Advice On Certain Topics
This chapter offers advice to young carers. I have broken it into smaller sections to make information on different topics easy to find. The topics covered are as follows:
- Don’t measure your success against others.
- Take responsibility for your life.
- Understand the situation.
- Learn from your previous behaviour.
- Think about your needs.
- Set personal goals.
- Decide who you listen to.
- Communicate with others.
- Identify good friends and keep them close.
- Manage negative emotions.
- Manage anger.
- Deal with bullies.
- Limit any risk-taking.
- Be careful with alcohol and drugs.
- Cope with bereavement.
- Look after your physical health.
- Look after your mental health.
- Cope with setbacks.
- Behave like the great person you are.
- Pursue relationships.
- Get an education.
Don’t Measure Your Success Against Others
As a young carer you may feel that you are not succeeding in some parts of your life, so I want to give you my thoughts on success.
Let me say that providing care for someone is an incredible achievement. I think you have succeeded as a person.
What Other People Might Say
Some people like to boast about aspects of their lives. At school some children may say things like, “I scored a goal on Saturday,” or “I did really well in that test.” Some will mention new clothes, games and belongings. A lot of adults also boast and say things like, “I get paid loads, I earn £XXX per year”, or “I am buying a new car, it is a XXX”. Boasting makes some people feel important.
Give Yourself Praise
As a young carer you might feel you are not doing well at some things, such as sport or exams. You might be unable to afford nice clothes or expensive belongings. These things might make you feel less confident. It can become easy to focus on what you are not good at, what you don’t have, and where others seem in a better position than you.
Whatever others may say, I believe that success is living a life you enjoy and are proud of. I have met many people with lots of money and possessions who have:
- Led very dull lives.
- Led very lonely lives.
- Done nothing they are truly proud of.
You should be very proud of your achievements as a young carer, so rise above any petty nonsense, recognise how great you are and give yourself praise.
I recommend you create a one sentence statement that summarises your achievements as a young carer. You may decide to keep this to yourself or you may decide to say it to others. My statement is, “During my time as a young carer and adult carer I have provided excellent care for my mum.” What is your statement? Write it in Chapter Eight – Tell Your Story. Say it to yourself. Remember it.
Take Responsibility for Your Life
Right now you are a young carer and it might feel like the world is on your shoulders. You might feel that you are always on the receiving end of other people’s problems. You might also feel that you will not be able to achieve your dreams because you don’t have the same opportunities as other people do.
You may hope that others realise how bad your situation is and offer help. However, many people cannot see things from someone else’s point of view, so they will not understand your situation, even if the evidence is staring them in the face. If other people do not offer help you might feel sad, frustrated and angry.
The first step in improving your situation is taking responsibility for your life.
I know that you will have a variety of problems, some of which are out of your control, and that you feel you have few choices. However, you must remember that you still have control of many parts of your life. If you can take hold of these, and set goals for the future, then your situation will feel much better.
Understand the Situation
You need to understand the situation about the person receiving care. If you are considered old enough to provide care, you are old enough to be told.
Some adults might be reluctant to tell you the truth, believing that you are a child and therefore you should be sheltered from it. But if you do not know the truth there will be some things you are uncertain about, and these may lead to you feeling even higher levels of stress.
Examples of difficult topics and why you need to know about them are:
- If someone is dying, you need to know because this will allow you to prepare for the future.
- If someone has mental illness, you need to know because this will allow you to understand how they may react to things, and the difference between the person and their illness.
Some adults may try to make all the decisions themselves because you are a child. However, if you are providing care you should be treated with respect, involved in any family decisions, and your opinions should be taken seriously. You are entitled to know what you are dealing with and you should say this to the adults in your family. If you are not involved in decisions, the situation will be even more stressful for you.
Learn From Your Previous Behaviour
Understanding Emotions and Behaviour
It is important to realise that many people are facing challenges that no one else knows about, and these challenges affect how they feel and how they behave. Everyone’s behaviour is influenced by how happy they are, if their life is going well, and how other people behave towards them.
It may be that you have experienced tough times as a young carer and that has influenced your behaviour. You need to remember the following:
- Don’t assume that people know about your situation, and even if they do know they may not use that knowledge to understand your behaviour. Many people will take your behaviour at face value.
- If people only see your anger, they will think you are a nasty person without ever knowing the difficulties you have as a young carer.
