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Young carers need to take a breather

Work. Socialise. Repeat.

My early to mid-20s lifestyle was relatively stress-free. I’d finished studying, hadn’t yet had kids and was employed full-time. I would work during the week, play sport on the weekends and then spend time with my partner (now wife) or hang out with friends.

Suffice to say I was not prepared for what was about to happen. In January, 2014, my mother was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. While this was absolutely devastating and sent enormous shockwaves through my life, my father was still relatively healthy and able to act as Mum’s primary carer, and so my life remained relatively settled.

Then, months later, he received his own diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer.

His health deteriorated rapidly, and within five months, he had died. During his last few months, I spent many hours travelling up and down the Midland Highway (they lived in Launceston, I lived in Hobart) to help my Mum care for him (while fighting her own illness) with the support of some wonderful service providers and individuals. Because of the care we provided, he was able to die at home.

My mother’s cancer journey was a lot more complex — she had periods of reasonably sound health, where her ability to care for herself was quite good, then periods where she was very dependent on others. I was her primary carer, with assistance from various services and some help from her friends. She was still living in Launceston until August, 2016, when she relocated to Hobart. During this period, I travelled between Launceston and Hobart nearly every weekend (and many weekdays) to care for her.

I gave up playing sport and struggled to maintain contact with friends. Any sort of career development or study was also neglected — I just didn’t have the time.

She died in April, 2017, eight months after moving to Hobart. The two-and-a-bit years caring for her took a toll on me, emotionally and physically. I’m now a more serious person, I don’t laugh as much as I used to, several friendships have faded, my physical fitness deteriorated and I have since struggled to get back into sport.

I have to admit that at times, I’m guilty of self-pity. The reality, however, is that I was just one of many young Tasmanians thrust into caring roles in their 20s (and earlier). There are thousands of young carers doing it tougher than I did for a much longer period.

My message to young carers is this — in caring for others, please don’t forget to care for yourself. It is easy to become so completely absorbed with your caring duties that you neglect your own health and wellbeing, lose contact with friends or let your career or study suffer.

Your world sometimes feels like a bubble. You exist inside — isolated, disengaged and disconnected from the rest of society.

Step outside the bubble and take a breath.

You will feel guilty about “taking the night off”, or doing something for yourself. Please don’t. If you need a break, talk to the person you’re caring for and explain.

There are supports and services out there to help you. Look for them. Contact them. Use them.

And if you have a friend, colleague or a family member who is caring for someone, please reach out and ask if they’re OK. Take them out for a coffee or lunch. Go around and walk their dog. It all helps.

Finally, in National Carers Week, thank you to the thousands of unpaid carers right across our state. Your contributions and sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

Hobart’s Rob Hill works and volunteers in the not-for-profit sector and has a passion for the welfare of young carers in the community.

This article was first published in the Mercury


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