Overcoming loneliness as a carer
Bryan is a carer for his wife. He talks with us about the loneliness that set in, after his wife had to move to a care home. But encouragingly, he talks about how he overcame his loneliness, sharing his own top tips along the way. Bryan's story is supplied via Jorden, Content Designer at the Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) Carers' Centre.
Bryan shares his story of caring and feeling alone
Did you know that 8 in 10 carers have felt lonely or socially isolated due to their caring role?* And this was before the pandemic.
Everyone can feel lonely sometimes, but caring for someone can bring up particular additional challenges. For example, it’s difficult to maintain an active social life when you’re a cook, cleaner, driver and everything else for someone else.
Even when there’s a supportive network of friends and family in place, it can be difficult to talk to them. Our carer community often tells us that family and friends can either seem to think you’re some sort of saint, or they ‘just don’t get it’.
Not to mention, if we did happen to have an afternoon free, could we afford to go out? Caring costs money. There are expenses to plan for and so many of us have had to give up our jobs to provide around the clock care. With these worries to consider and without regular interactions, our social circles starts to shrink.
For Bryan, loneliness crept in when his wife Jill had to go to a care home. Although this change meant he had fewer caring responsibilities, he was left feeling lost and missing the person he had shared his life with.
“I hate to say it but I partly quite enjoyed looking after my wife. It doesn’t give you any time to think and it gave me a lot to do”
Bryan has been married to Jill for fifty-six years. A few years ago Bryan noticed that Jill was struggling with her memory and she was finding daily tasks more difficult.
She was soon diagnosed with vascular dementia. Over time her symptoms grew worse and she could no longer do the things she had always loved, like cooking, and baking the annual Christmas puddings for the family (all seven of them!).
“Caring can creep up on you. It was the little things she used to do, all of a sudden I found I was doing them all.”
As Jill’s health deteriorated, Bryan took on more and more daily responsibilities. Then after a pneumonia scare, the decision was made with guidance from her doctors that Jill would need to move to a care home.
“There were tears from her, it was very hard to walk away.”
After living together in the house they had shared for forty-nine years, Bryan found himself alone and feeling quite lost. The evenings especially became extremely long and very quiet.
“Just the TV and radio for company.”
Bryan has a supportive family, but they live far away and when he’s feeling most alone in the evenings, he sometimes feels that he doesn’t want to disturb them.
“It’s a different feeling. Jill and I could sit there all evening watching TV and barely speak, but when they’re gone it changes, [not] having that person there to comment in the moment.”
Bryan shares that one of the most valuable steps he took to tackle loneliness was to open up and talk to others. He connected with other carers by joining his local carers' centre.
He regularly attends get-togethers (both virtually and in-person when possible) and found huge benefits in doing so. Finding people that ‘get it’ and that you can relate to, even if the caring situations are not the same, can make such a difference.
“Share your problems, and talk to like-minded carers. The hardest thing to do is to ask for help. Remember you are not alone.”
Bryan also joined his local bowls club and found that getting outside really helped improve his mood. He’s also been taking on fun and crafty challenges with his family each week, which has sparked joy for everyone. He’s even invited his next door neighbours to get involved!
5 ways to help combat loneliness
Despite caring affecting much of our society, there isn’t enough adequate support for unpaid carers in place. Caring needs to be understood, recognised and valued to better support the carer community overall. But while we wait for this cultural shift, what changes can we make ourselves?
1. Find your tribe
2. Do good, feel good
Volunteering comes with a lot of benefits. Not only will you feel good helping an organisation to succeed, but you might learn a new skill and make some new friends. Contact local charities in your area, or search the Do It website.
3. Get tech savvy
With the impact of the pandemic, connecting with people happens online more often than not. There are so many different ways to communicate – text messages, video calls, family quizzes, social media and more.
If you want to learn more about using different digital platforms like Zoom or WhatsApp, see if there are digital support courses in your area, or search Youtube for ‘how-to’ videos to get you started. Or checkout Mobilise's Digital Skills for Carers.
3. Be creative
Join a class or group, from physical fitness to knitting – see what’s on in your community. Local Carers' Centres often offer free classes.
4. Ask for support
And as Bryan very importantly said:
"you are not alone. It can feel like that sometimes but remember your community is always here to support you"
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*Carers UK and Jo Fox Loneliness Commission. 2017. The World Shrinks: Carer Loneliness.
About the Author
Jorden Williams is Content Designer at BANES Carers Centre