me time self care carer carers Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire dementia
No it’s not Halloween. This is Maud and Mum’s joint ‘me time’ last Saturday night = face masks + ‘Strictly’ final

You’re there for your elder partner, relative or friend.  Who is there for you? How do you manage your energy so you have enough for everything you want to do AND keep some in reserve for fun and/or emergencies? Find out how to build your carer support network here.

Support for carers can be found from a network of family, friends, co-workers, professionals and other resources that help or energise us.  Find more people who energise you.  Kindly break up with those that sap your energy.

Support for carers from health and social care professionals

Professional support for carers can be found by registering with your GP and Local Authority.  Even if that support network doesn’t always appear to be a well-oiled machine, it (eventually) opens up benefits and rights eg advice on how to cope, respite care and even financial and emergency help.  You automatically get a free flu jab for example, since you support a vulnerable adult.  Social services literally need to keep you on your feet.

Healthcare delivery across counties is delivered fairly consistently, social care delivery is not.  For example in Bucks, Carers Bucks play a pivotal role, in Oxon, Age UK takes the lead, so check with your GP first.

Support from your work colleagues

1 in 8 working adults are carers (ref Carers UK website). Incidentally, men make up 42%.  The true number of carers in the workforce may be hidden since many children, spouses and friends don’t think of themselves as carers because they work.

Letting the people you work with know you are a carer is daunting – will they doubt your commitment to your job or career?  Outing yourself as a carer to your employer is practically taboo. If we’re going to support our ageing population, we need to support working carers better (good for tax income too).

Arranging care coordination, medical visits, finding a care home etc if your elder is eligible is an additional burden if you work.  The good news is that enlightened, compassionate employers are on the rise – it’s now an economic imperative for businesses to retain skilled staff.  It’s great to see initiatives like Employers For Carers.

How to make caring and work, work

A little flexibility on both sides can go a long way to helping a carer to continue to contribute fully to the business.  All the carers I’ve met are incredibly resourceful, organised and creative, so try discussing flexile working with your boss.  Agree on how to accommodate important appointments and potential emergencies with minimal inconvenience to either party eg working from home occasionally.

Try not to use annual leave for care duties, you’ll burn out.  The critical things to make this work are: 1) super timely and transparent levels of communication between employer, colleagues and employee (this takes practise and iteration). For example, use software (eg Microsoft Calendar) to help avoid misunderstandings about key dates and activities.  And, of course, 2) delivering what is expected of you.

Support from your friends and family

Last but not least, consider all family and friends around you.  Could more family members pull their weight?  Could you ask for more help?  It’s likely there’s more potential help on offer than we’re tapping into.  Work out who can do what, no matter how small (it all adds up) then devise and share a task rota.  Picking up a few bits at the shop, collecting a prescription, covering a care shift or best of all, giving you a day or night off, are wonderfully supportive acts.  Who might be able to do that for you?  At the very least, occasionally arrange ‘quality time’ with your partner and/or best mates, away from care duties.  Click here for more tips to free up your time, because you’ll need it for…

Wriggle room for emergencies

I realised (again) recently how important ‘me time’ is. Usually, family + work + care + me time is ‘broadly’ in balance (ish), with a bit of wiggle room to spare for emergencies. Throw in a snowfall and things get out of whack.  Stepping in as full-time carer for Marj because her domiciliary care team couldn’t reach her meant usual routines had to give.

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ is a useful mindset in times of pressure.  If I was going to be Marj’s full-time carer for two or three days, then we’d make it as enjoyable as possible.  The advantage of performing all care tasks myself did give me fresh insight into the small adjustments that were needed to Marj’s care plan.

Emotional support

Practical challenges aside, carers also experience a wide variety of limiting emotions which can be challenging to deal with. Over the years I’ve felt guilt, inadequacy, anger, frustration, isolation and helplessness. I don’t think carers talk about this enough.

‘Me time’ helps me manage unhelpful emotions and keeps everything in perspective. It’s not a luxury, it is essential. What about you? Let’s assume for now that we all get the sleep, healthy food/drink, sex and exercise we need (uh-huh).  And also that we don’t take on too much (please don’t tell me you iron tea towels).  On top of our basic needs, I believe that to reduce the risk of frazzle, at least once a week but ideally more, we must find ourselves at least an hour of time.  We invest this precious hour in something that gives us joy.  It can easily be free or low cost. Carer ‘soft play’ if you will.

What works for me

  • Bootcamp in the outdoors, Pilates and guitar lessons. The joy of nailing a new melody on a guitar lifts me every time.
  • A walk or gardening while listening to a podcast.
  • Any pampering, eg facial, massage etc (Santa, please note).
  • Reading a new ‘Q’ magazine back to back and sampling the new albums on Spotify without interruption.
  • An unexpected pole dancing class (admittedly this has only happened once).

Other ideas

  • Mindfulness / journaling / gratitude practise
  • A hobby eg crafting, birdwatching, dancing, musical instrument etc
  • Regular visit to zoo / gym / cinema / theatre / gig / garden centre / gallery / museum
  • Reading the paper in a favourite coffee shop
  • An evening class
  • U3A, The Women’s Institute, Men’s Sheds. To find local groups near you that share your interests try Meet Up.

The only ‘rule’ is that the time invested must be 100% for your benefit alone and that it brings you joy.  You may get inspiration from your childhood passions. Your ‘me time’ need not be in any way productive, but it might be important for you that it is (it is for me).

Do you have the support network you need and how can you build on it?  And how do you / will you invest your ‘me time’?  Let us know what you recommend and have fun.