“PEOPLE who care for others sometimes forget to care for themselves. They have such an important role yet they frequently neglect their own needs,” says Wendy Mitchell.
Wendy is part of the Calderdale Carers Project which offers practical and emotional support to people who look after a partner, a family member or a friend on a regular - and unpaid - basis.
The project recently started holding monthly meetings at Brighouse Library and is keen to ensure that carers are aware of the help and expertise that is available. Wendy, carers support team manager, said: “The meetings provide a break from caring, a good way of making new friends and sharing experiences and enjoying a cuppa.”
Caring can be an isolating, lonely, stressful and tiring undertaking and talking to members of the Lower Valley Carer Support Group is a humbling and uplifting experience. Becoming a carer frequently involves a loss of indentity and of independence coupled with a great burden of responsibility.
“Carers have a strong sense of duty. They feel it is their duty to look after a loved one and they take it on readily and are often reluctant to accept help.
“They soldier on and put their their own needs on hold. ‘I’m just a carer’ is a phrase we hear often yet they are doing a very important job,” said Wendy.
Through Calderdale Carers Project help is available to provide sitters and refund travelling costs so that carers are able to attend meetings and take a break from their normal routine. The project also runs ‘Look After Me’ courses which emphasise the importance to carers of giving priority to their own needs and practical advice on coping with a caring role.
Neville Walker of Bailiff Bridge found the courses and the support of the project invaluable when he became carer for his wife.
“I can’t praise it highly enough. My wife goes to day-care so I do get some respite but coming along to meetings gives me the chance to meet other people who are in the same boat. There was a good mix of people on the ‘Look After Me’ course, I learned new things and it got me out of the house.”
Hipperholme carer Esme Dyson compared discovering the carers group to ‘being let out my own bubble’. “It’s very hard, when you’re a carer, to make time for yourself and have your own space,” said Esme.
She looks after her husband whose eyesight is badly affected by macular degeneration and suffers from a number of other medical conditions.
“The group gives excellent support and information but most it’s having ‘a listening ear‘ that is so useful.”
Ken Mayhew, aged 83, cared for his late wife Marie, who suffered from Alzheimer’s dementia, for six years before she died. He still attends carers group meetings regularly for companionship and support.
“You have to work hard at keeping your own identity,” he said.