There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK. Caring for someone may involve looking after an elderly or/and an ill family member. In my case, my parents.
As a young carer, it is very easy to become isolated. Most of your friends can’t relate to your circumstances, nor do they share the same level of responsibilities as you do. Teachers and career advisors are not adequately trained to support young carers. With such lack of support from those we look up to as children, it becomes very easy to lose our own sense of purpose, our ambitions, our own sense of being. Not being able to focus on homework due to the stress at home. Not getting enough rest. Not having anyone to guide you through your own challenges. Especially challenges that come with being a teenager. These are just some of the obstacles young carers face in their day to day lives.
I have learnt that you can only give to others when your own cup is full. You can not pour from an empty cup.
How it started
I was just 10 years of age when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. My mother had been diabetic since I was born and had her own challenges to deal with in terms of her health. Both of my parents’ health was deteriorating.
Mum became partially blind and needed dialysis 3 times a week. Dad was becoming more and more forgetful and unable to do basic things like have a wash or go to the toilet.
Being the youngest of 7 and the only one living at home with my parents. I became a fulltime carer for both of them. Leaving the house to spend a couple of hours with friends was usually filled with guilt. I remember struggling to carry my father’s weight every time I helped him walk from one place to another, placing his arm around my shoulders, nervous about not having enough strength to keep him from falling if he lost his balance.
There is one night in particular I remember very clearly. I had a couple of friends stay the night. They knew I had to stay at home due to my commitments and so couldn’t stay away. We had girly chats, enjoyed good food, watched a movie and eventually to sleep. It was nice to have company over for a change.
A few hours later I heard my mum screaming and woke up to our house filled with smoke. We quickly evacuated the house and called the fire services. I realised that everyone was out, except my father. I panicked and rushed back into the blazing house to find him. Struggling through the thick smoke, I ended up by the back door of the house. My instinct told me to open the door. I did, and to my relief I saw my father stood outside in the garden. Confused, but safe. I grabbed him by the hand and took him round to the front of the house where everyone else was. My mother was distraught, father confused. I ended up with carbon dioxide poisoning and was admitted into hospital for treatment. My father not realising what he was doing, and many Alzheimer’s patients suffer from this, had turned the gas heater on and inserted some magazines into the fire. It wasn’t intentional, he wasn’t to blame. It was his illness. That day I told myself I couldn’t leave my parents, there was no point in me working hard to get good grades. I wouldn’t be able to go away for further education anyway. There was no point in me exploring what career I want to pursue. I wouldn’t be able to pursue it anyway. There wasn’t even any point in me finding the right man who I could marry one day. Because no man would be prepared to live with my parents anyway.
I began to give up on my vision, my ambitions – my own identity. My wants, my desires, my dreams. My purpose became caring for my parents. I was just a carer and believing that I could be anything more was unrealistic.
December 2007, at the age of 24, I lost my mother. My father was put into care, and I became homeless. With that my role as a carer had also ended. I felt lost without my purpose. I had no one to care for anymore. Those that I gave up my own identity for, were no longer with me. I needed someone else to care for.
I accepted a marriage proposal that came my way. He was a good guy and came from a culture that typically believed that a wife should care for her husband and in laws. Perfect! I could continue being the only thing I knew how to. I could care for my husband and I can care for his parents. I’ll have children that I can care for too! What more could I ask for. Little did I know that in order to care for others, I needed to care for myself first. I needed to heal myself first. Of course when you enter any relationship unhealed, the chances of success are quite slim. Your inner wounds eventually catch up with you.
2017, age 34. After 9 years of marriage, I got divorced. I was now a single mum to 4 amazing boys. This was the turning point of my life. For the first time, I realised that I had to put myself first. Discovering myself after all these years and healing from past wounds was far from easy. Not in the least bit comfortable. But I understood this this something I needed to go through in order to come out stronger. I had a responsibility to demonstrate strength to my children.
In the past few years, I’ve discovered myself, I’ve evolved, I’ve studied and worked towards a career I am passionate about, and i feel incredibly empowered by what i have achieved. I am still a carer, I care for my 4 beautiful boys. But not at the expense for caring for myself. The days they spend with their father I focus on me, and only me. My goals , my ambitions, my evolution. I have learnt that you can only give to others when your own cup is full. You can not pour from an empty cup.
Our young carers need our love and support. They need more of us to understand their struggle. We need to provide opportunities for them.
Caring for someone you love is so rewarding. But even carers need to be cared for. Give them extra support during exams, train teachers and other professionals on how to effectively support young care givers. Set up support systems within communities. Most of all, teach these children, not to lose themselves or their ambitions, whilst caring for others.
All guest writer articles come from our Muslim Mamas community or from our network of supporters. Some contribute one-off stories; some contribute as anonymous mamas. All experiences and opinions are those of the writers.