"Beyond Caring" reminds us of who we are outside of our caring role. Caring can dominate our days, but it is so valuable to spend time looking at ourselves as a whole person.
Remembering our achievements, our values, our qualities. It can feel bitter sweet, but it can also boost our sense of wellbeing to spend time looking at all we are capable of.
Sometimes we forget how incredible we are.
So Virginia, tell us a bit about you - your childhood, your dreams?
Well, I grew up in Maldon in Essex. It's quite a nice little town. I had a really, really happy childhood. Quite simple, but really lovely. I was the studious one in the family. And I was part of the church community for a long time, which was lovely.
I always wanted to be a teacher, always from the age of about five. So that's where I was heading when I started picking my A Levels. I was interested in languages, and I used to play musical instruments. I even set up my own music group when I was at church - we were called Pacem, which is Latin for peace. And we used to sing, play guitar and go around to the old people's homes and sing in church.
I was a very sociable, active person when I was a child. And always busy - much like now, as I'm always busy! I'm never bored! I don't know what "bored" means!
I was always sewing, singing or doing something. I had a small group of friends. And yes, I liked having friends.
"I guess my idea of what my life was going to be like, as an adult was so similar to what my life was like as a child."
When I failed one of my A-levels, no-one stepped in and told me I had options, like re-sitting it. So my dreams of being a teacher were parked, despite having a place at Canterbury. I went to work then, but I did take myself to night school to do my English Literature A-Level again.
Meantime, I got a job in a factory, which was an eye opener and it's where I met my husband. And that's when it all changed, really. So now I'd met my husband and I was working, earning money.
From there I went to what used to be called a careers office, and on the wall there was a brilliant picture of Lloyds of London. And I thought - that looks fantastic, right? I'm going to do that! So I did it! I went and got a job in an insurance company and that's what I ended up doing. And in a funny way I'd ended up being a teacher, as I ended up training underwriters!
Wow, it's funny how our paths can still find us!
Yeah, actually in many ways, most of the jobs I've done have involved teaching in some capacity, like when I was a special needs teaching assistant at a school for two years. And before that I worked at a nursery and a messy play. I love working, but each time, something in my caring role has stopped me in my tracks. I've had to take a break, but I've gone back again and again.
What are you most proud of, outside of being a carer?
Well, it's great remembering all the times I didn't give up, and kept working. But my proudest moment has to be getting my degree.
A local charity helped with some workshops on confidence and goal setting. It was fantastic!
The person running it said "I want you to set a short, medium and a long term goal. And it doesn't matter how silly it is."
My long term goal was to get my degree by the time I was 50.
"My dad, who passed away a few years before, wanted me to get my teaching degree and I know he would have been proud of me. Yeah, in my head I thought, well, I'm gonna get a degree by the time I'm 50 and I had no clue how I was going to do it!"
Well, I knew working wasn't really an option around caring, but I could access education where there was more flexibility.
So this course was the start. It gave me confidence and something to aim for. And off I went to our local college, where I did sociology and psychology, which I had always wanted to do. But then I thought what do I do after that?
So I then looked at the Open University, and I did my first course which was understanding children. I got a certificate in Health and Social Care, exploring being a social worker. I also did modules in death and dying too, as I think I could work well in a hospice, supporting families.
"Anyway, eventually I did it! I got my Ba (hons) in Childhood and Youth Studies!"
And just last year, I did another course on Adolescent Mental Health. And I keep saying I'm not going to do anymore. And then I signed up the other month, June actually, for a return into work in health and social care. But I'll be honest, my mind's all over the place right now, so it's kind of on pause.
It sounds like you're a lifelong learner Virginia!
Are there any other achievements you would like to share?
Actually yes, thinking back, I'm really proud of a disability sports charity I set up!
After taking my children to a disability sports session that was half an hour away, I contacted our sports development officer. After holding an initial meeting, I formed a committee, and securing fund from "Awards for all"! I set up and ran the Maldon disability sports charity for a few years, offering football with a coach from Colchester United. Plus trampolining and swimming sessions, also paying for the angled moveable steps which my son needed to get in the pool he was learning in. It was hard to offer things to accommodate everyone but the football carried on for many years connected to a local team.
And how did getting your degree make you feel?
Very proud! To know you have spent time doing something so purposeful, and valuable, and in line with what you always thought you'd do as well - as it's all just equipping me to teach.
So, what's next for Virginia?
"My first goal is to simply feel better"
I have M.E. and low moods and sometimes I'm just exhausted. So I'm looking after myself right now. I'm also reclaiming my house. Clearing out, replacing furniture - it's feels healing.
But after that. Well I still love teaching, and I can see me doing one of two things.
"When you have had time to heal, and rest and for yourself - then I think there's a massive opportunity for you"
I really want to help parents of children with disabilities and illnesses. I have so much first hand experience and know what will help in the moment, as I've been there. My son had meningitis when he was just five weeks old. He was put on life support twice, and he's had life long implications since.
I want to be a support worker or mentor - or something along those lines. Engaging the children, and supporting the family.
Looking back, I pushed and pushed for the teachers to use Makaton with my son. Despite therapists saying he couldn't learn it because of his physical disability. I got my own way and it really supported him. In fact, I got a Meningitis Trust grant to pay for the Makaton training. Not all parents have the energy to fight, or the skills to research what might help.
"I'm quite a determined character"
But also I'm now studying, access to working in health and social care, because I'd love to mentor kids that have got mental health problems.
Last year, I did a brilliant course on challenging behaviour. It was fantastic. I think all care workers should have to do it. Because it's all about person centred care, and not bringing your expectations into the room. It's fantastic.
It's funny, but I had a a medium reading last year. And this woman who knew nothing about me said, she could see me working on my own in my own business. And I thought "Yeah. I will do that!"
The frustration is that I'm so tired with my M.E. So I have to work with my body.
So how do you support your own health?
Right now I'm having CBT, which is really good. It helps me to stop overthinking and is really helping me to get through this week, which has been tricky.
The Mobilise cuppas each day, also really help. I've made some great friends.
Even some of the stuff I've done with the Mobilise family in our cuppas, like the breathing and taking that time out. I think I just held that stress in, you know, at one point I couldn't turn my head and I've had pain in my arm and the pain in my neck. These things can really help.
And what have you learnt along the way?
"One of my biggest learnings, is that out of every dark moment you learn something new. I come out of those horrendous moments, a better person."
And what have you learnt about yourself?
That I never give up!
What advice would you share?
Make time for yourself every day. Just five minutes. I spent a decade, thinking 'tomorrow will be better'. I don't really remember that decade. You just burn out and there are no medals.
Switch your phone off for a bit, try not to get wrapped up in everything. Let things go.
With great thanks to Virginia for being our first 'Beyond Caring' story! Remembering what we have done can be heartwarming and inspiring, but it can also bring a sense of grief if we feel like we have lost those opportunities. If you would like to explore these questions for yourself but are feeling stuck, then a free 1:1 call with our team can be a really helpful starting point.
"Don't wait until you've reached your goal to feel proud of yourself. Be proud of every step you take toward reaching that goal" - anonymous carer