact that he was not familiar to me.

Eggbert arrived to take care of me on my very first day and was more than capable of carrying out all the tasks and helping me in all the ways that my parents help me, but there was one problem, he was a stranger, and that was where we ran into issues. Rather than finding his presence a comfort, I started to have a panic attack because all of a sudden there was this stranger in the house who I didn’t know, and even if a stranger is lovely and comes bearing bouquets of flowers and freshly baked cookies (which Eggbert didn’t do actually…if you are reading this Eggbert however please rest assured that your lack of foliage and baked goods was not the issue, rather it was my incredibly silly brain), they are still a stranger.
I tried to calm down and remind myself that this person was not a threat to me at all but a trained registered professional mental health nurse who was there to help me but the bit of my brain that controls my “panic” mode was not listening to any of that and consequently it wasn’t until I had asked my nurse to leave that I managed to calm down.

The obvious problem then however was what to do as an alternative because there was no way I could manage by myself, a point that was proven to me after I tried to survive a mere few hours alone. It is very hard to describe how those hours felt because I didn’t myself expect or comprehend the difficulties I would face and to be honest I am still left baffled by it all, but if I had to try and explain it in the simplest terms I would just say that I fell into an extremely dark pit of depression highlighted by a heart attack pang of anxiety and I became so suicidal that there seemed no way to avoid doing something rash.

Luckily, my sister is amazing and came to visit at that time and realised as well as I did that I could not be left alone. Consequently, she took me back to her house and helped me to bake blondies (like brownies but made with white chocolate and peanut butter as opposed to your regular cocoa) because apparently in my eyes when you are feeling that suicidal, it is imperative that you bake something. That was several days ago and since then I have not been alone for more than about an hour at a time because I have the most amazing friend who has agreed to come and stay with me. Like I said, it isn’t the same because right now the person I really need is my mum, but as an alternative carer my best friend is familiar and insanely amazing and doesn’t send me into panic mode like the trained mental health professional did. I hate to say that my friend has had to take some time off work to look after me because I hate to be a burden, but there has been no way around it and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t still be alive were it not for the support I am currently receiving from new alternative carers, my sister and my best friend.

A lesson I have also learnt during the past few days, aside from the fact that I do not need simply carers but people who are familiar to me looking after me, is the importance of staying busy when your mental health carers are away. Usually I manage to do the same daily routine every day with my mum and that works just fine but with my parents away that usual routine is too placid and is not distracting enough from the onslaught of suicidal thoughts I have been pelted with ever since my parents left through the front door (and if you are wondering why those thoughts suddenly intensified the second I was left to my own devices then welcome to the club because I have no idea either.)
Still like I said, the way me and my friend and sister have been managing is to keep me busy at all times so that I have less time to think. For example one day we went to the local aquarium, on another we baked loaves of bread and on one particular day when I was feeling especially self destructive and in need of doing something rash, my amazing Auntie took me to a tattoo parlour to get my eyebrow pierced…apparently when it comes to me the way I manage in times of mental health crisis it is to look at fish, bring out my inner baker or have metal bars shoved through parts of my face (I would however ask any dear readers out there to keep that last bit on the down low though as I have not yet alerted my parents of the fact that I now have a silver bar going through my eyebrow…hopefully they are too busy on their holiday to be reading this because otherwise this is awkward…yeah…surprise mum and dad if you are reading! I have used your time away to have needles shoved through parts of my glorious visage…BUT SO FAR I HAVEN’T KILLED MYSELF SO REMAIN CALM IT IS ALL GOOD…just focus on the coping mechanisms of witnessing sea life and making yeast filled products instead…I love you…*runs away*)

