There is nothing “just” about being a family or unpaid carer. However, when caring roles become all consuming, finding a little bit of “us” can be hard. And over time, the imbalance may have a negative impact on our lives and ultimately our ability to keep giving good care.
“I don’t know who I am anymore” - Unpaid carer
For many of us, there is real value in holding onto or finding the things that make us “us”. Being able to rekindle hobbies, use our talents or keep our job or career going, is for many people, a huge part of nurturing our emotional wellbeing. Keeping us connected to a world outside of caring. It can help us to maintain our own identity and enables us to give the best care over time.
We explored this with our community of carers. We asked:
It was interesting to see that almost a quarter of us are content with being carers and aren’t seeking another “title”. Perhaps those of us that feel this way, already have achieved the right balance in our day to day. Whether we feel content or not, it can be really helpful to reflect on "why" we feel like we do.
“It’s easy to lose sight of the parts of life that used to define you, such as work.” - Unpaid carer
Aside from caring, who am I?
Almost a quarter of us are (or would like to be) known for being a creative writer or artist. While 15% of us cited “gardening guru”.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us are choosing interests that are known to have strong mental health benefits. Perhaps we’re subconsciously seeking hobbies that would naturally bring us important wellbeing and balance.
Other interests included spending time with our pets or fur babies, researching our family history or becoming a money-saving expert.
Several carers said that they simply didn't know who they were anymore, or what they would like to be known for. It’s likely that many of us can relate to this sense and feeling of being “lost” at one time or another. If we’re in this position, connecting with others who understand can help us to feel connected and (when we’re ready) be open to inspiration. Our friendly online cuppas offer a safe online space to connect.
Bridget’s story on healing and recovery after a caring crisis, may help to recognise ourselves and take a small step forwards.
It can also be helpful to understand that when we take on a caring role, it's likely that we will (at some point) experience a sense of carer's grief or loss. This can come in many forms, from grieving the loss of our freedom and friendships, to grieving the loss of a future we thought we would have with the person we care for. It's important we're aware of this, so we can get support.
The importance of finding and doing “our thing”
Finding time for something for “us” can be a key part of our wellbeing toolkit. It may support us to feel less resentment, avoid carer burnout and support our mental health. For some of us, caring won’t last forever, maintaining our own identity can really help at this often difficult time.
Some of us don’t know what our “thing” is. What would give us our spark? Indeed, where is our spark? We may have an old hobby that’s been buried under the weight of other “stuff” or responsibilities. Perhaps we used to play the piano, took joy in getting the sewing machine out, playing sport or going down the allotment.
If we’re struggling to find that thing which could bring us joy, there are some tools that might help us to identify what would bring us balance, which in turn might help us to find an activity that fits well for us.
1. Life Wheel
This is a great little tool to help us understand which parts of our life we’re content with, and which areas we may be “lacking in”. It can help us to tune into the “type” of activity that would most help us feel better. A great opportunity to pop the kettle on, watch Suzanne’s short video and do something for our wellbeing.
2. A life coach
We’re big fans of coaching. A coaching approach offers reflective questions that can really help us to understand our choices, what’s important to us and to solve challenges. They're also great at helping us to identify and prioritise our own needs, and to understand (and accept) what we can/can’t control.
3. Talk things through with a friend
A good chat with a trusted friend may unlock some ideas.
To get us started, we could try using the following questions, taking it in turns to answer. Or if we don’t have someone we feel comfortable enough to do this with, we can simply answer these questions ourselves over a nice brew.
There’s no need to do all the questions, but they might just get us started:
What do you really love doing?
When are you at your happiest?
What are you doing when you feel energised, focused or “in the zone”?
When you were a child what did you want to do “when you grow up”?
What do you think you are good at, skills, gifts and characteristics?
What would a friend say you are good at, skills, gifts and characteristics?
What is really important to you?
What are your values?
Who are your people - what type of people do you like spending time with?
Who inspires you and why?
Which part of your daily routine do you enjoy the most?
4. Take time to reflect
A really simple but powerful “who am I?” reflection can unlock ideas too.
Take a blank piece of paper, at the top write “Who am I?”
Then number down the left hand side 1-10 as if we are writing a list.
Then answer the question “who am I?” in 10 different ways. This might be tricky to start with, and we may get stuck after a few. The trick is to give ourselves time and to keep going. Allowing answers to simply pop into our head.
Review the list, are there any to focus on more? Are there some you would like to remove? Are there some you would like to add?
What small action could you take to feel “more you”?
For those of us who would like to take this further or work through with some support, we have created five short videos to guide us through some self-reflection and forward thinking activities.
5. Vision Board
This is such a lovely and creative way to spend some time. It’s tapping into our dreams and aspirations and capturing them creatively.
There’s some science to how it works to support our aspirations too. Our guide is a perfect way to find out more and to get started with our own vision board.
6. Talking therapy
For some of us, talking therapy may help us to “find ourselves” again. There are many types of talking therapy with different approaches to suit us. Including mindfulness, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), solution-focused and more.
If talking therapy is a new idea to us, then our guide offers insight into the types of talking therapy available and how to get started.
What small thing could we do to get started (this week)?
Many of us are not blessed with copious amounts of spare time. If we were, we probably wouldn’t be reading this blog! So the key may be in starting small.
Some small ways we can get started:
If we want to get stuck into our gardening again, perhaps we start with a pot plant or some herbs. Something small to nurture and make us smile. Maybe we subscribe to a gardening magazine for some ideas or just pick up a packet of seeds at our next weekly shop. Carers have also shared their gardening wellbeing inspiration.
If we want to campaign for a cause we’re passionate about, perhaps we follow a few useful accounts online and start commenting. Finding our voice and building our confidence.
Perhaps we want to start creative writing but feel overwhelmed. Maybe we could start with journaling, capturing our lived experiences. This doesn’t have to be long, it could be taking 10 minutes a day to journal, along with our cuppa. Or maybe we start by following some inspirational indie writers on social media, for inspiration.
Perhaps our small thing is simply telling a friend about the thing we’d like to do. By saying something out loud, we’re making it more “real”. Neuroscience tells us that our mind believes what we tell it. Something to think about.
So what will you do? Say it out loud, tell a friend, write it down or simply take your first step right now. No time like the present. 😉 And please do let us know! Either drop us an email or tag us on @mobilisecarers on Twitter Or Instagram.
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