Carers week: Karen's story
“In 2016, I found myself struggling with my mental and physical health when I tried to balance my work with supporting my elderly, vulnerable, beloved mum, who had come to live with me at that time. As her health deteriorated and her needs grew, I soon realised, for the first time in my life, that I had reached my absolute end of being able to cope. I had always been an independent person; always looked after my health and mind and suddenly my whole world had changed and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I honestly do not know what I would have done if I had not had the support from colleagues in the Carers’ Network and the E & D Team back then. It took me a while to realise that there was help available and my dear, trusted colleagues in that Network and Team listened to me, gave me immediate moral support, and they guided me to the key support networks available outside our university. They signposted me to the excellent Leeds Carers Network and then later to the brilliant Bradford Carers’ Resource. Just like NHS staff are doing now with their great work saving lives during covid-19, I do feel that the Network colleagues saved me in a similar way back then.
Now, some 4 years later, my mum and I got through it all; my mum lives in a nursing home where she receives specialist care for her complex needs. I visit her as much as I can which, prior to lockdown, was 2, 3 or 4 times a week. I know now that I tried to do all that I could at the time to look after her. But I also know now that she is being cared for by the right people and, I am able to do what we are supposed to do; have a good work- life balance. It’s not a perfect balance as there are still ups and downs to it. The fundamental difference for me is that I know there is always help available.
How could I have ever thought, I could look after my mum on my own. I have learned that love doesn’t always fix things. It hasn’t stopped the guilt I still have of not being able to do everything myself back in 2016 but I’d like to think that what I went through then might just be of help to others in a similar situation now.
I have a good support network with some family members and friends. I have some great colleagues and an understanding manager, they all help. To add in a Carers’ Network from within our university with people who have lived a similar experience means, to me, that the potential support on offer would benefit the individual because they wouldn’t have to go to any lengths to explain a set of circumstances. The Network members could potentially know what the pressing issue/s are; they could get to the crux of a matter quickly. And the university would benefit where colleagues and managers are not brought into a situation which is potentially out of their own comfort zones or is not a shared experience,
Some people may just need someone to share their experiences in the knowledge that their thoughts reach a knowing and sympathetic ear to their caring responsibilities but the added bonus would be of having a network of people knowing their mutual employer’s culture and the support on offer from within. A network within the university could really help ‘rebuild’ people by enabling them to help others. It could be a win/win situation all round.
Having a well organised Carers’ Network could have many benefits to our university and another area comes to my mind; both Leeds Carers and Bradford’s Carers’ Resource are charities. As a university in the city of Leeds with a wide reaching catchment area, do we perhaps have a moral duty to support our own colleagues in the first instance in our own ‘community’ ?”
If you are a carer and would like support or a 1-2-1 conversation please visit Carers Leeds at https://www.carersleeds.org.uk/ for more information.