Like I said it has been seven days of my parents being away with several days still to go and what I have learnt over this period of time is that surviving without your regular mental health carers around is a lot harder than I ever anticipated. Often it is not simply a case of being mentally ill and needing a general carer, but of needing a specific carer, in my case my mum, or at least someone familiar like my sister, friend or Auntie. To be honest, the thought of getting through another few days without my parents turns my stomach and I genuinely don’t know how I am going to manage it but at least I have the best people around me to support me in this situation and for that I feel incredibly lucky and eternally grateful.
How the next few days will pan out I do not know (although I do feel another piercing coming on…), but for now, that is what I have to say for the week and the latest lesson I have learned in this mad old life I am living with mental health problems. So yeah…If anyone else out there is struggling or is parted from their regular carer at the moment may I suggest a trip to look at marine life, a spot of baking or perhaps pay someone to shove a needle in your face (I AM SERIOUSLY JOKING THERE DON’T DO THAT KIDS PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT WAS JUST A JOKE).
On a more serious note however, if there are any other people out there without their regular carers at the moment then please know that I feel for you, that I understand and that as hard as it is to accept, if I am honest with myself maybe it is time to admit that it isn’t pathetic to still need your mum or other familiar family member or carer around even when you are technically an adult, and it is actually just part of this whole mental illness thing to feel this way. I feel like a burden on my parents more than ever now but I am trying to assure myself that it is not my fault, I am just ill and am going to have to do the best I can for now, as we all do in these situations. In the mean time I hope you are all well, if you are struggling I hope you are lucky enough to have amazing people around you as I am.

Take care everyone x

Loaf and fish

5 Tips For When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

If you struggle with mental health problems, there is a high chance that you have some sort of carer in your life, someone who helps you get through the day, someone who supports you through the particularly bad times and stays with you when you need. Indeed, carers for people with mental health problems can feel like people you couldn’t live without because they are so integral to your daily survival and that is how I feel about my mental health carers, my parents, although mainly my mum, who had to give up work partly to look after me because having a real job and the job of looking after a total lunatic was far too much for one poor woman to manage.
So if carers are so vital for life, what happens when carers do the terrifying thing and go away for a while, perhaps on a much deserved and needed holiday? What do you do then? What do you do when your person isn’t there for a period of time? Well, to be perfectly honest if it were me, I would go into a total panic and start crying hysterically which is funnily enough how I have been reacting in this situation for as of today both of my parents are heading off to Cyprus on holiday for a week, a week in which I am going to have to find different ways to manage my survival.

So today, seeing as it is so scary to have carers go away and seeing as I am dealing with this myself, I thought I would talk about how to manage, for I think it is an occasion that requires some kind of plan and is not very much like eyeliner in the sense that it is something one can merely “wing”…

Tip 1 – Make a list: Over the course of any one day, a carer can perform a multitude of tasks and when we try to think about all these tasks all at once and how we will manage them alone, it can become overwhelming. For this reason I think the first part to the plan of action is to make a list of all the things your carer does for you or helps you with every day or every week so that you can tackle each hurdle individually and set up a solution for every single one rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end with the overwhelming task of simply “managing everything” by oneself. If you are faced with a week without your carer the prospect can seem daunting, too many hours and too many tasks to truly comprehend but if you break it down into more manageable chunks it becomes less intimidating and also allows you to anticipate what exactly is going to be difficult when left to your own devices. For example, before my parents were going away I made a schedule of my 24 hour day plan and have gone through my daily routine picking out any issues to solve to avoid them springing up unexpectedly like some demented and rather terrifying Jack in the box…Jack in the box surprises are never appreciated, especially when you are living with mental health problems without a carer, so make a list and anticipate those problems before they can become an issue.

Tip 2 – Look into respite care: Making a list of challenges and things you are going to struggle with whilst a carer is away is all well and good but there is a chance that even when that list is made, things are still going to look incredibly daunting and perhaps unmanageable even if you break it down. When this is the case my tip would be to perhaps look into various institutions or options of places that you can go for respite care. It sounds a bit scary and dramatic but all across the country there are houses and facilities available for times exactly like these when a carer about to go off galavanting and they provide an option or place to stay whilst the carer is away so that you can manage living without them whilst getting the care you need. Crisis houses and specific respite houses will be around if you do a bit of research, although with this one it is important to look up these type of options as early as possible. Crisis houses may have spaces available more last minute (although usually there will be some kind of waiting list so getting exact dates is never certain), but respite care often needs to be planned in advance. Getting funding for a respite placement is another difficulty so this tip is not one without its issues (although if I could remove the issues for you please rest assured that I would), but it is certainly an option to consider or something to look into if tip one has left you still feeling that the idea of living without your carer is unmanageable. Indeed, personally I would say that looking for and going into respite care when carers are away is a great, safe and secure option that I would be head over heels for and going for myself during this week but alas because of late applications, lack of funding and various OCD reasons (like sharing bathrooms) this option is not available to me at this time and we have had to look for alternate ways to get through the situation….for example….

