The Telegraph: Life as a carer. What it’s really like caring for a loved one

 

Vicky Mcleod-Wilson and daughters Madison and Reagan
Vicky Mcleod-Wilson and daughters Madison and Reagan
Fourteen years ago, a few weeks before Christmas, Vicky Mcleod-Wilson gave birth to her first child. She had a beautiful baby girl called Reagan. Like all first-time parents, she experienced a degree of shock and awe at the responsibility she now faced in caring for a child.

But Vicky’s daughter was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and a serious heart condition, meaning she’d have to take on additional caring responsibilities that most mothers never know. Aged 21, Vicky would end up joining the growing number of women giving up a career in order to care of a loved one.

According to research by Carers UK, there are three million people in the UK combining caring for a loved one with paid work. That’s one in nine workers.  And while two million people have given up work at some point to care, women are twice as likely to have given up work and over four times more likely to have reduced their working hours to care.

“Being a carer happens because something terrible has happened to someone you love, so it’s not something that you choose to do the way you would a job,” says Vicky.

Vicky McLeod-Wilson
Vicky Mcleod-Wilson

Before Reagan was born, she managed a pub alongside her husband but that all had to change very quickly: “Reagan was quite poorly for the first couple of months of her life and the doctor didn’t think she’d see much past Christmas, but she did, so I took a step back from work because I realised that she needed me more than perhaps we thought a baby would.”

After a few years of being a stay-at-home mother to Reagan and her second daughter Madison, Vicky decided to enroll in a disability degree at university. Despite the struggles of combining care with studying, she completed the three years of study and got her qualification.

From there, she began volunteering for a charity doing family support work with a view to obtaining a full-time position with the organisation. It was her way of giving back and offering support to other women.

“I’m slowly trying to get myself back into finding out who Vicky is again because to be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure.”
Vicky Mcleod-Wilson

When a vacancy for a full-time post came up she put herself forward but life was to take another unexpected turn. A week before the interview for the role she coveted, a family friend suddenly became very sick. In the hospital, Vicky again took on the caring role and carried out end of life care for the man she thought of as an uncle. His wish to die at home and the sudden nature of his illness meant she wasn’t able to throw herself into the interview or new job role.

His death also left a hole in her grandparents’ lives and it quickly became apparent this uncle had been a carer for them too, so Vicky again assumed the care-giving role for her nan and grandad.

“I’m slowly trying to get myself back into finding out who Vicky is again because to be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure,” she says now.

“I’ve got training courses and certificates coming out of my ears but every time I try and do something for me, before you know it, I get walloped with something else and I have to change my path.”

It’s a wide spectrum of women caring for loved ones in the UK. Thirty-year-old Roxanne Bottrill gave up her full-time job as a dance and movement psychotherapist at the beginning of the year to care for her sister, Kelly, who is 32-years-old and has Down’s syndrome.

The decision to leave work wasn’t difficult. She explains: “It wasn’t for me because the most important thing at that time was for Kelly to be happy and well. I’ve always put my family first before work, even though I do enjoy work.”

Brenda Thompson-Murray
Brenda Thompson-Murray

For Brenda Thompson-Murray, 43, who gave up a senior role working for a charity, the transition to full-time caring after her mother suffered a stroke was a daunting one. After spending the first few months balancing both her job and caring responsibilities, the physical and emotional toll caught up with her and she chose to take redundancy during a company restructure.

“I had to do it. I think I got frightened because I thought I was going to lose my mum when she had the stroke and getting a second chance to spend quality time with her, I wouldn’t change that for the world. You can offer me the best job in the world and I wouldn’t change the time that I’m spending with her.”

But a few months into full-time caring Brenda had a tough time: “I felt broken because I felt like I’ve worked all these years, all my life and now I’ve got nothing to show for it. I was scared. I knew I’d made the right decision but where did that leave me now?”

Her misgivings did not last however and with support from Carers UK, she overcame her worries: “There is something about being able to pull out of that rat race that I’d been doing for so long and calm down a bit. I wouldn’t have made that decision lightly but when we nearly lost my mum, it made me realise I have to be there for her. I can go back to work at any time.”

It’s easy to overlook the issue of caring if it is not something that directly affects you, but with an ageing population, services under extreme pressure and the number of carers in the UK continuing to rise, it is worth remembering that it is an inclusive issue. It can affect anyone at any time — just as it has Vicky, Roxanne and Brenda.

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