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

Dramatic Life Plan Changes When You Are Living With Mental Health Problems

You know that feeling where you don’t see a friend for a year (maybe they were backpacking around Australia or herding elephants in Africa), and then they come back for a cup of tea asking how things are going and you just sigh because there is so much to catch up on? Yeah. That exact feeling is the one I have today, only in this situation it isn’t that I haven’t written on my blog/spoken to you for a year (heaven forfend!). In actuality it has been a mere week since you last heard from me but what a week it has been and good lord with cheese and chopsticks do I have a lot to catch you up on!

Now, you remember last week when I talked about how I was about to go home after a five and a half month inpatient stay at my local eating disorders unit? Remember how I harped on about all the rules and regulations I had set in place to keep myself and my mental health problems on track and the importance of rules when living with mental health problems? Remember all that stuff I said about how I felt pressured to stick to the rules because if I didn’t there would be consequences including, but not limited, to my parents not being able to cope with me in the family home any more? (If none of this is ringing any bells I suggest you read the two posts that can be found, like aeroplane fire exits, here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems and here: Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems).
Good. We all up to date because you know that situation? Yeah, that situation has kind of sort of exploded all over the place and I have only been out of hospital for a week…

Indeed I can barely believe myself that it has only been such a short amount of time because so many things have changed. Like I said, I was only discharged last Tuesday, armed and determined with my rules and boundaries set my my parents to help keep my mental illnesses in check back home, but in this past week, all of those rules have gone horribly wrong.
From that first day back home my eating disorder looked at all of those neatly written out rules and laughed and I was smacked in the face by how much harder all of this eating malarky was going to be outside of hospital.
To be perfectly honest I do not understand it even myself.
For five and a half months I have been following a meal plan and now a simple change in location has completely thrown me off. I am not saying that I admit defeat already, far from it, but I can acknowledge that there is a serious problem and am well aware that, no matter how positive I try to be or how determined I am, I am currently unable to stick to the rules around eating certain amounts at certain times and not self harming that have been set.

“What is wrong with that?” I hear you ask “So you are breaking a few rules. This isn’t school, what are you worried about, getting detention or something?” I hear you cry!
Well no actually, I am not fearing detention but I have been fearing the consequences of me not being able to stay in the family home and in this past week it has come to my attention that me staying in the family home and living by my parents’ rules is, at this point impossible.

Now before I go on I would like to make it clear that my parents are not evil (well my mum is a little bit and she does cackle over a cauldron occasionally but that is a story for another day) and just because I am struggling with my mental health at the moment they are not kicking me out of the house. Far from it, they want and are doing all they can to support me with my insanity, hence why they set up these rules so that we could all try to live happily together, but to be blunt, they simply cannot cope with my madness any more for the sake of their own mental health (remember self care is important folks) and so me being unable to follow the rules has led to some consequences. What consequences?

Well, watch out because here comes a bombshell: I am not going to be living at home anymore. Yeah…I told you a lot had happened…

Like I said it was mere hours before we realised that I was not going to be able to live by the required rules and so, knowing that my parents could not cope anymore and that I didn’t want to put them through all of this again, I hopped onto google and started looking for a place to live. Mere days later I had impulsively used up my inheritance on a flat…yeah…I guess you could say things have moved pretty fast.

I don’t even know what to say or where to go from here because I am still so shocked and mind blown as to how all of this is happening and to be honest none of it feels real.

I am moving out.

I am in the process of buying a flat.

I have never lived by myself before and soon I will be living alone. WHAT IS HAPPENING?SOMEBODY STOP THE RIDE! I WANT TO GET OFF!

See what I mean about having a lot to update you on? Seriously, I have gone from living in an insane asylum for almost half a year, part of that time on 1:1 with a tube up my nose, to buying and living in a flat all by myself in the blink of an eye, and if I am honest, I have no idea how I am going to deal with it. Because of OCD and my eating disorder there are a million of normal every day things that I cannot do for myself from changing a duvet cover, to taking out a bin or washing a pair of socks and yet suddenly all of this responsibility is on me. Oh and how many Katies does it take to change a light bulb? THERE IS NO NUMBER HIGH ENOUGH BECAUSE THIS KATIE CANNOT CHANGE A LIGHTBULB. I AM GOING TO BE LIVING IN DARKNESS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE UNLESS I GET SOME CANDLES WHICH I WILL PROBABLY DROP AND END UP BURNING THE WHOLE PLACE DOWN. I WON’T EVEN BE ABLE TO PUT THE FIRE OUT WITH WATER BECAUSE APPARENTLY FOR WATER YOU HAVE TO PAY A WATER BILL AND I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO DO THAT EITHER. SOMEBODY HELP ME FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