Tip 3 – Look into replacement carers: If like me, you find yourself incredibly intimidated at the thought of a period of time without your carer (even if that carer is away on a well deserved holiday that you fully support them in travelling on), but have not been able to access respite care either for lack of date availability or lack of funding (please insert comment about how desperate this country is for funding in the mental health department here), or OCD like complications like me where staying in your own house is preferable, there may be the chance of looking into an option of hiring or getting care from a replacement carer who can come and help you out in your own home and indeed this is the option that I am taking this week. The problem with this option is that it can be expensive hiring a nurse from an agency to come and support you, but luckily or unluckily depending on how you look at it, my parents have been so desperate and so worried that they have found the funds somewhere. Perhaps there are places and people who are eligible to receive this kind of care from the National Health Service (I know that the government provides hired assistance for people with learning difficulties for example, just not for people explicitly with mental health problems), so certainly check first to see if you are eligible for that kind of care but if not and if you do have the funds, my tip here is to know that hiring a replacement carer for a period of time is at least a possibility you may not have thought of (I know I certainly didn’t know this kind of thing existed until my parents ran into issues with my care for this particular holiday) and certainly an option to look into if you don’t think you will be able to manage being home alone.

Tip 4 – Make plans: When faced with a week home without my parents I shudder at the thought and my teeth chatter together like Scooby Doo’s after he has been through a particularly intense ghost chase. Thinking of all of those hours by myself/even with a nurse is terrifying, so as well as making a list of things you are going to need to challenge whilst your carer is away, I think it is important to make a list of things you can do to break down the time and give you structure. Being told to “survive the holiday” full stop is far too intimidating, so the key is to break it down into things that you are going to do in order to survive. Maybe this means planning to go on a walk one afternoon or planning a morning of crafty activities (by which I mean the arty kind as opposed to the sneaky sneaky burglar kind…no burgling whilst carers are in or out of the country please folks) but whatever it is make a rough plan for every day to stick to. Then, instead of “survive 7 days”, you will be faced with smaller and more manageable tasks like “watch a film for two hours” or “knit a penguin tea cosy” (other animal shaped cosies are optional but not advised). If choosing activities for each day is too stressful maybe simply write a list of ways to keep yourself busy, tear them up and put them in a jar and then when your carer is away and you find yourself at a loose end pick an activity from the jar and get distracting yourself with it. Either way time used productively is infinitely easier to manage than time spent simply worrying about where your carer is or what you should do to pass the time, so get a timetable going and make some structure for your time!

Tip 5 – Have a list of emergency numbers: In an ideal world, candy would rain from the sky, Donald Trump would not be president and your time at home without your carer would go swimmingly without a hitch but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world (clearly evidenced by the current inhabitant of the White house and the lack of strawberry gum drops falling from the sky) and so we must face up to the fact that when carers are away, there is the potential for things to go wrong. Therefore it is important to prepare for such circumstances in advance by making a list of phone numbers of friends/family, support services, carers and crisis teams who you can call should things go awry. Hopefully you will make this list, hang it up beside the telephone and never need glance at it for the duration of your carer’s holiday but just incase things do go wrong, it is vital to have people in place who you can call on for help ready and prepared.

So there you have it! 5 tips as to how to manage when your mental health carers go away on holiday or at least 5 tips that I will be using over the coming weeks to survive my parents’ jolly jaunt off to Cyprus (they are going for a wedding…I am sure it is going to be lovely despite the fact that a holiday for my carers abroad is both delightful and terrifying). Whether these tips will be helpful to anyone else out there in a similar situation I do not know but whatever the case I thought I would try to help my pals out there and hopefully I have.
When carers go away it is always going to be scary but I will keep my fingers crossed that with these tips and that by hanging in there together, we will be able to get through. I guess there is only one way to find out…let’s give it a go shall we?

