It has taken a long time to identify myself as a carer, one of the almost 7 million in the UK. Increasingly, I realise that the demands of looking out for someone 24 hours a day, however much I love her, places me firmly in that camp. The additional needs which can range from providing a literal shoulder to lean on, to recruiting carers, to administering life saving medication, to witnessing horrific seizures has eventually convinced me that this is an out of the ordinary parenting role.
I was shocked recently when asked that simple question, Whose mask would you put on first if a plane was going down, yours or your daughters, to answer without hesitation my daughters. It is a cliche but a telling cliche.
It becomes a habit to think of others before ourselves. Not in some kind of angelic, saintly way but as ritualised behaviour often accompanied by, said with a hint of shame, resentment. It can be annoying, irritating and frustrating to be seen as somehow better than others, more rounded, more able, when actually what we often feel is overwhelmed by sadness and fear. The sadness that it has always been this way and always will be, and the fear that we may be unable to continue both emotionally and physically because the tank is empty.
It is an essential truth that carers need to look after ourselves but it is not something that always comes easily. Many carers have to be given permission to do this, convinced that essence of you is caring for others and time spent not doing this is indulgent, wasteful and frankly flaky.
Yesterday in a yoga class we were working towards an arm balancing pose, astavakrasana, when I ended up in a crumpled but smiling heap, not quite the desired effect and luckily no accompanying photo. The lovely, downtoearth yoga teacher explained that the pose was like dealing with a difficult person. You do not try to address all the difficulties at once, you take them small step by small step and eventually you may have a better relationship with that person.
This is the same for carers. You cannot expect to make peace with the enormous and life shattering change that is being a carer in one step. You cannot learn to look after yourself overnight after years of neglect, but you begin to build small moments when you find yourself again. Mine are often found on the yoga mat, where do you find yours?