So yeah…that is my update, THAT is the latest Born Without Marbles news and an example of just one of the dramatic changes of plan that can occur when you are living with mental health problems…
Obviously it will be a while before I actually move out and into my new flat (turns out that buying property is far harder and more complicated than buying cuddly penguins…who knew?), but eventually that is what is going to be happening. In the mean time I will of course be living at home trying to stick by the rules as best I can and trying not to drive my parents completely mad but who knows how that is going to work out? Then again who knows how living by myself is going to work out because the only reason I am leaving home is because I am too insane and the last time I checked insane people weren’t the best at surviving in this world alone. Thankfully, whenever this flat does come through I will only be a five minute walk away from home and obviously my parents are going to support and help me through this more than I am probably giving them credit for, but purple onions and gravy am I terrified and filled with questions. How did this happen? How did my mental illnesses take over my life so much that they have led to me being practically evicted from my family home and forced to live alone where I cannot interfere with other people? How will I cope by myself if I can’t even cope with the support of other people? How on earth is this whole moving out of an intense inpatient setting and into an isolated empty flat going to play out? Well, truth is I have no idea. I guess we will be finding that out over the coming weeks together…

Take care everyone x

LifeChange

Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems

A few weeks ago when I was talking about the fact that I am getting discharged from an inpatient setting on the 20th of February/tomorrow if you are reading this on the day of upload, (handy link to that blog post here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems), I mentioned that there were going to be a lot of rules and boundaries in place regarding my mental illness that I would have to follow back home.
Seeing as these boundaries were set by my parents you might think I live in a particularly strict household with rules and regulations more often seen in a school rather than a home setting, but actually, I am starting to think that when you are living with mental health problems, it is vital for everyone to set some boundaries.

Thing is, when you have a mental illness bobbing along with you through life, you can guarantee that it is going to do all it can to interfere with any plans you had prepared. Thought you were going out for a night with friends? Surprise! Depression has crossed that out of the calendar and scheduled you in for a good old evening of crying into a pillow and thinking about what a terrible person you are. Decided to spend several hours working on that novel and actually being productive with your life? Nope! Instead OCD would like you to waste those hours antibacterialising various objects in the house that were already clean to begin with. No matter what illness you have, it is obviously going to impact your daily routine, and if left with total freedom, it is likely that it will impact your daily routine more and more as time goes on until you find yourself looking back and wondering how on earth things managed to get so out of control. Now when you are in an inpatient setting this aspect of mental health problems is managed somewhat by the rigid structure of your day to day life on the ward, but on the outside it is a hell of a lot easier to get carried away with your own rigid routines.

The reason for this is that I have started to realise that mental illnesses are much like dinosaurs, and living with them is analogous to being that professor that Richard Attenborough plays in Jurassic Park and it is that analogy (to be fair it has been a while since we settled in for a good old traditional Born without Marbles analogy) that I want to talk about today.

Maybe some of you out there haven’t actually seen Jurassic Park (and if you haven’t you really should, it is fabulous), but basically in Jurassic Park there is this guy called Professor Hammond (that’s the person with mental health problems in this analogy), and he owns this safari park of dinosaurs he created out of some blood that has been hiding inside of a mosquito for several thousand years (in the analogy the park is your brain and the dinosaurs are your mental illnesses, except obviously in the mental health version you did not create your dinosaurs/illnesses, rather they appeared one day and as a result you found yourself as keeper of this prehistoric zoo of insanity).

Having the dinosaurs there is obviously dangerous, so Professor Hammond does all he can to keep that danger to a minimum. In order to keep the visitors safe, he has a whole team of keepers helping him to keep an eye on his dinosaurs (aka psychologists and other mental health professionals), and there are physical boundaries/electrified fences set up all over the island around the dinosaurs to keep them in check. They are still dangerous dinosaurs, but when confined by their boundaries, their level of threat is somewhat controlled.

However in the film, before long, this idiotic man with absolutely no common sense turns off all the electric fences and cages that were housing the dinosaurs, and utter chaos ensues.
Without the fences, the dinosaurs do not remain in their neat little pens, they run amok and cause a hell of a lot of destruction and noise when doing so. That image (aka that of dinosaurs running madly all over the place eating people and crashing into everything), pretty much illustrates the importance of boundaries when living with mental health problems and why I have so many regulations in coming home.

For example, whilst I have been in hospital at my local eating disorder unit, there have been very definite rules set out to govern my behaviour. These rules are numerous and I cannot list them all for fear of boring you all to floods of uncontrollable tears, but as an example they have been things like the fact that if I do not eat my meal, there will be a replacement issued which if not completed will lead to consequences in ward round, or the rule that meal times take place at set points throughout the day with no option to delay that peanut butter sandwich for another five minutes. Meal times are meal times, you eat your meals in meal times, end of discussion.