Take care everyone x

CarersAway

The Effect Of Mental Health Problems On Carers

A few days ago I was out for a wander with my mother and I asked to borrow her phone because my OCD fear of contamination often means that I leave my own phone at home, meaning my “mobile” is ironically rather stationary. I did not ask to borrow her phone to play a few rounds of snake as I often did as a child (God I miss the 90’s), I borrowed it because I wanted to check my emails. You see, I am a very important person and for this reason I am often swamped with a lot of very important emails and thus it is vital for me to check my emails at all times to see what exciting opportunities I am receiving/check if my online shopping order of a new penguin onesie has been dispatched yet, because one cannot wait around all day for these things. What do they expect me to do, wear normal clothes? What a hideous idea!

Anyway, as I tapped on the little email icon on my mother’s telephonic device, I was immediately confronted with a word document in which I could clearly see my name. Had I not read my name I would have perhaps realised that this document was not for me and was actually an email sent to my mother, seeing as I was using her phone which was naturally signed into her account. Having realised this I would have, of course, closed the document and signed out in order to respect my mother’s privacy, but alas I did not realise this right away as, like I said, I had read my name. Thinking my emails had somehow popped up automatically I read on, but soon enough I realised that this message was perhaps one that had not been written for the eyes I had tucked neatly behind the rims of my spectacles (top tip: when wearing glasses always make sure your eyes are tidily kept behind the lens part of the glasses rather than allowing the eyes to wander aimlessly across one’s face).
When I realised that this document was not for me I probably should have closed it right away and swiped off to check on that penguin onesie, but alas I was all too curious and without saying a word, I read all of what was on the screen…

The document it turned out, was a draft of a letter from my parents, a letter about me. I won’t go into the full details of the letter’s contents, but as a brief summary it said “Dear High up person in Mental Health services, We are the parents of Katie who is really mentally ill and we are terrified for her life right now because things are so bad, so please can you help locate some kind of treatment that is more intense than the outpatient services she is currently receiving because she is truly insane and we do not know what to do with ourselves”. Suffice it to say, upon reading that, I was a little shocked. Obviously I know that I am mentally ill and I know that this has a large impact on the family and friends around me, but I guess that when you are the one suffering with the mental health problem, it is quite easy to forget the effect it has on other people because you are so wrapped up in your own world. Seeing this was a massive reminder and realisation as to how much people with mental health problems affect the people who love them. On this blog I am always talking about how my illness affects me and when we think about a household in which someone is a little bit on the bonkers side, it is often the person who is unwell, as opposed to the carer, who is in the forefront of our minds. This really made me think how if I, as someone who has a lot of experience in mental health problems, can forget or not realise the impact of insanity on others, a lot of people out there with no experience probably have no idea at all and therefore it needs to be talked about.

Indeed it reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago when the window cleaner rang on the doorbell to collect money for his bubbly services. Months prior, had he rang the bell, nobody would have answered because my mum would have been at work and I would have been hiding under a blanket somewhere worrying about who was ringing on the doorbell. However, recently my mum has given up work for “many reasons” she says, but if we are honest it is to care for me because, to borrow a phrase of every 5 year old trying to get out of a P.E lesson across the country, I am “not very well” (Thanks for letting me borrow that phrase kids. You may have it back now. Really appreciate it.)
Naturally though, the window cleaner is not aware of my mental health problems, so he was surprised at my mum opening the door in the day time. When she explained that she had actually given up work, he jovially commented “ahh, a lady of leisure”, and to be fair to him, how was he to think otherwise. Still it was a comment that made me a bit uncomfortable because I realised that there are probably some people out there who would hear that my mum has given up a “proper job” to look after me and would think that she is indeed a lady of leisure, swanning around the house in a floaty gown without a care in the world. She doesn’t have a mental health problem and since mine are all invisible creatures in my head, it would be easy to assume that they don’t affect her life very dramatically. This could not be further from the truth, and in my eyes my mum’s unofficial job of “looking after a maniac everyday” is not at all leisurely and, if anything, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting job on the planet.

