two ladies with face masks and a box of cadburys heroes, watching strictly come dancing on tv under a blanket
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?  Do you have a support network, both physical and emotional?  How do you manage your energy so you have enough for everything you need and want to do AND keep some in reserve for being occasionally awesome and/or emergencies?

Your support network

Incredibly 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 they are carers because they work.

We all, especially carers, need a network of family, friends, co workers, professionals and other resources that energise us.  Find more energisers.  Ditch the sappers.

First, registering with your GP and local council plugs you into a professional support network.  Even if that support network does not 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 care 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.  While healthcare delivery is pretty consistent across counties, 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.

Secondly, letting people you work with know you are a carer is daunting – will they doubt your commitment to your job/career?  Outing yourself as a carer to your employer is practically taboo. If we are going to support our ageing population without adding to the tax burden, we need to support working carers better.

Even if your elder is eligible for help, you’ll still need to arrange care coordination, medical visits, finding a care home etc.  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.

A little flexibility on both sides can go a long way to enabling a carer 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 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 to make this work (this takes practise and iteration).  For example, use software (eg Microsoft Calendar) to help avoid misunderstandings about key dates for any party.  And, of course, 2) delivering what is expected of you.

Last but not least, consider family and friends around you.  Could more family members pull their weight?  Could you ask for more help?  It is likely there is more potential help on offer than we are 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 for a carer.  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…

‘Me’ time

I realised (again) recently how important replenishing ‘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 snow fall and things get out of whack.  Stepping in as full time carer for Marj because her domiciliary care team could not reach her meant usual routines had to give.  I compromised on things I love doing and was shifted towards frazzle (a particular risk at this time of year).  To date our Christmas decorations aren’t up, ho ho hum.

And breathe. ‘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 blooming well make it as enjoyable as possible.  And performing all care tasks myself back to back did give me fresh insight into what small adjustments were needed to her  care plan.

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

‘Me time’ is self-help that helps me manage unhelpful emotions and keeps everything in perspective. It is not a luxury, it is an 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 more basic needs, I believe that to reduce risk of frazzle, at least once a week but ideally more, we must gift 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.

These work for me:

  • Pilates and guitar lessons. The music (and exercise) in Pilates and the joy of nailing a new melody on a guitar lift me every time.
  • A walk 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 the once).

Some 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
  • Sport or reading the paper in a favourite coffee shop etc
  • An evening class
  • U3A, The Women’s Institute, Men’s Sheds, to find local groups near you that share your interests 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.