Similarly there are rules to govern my OCD such as time limits for showers because without this kind of rule, my OCD tends to grab hold of all control over how long I take to shower and run with it a lot faster than I can chase after it (I was never one for athletics in school.)
When I have a time limit however, I have something to aim for, and though my OCD will still be present in my behaviours for the duration of the shower, it is my attempt at controlling it as best I can. If in hospital I weren’t to shower within the allocated time, I would be removed from the shower, so I sort of had to reason with my little OCD dinosaur to get through it. My dinosaur wanted to spend the next three years washing yet the rules meant this was impossible, so we had to work together and compromise. I would shower and do all the rituals I was told to, but only for a certain length of time. Having a time limit obviously didn’t always work and there are times where I still couldn’t stick to it, but like I said, it gave something to aim for and consequently I will still have that shower time limit now that I am heading back home again. Again it is unlikely that I will always be able to keep myself in check, but I know that without any rules in the shower things would be a lot worse than they often are and if I didn’t have a boundary set in place, then I doubt I would ever be able to get out of the shower at all.
I can of course tell my OCD that I have finished washing but OCD will always come back with “just another five minutes”, a request that, when given into, will be repeated every five minutes leaving me stuck in a ritual with no way out. With my rule, I at least have an argument against that. In the shower the OCD still dictates behaviours, but when it is time to leave the shower, I at least have the statement of “time is up and we must leave now to avoid consequences” to come back at any “five more minute” suggestions that should arise.

If you are living with mental health problems then, it is important to have your own rules in place to try and keep track of the interference it causes. You can’t control whether or not you have a disorder, but there are some things you do have control of that can help lessen the impact. Say you have an eating disorder and, as I will be attempting when I get home, you are trying to give yourself enough nutrition.
If you say to your eating disorder “I am going to eat better today”, then it is unlikely that you will achieve much, as “better” is a negotiable, subjective term that you will find yourself debating. Instead, hard and fast rules like “I am going to eat three meals and three snacks today” are more likely to merit results. They won’t necessarily mean you achieve what you want, yet again, like the shower time limit, it gives you something to aim for rather than a wishy washy “I will eat something” or “I will shower quicker” which without specifics don’t really mean anything and give too much control to your illness. I know that especially with eating disorders, giving into little things are a sure fire way of letting them spiral completely.
Whenever I have a bowl of cereal for example, I weigh out exactly the same number of grams each day without question. This is disordered of course, and one day I would like to pour cereal with all the gay abandon of a cereal pouring professional, but I know that if I don’t have a weight from my dietician to stick to, aka a boundary, then my portions will just get smaller and smaller. My eating disorder won’t ask for anything dramatic at first, just little requests like “just one flake less today” or “one gram less”, which doesn’t sound much but if you keep listening to that you will end up a few weeks down the line staring at a solitary rice crispy in the bottom of a bowl wondering where all the others went (and possibly hearing a very quiet pitiful sobbing from the rice crispy as they are very social creatures who, when portioned out individually, often get rather lonely. Rice has feelings too kids.)

You don’t have to make loads of rules and they can be small rules to start off, but no matter what the size it is vital that the rules are there. If you have depression, that sucks and you cannot control the effect depression will have on your mood. What you can control however, is things like taking any medication you have been prescribed or attending any appointments to try and keep it in check. If you have an eating disorder and a meal plan you have been told to stick to, make that meal plan your rule, your boundary that cannot be negotiated. Ok the eating disorder will still be there screaming and it may interfere with your behaviours, but having that meal plan there is a non negotiable that is not up for debate. With OCD rituals put time limits on how long they can take so that a quick five minute tidy doesn’t descend into a five hour mass organisation mission or at least put a limit in place as to how many times you are allowed to do something simply to give you something to aim for.
Like I said, this is not going to cure you of any mental health problems nor is it going to stop them interfering/being dangerous beasts much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In or out of a cage, a T-rex is a T-rex (unless it is a bunny in disguise), and you cannot control the existence of that T-rex or its nature/behaviour as a stomping, roaring, chomping scaly thing. What you can do however, is put boundaries in place to try and limit the destruction that dinosaur can cause, to do the best you can to take control of something that otherwise will take lack of rules as a chance to run amok to see what it can get away with, and that is why, as I go home tomorrow, I go with a set of rules and boundaries in place.

Coincidentally, that is also why mental health problems are like dinosaurs and why it is vital to have boundaries when living with them in your head/prehistoric safari park. Rules may be broken, but having certain rules in place at home does often help me to manage typically unmanageable situations a little better. If you have been in hospital, take hospital rules back home when you are discharged so that the illness doesn’t have the total freedom to reinvade, and if you haven’t been in hospital then maybe come up with some rules with friends and family who are willing to support you in your battle for sanity. Remember, a dinosaur is always going to be a wild destructive interference, but with boundaries, that destruction can at least be controlled as much as possible…I hope…

Take care everyone x

BoundariesDinosaur