For me, it can take hours to eat a meal, hours to perform a washing routine “correctly”, hours to put my hair into a pony tail that is “just right” according to OCD and not likely to kick off world war three any time soon. Rituals take so long that I am frequently getting to bed around 6am, just as my dad is getting up for work, and though my mum isn’t there for all of that time, for the majority of it, she is there. She is the one calming me down after I have had a panic attack, she is the one helping me to prepare food and weigh courgettes if I am too scared to go in the kitchen myself, she is the one having to answer my constant reassurance seeking questions of “did I do that right/is something bad going to happen”. Aside from those more physically demanding things however, I would say that the biggest impact is the emotional stuff that goes alongside it.

I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day and had found it hard to follow my meal plan so I ended up accidentally fainting (I am pretty sure it is hard to faint on purpose but I want to make it clear that the fainting had not been my intention). When I came round on the sofa I did not feel well at all and I remember mum being very anxious about it, a fact which, at the time, I felt really angry about. Looking back it sounds awfully selfish but I just couldn’t see why she was making a fuss. She wasn’t the one whose heart was skipping beats like a child with a jump rope of death, she wasn’t the one who was so weak she could barely move and whose vision was fading in and out of total darkness. If she was at all dizzy or weak, she could solve the problem easily by going into the kitchen and having a few chocolate digestives to perk her sugar levels up. I on the other hand, no matter how I felt, was still too scared to eat something. Little did I think about what it must be like to watch someone you love struggling to stay alive, without being able to do anything about it. Okay my mum “has it easy” in that she can grab a biscuit whenever she wants one, but she also has to worry about the fact that I cannot do that, that I cannot take care of myself at all right now, and that is incredibly difficult.

It isn’t even as if she can get a break very often from her role as “carer” because naturally if she isn’t caring for me she is worrying about who is doing it for her or worse, me caring for myself. She can go to bed at 2am and sleep through the rituals I carry out until 6am but I highly doubt she has a restful sleep knowing that I am awake charging around like a lunatic, worrying about whether i have eaten enough or whether I am going to have one of my panic sessions which usually leads to me doing something rash and dangerous before I have time to realise what is going on.
Living with someone with a mental health problem also restricts someone’s movement and freedom drastically, much like it might if you had a Yorkshire terrier or a golden Labrador. I have never had a dog but from what I gather, you need to constantly be aware of what they are doing and where they are going. You cannot just jet off to Paris for the weekend without worrying about where the dog is going to go, and in my mother’s situation, I am very much like that dog (only a really freaking crazy dog that you can’t just send to the local kennel.) In the letter from my parents to the fancy mental health person that I had read accidentally/kind of on purpose having discovered accidentally, they spoke about how they have a holiday booked in August and are panicking because if things remain as they are, I will not be able to be left. People know that as someone who is unwell, I often feel trapped behind the bars of the mental health cage, but it is important to realise that often, those around them are caught up in that cage behind those bars too.

Reading that letter has had a big effect on me, not in the sense that I am now “trying harder” to get better as if I wasn’t trying before, but because it has made me especially aware of how mental health problems suck both the lives out of those they inhabit and any other lives that happen to be within range. A mental health problem is not a vacuum with a specifically designed nozzle that only pulls on the sufferer, it is a vacuum with a flipping massive gaping hole that hovers over a household and jumbles up all that there is inside, so that even those who aren’t “technically ill” can feel like their world is spinning.
In a way I guess this blog is kind of like a shoutout or a thank you to my parents as well as an apology at how much I am affecting their lives negatively right now. More than that though, I want it to highlight the fact that in general, life as a carer is incredibly taxing and debilitating in its own right, and that it is a serious job, the stress of which should never be underestimated or brushed aside. Raise awareness for people who struggle of course, but it is important to also raise awareness and support for the people who are standing alongside them.

If you yourself are a carer of someone with a mental health problem, please know that on behalf of all mentally ill people, I see you, and I thank you.

Take care everyone x

CarerPrison