- If you act like you don’t care about other people, those around you will assume that is true.
- People who have not experienced difficulties in their lives will not be as robust as you, so be gentle with them.
Accept Mistakes You Have Made
In the stressful, demanding world of a young carer, it is certain that you will make mistakes. I have made plenty of mistakes, both as a child and as an adult. There are plenty of times when my behaviour has not been as good as it should have been.
However, it is important to remember that you are going through a very difficult experience and many other people could not do what you are doing. Therefore my advice is to go easy on yourself and put previous mistakes behind you. Learn from the experience.
Some people may try to remind you of mistakes you have made. If people do this they are either trying to exert authority over you, distract attention from mistakes they have made themselves, or distract attention from something good you have done. Whatever their motive, I would suggest you simply ignore these people.
Limit How Much Time You Spend Reviewing The Past
It is important to learn from the past, but also to accept that there is no way of changing past events. Once you have identified the important lessons, you must try to move on with your life. If you have had to deal with idiots, learn from the experience, but then try to put them behind you. Focus on how good your life is, or will be, without them in it. If it helps, you could imagine putting them into a bin or flushing them down the toilet!
Unfortunately, some people never get over a previous traumatic event. They continually review what happened and feel the same negative emotions again and again. If they have personally made mistakes during an event they analyse what they did wrong and feel guilty.
This means they continually feel emotions related to the past and don’t enjoy what is positive in their life right now. Also, they don’t dream about what they could do in the future.
As a young carer, planning for the future is a far better use of your time than continually reviewing past events.
Think About Your Needs
You have needs just like everyone else. You should not think that you have to sacrifice your needs because you are a young carer.
Some psychologists have tried to describe the needs of all human beings. Some ideas can be found on the internet and a common theory is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow thought that all people had certain needs and that some were more important than others. He ordered them into a ‘hierarchy’, which meant that some were higher than others. His basic idea is a good one, and it is certainly something I can relate to from my experiences. Here is a loose version of Maslow’s theory (and I hope he will forgive me for tinkering with it):
Physical needs are the most basic needs for human survival. Physical needs include food, water, shelter, heat and clothing.
Safety needs are the next level up from physical needs. Safety needs include feeling that you are physically safe and that your health is OK. This might also include financial security, such as having money, because that will affect your physical needs.
Love and Belonging Needs
Love and belonging needs arise because all people want to form relationships. Sometimes those relationships will be with family, sometimes with friends, and sometimes with loving partners such as girlfriends/boyfriends and wives/husbands. Most people will have a mixture of relationships with various people in their lives.
Esteem needs are the second highest need, according to Maslow. He stated that all people need to feel respected by others, as well as respect themselves. Maslow believed that people who did not feel respect from others, or did not feel respect for themselves, were in danger of suffering low levels of confidence and possibly depression.
Maslow called the highest need ‘self-actualisation’, but I think an easier word is ‘fulfilment’. Maslow thought that once you had achieved all the other needs, you would feel completely fulfilled as a person. Different people will have different ideas about what fulfilment is, depending on their specific personal goals.
So What About Your Needs?
In your busy life as a young carer, have you ever stopped to think about your needs?
You might spend a lot of your time doing a range of caring tasks, such as feeding, washing or cleaning. It is likely that you will also offer emotional support such as love and reassurance.
Providing care might limit you from doing what you want and from achieving your potential. Therefore you may be sacrificing your esteem and fulfilment needs. If you are in a very difficult family situation you might not receive love, you might feel unsafe, or you might even be physically neglected.
Overall, you may feel that you have been failed by adults and people in authority.
This could result in stress, anger and negative emotions, which are described later in this chapter. It is time for you to think about your needs. This is not selfish and can be done whilst continuing to provide care for someone else. As you read this chapter I want you to really think about what you need.
Set Personal Goals
Setting personal goals is crucial to staying positive about the future and feeling that things will get better. Setting goals will also help to identify what your needs are. I appreciate this is difficult to do when you are dealing with a range of immediate problems. You might be focused on issues like where the next meal is coming from, or how much money you have until the next social security benefits payment. It may also seem that you have to work very hard just to stop things from getting worse, and that actually you are not making any progress. However, planning for the future will help you to feel in control of your life.
Achieving some of your goals may take quite a bit of time. If this is the case, try setting yourself small daily targets. Setting a big target can seem too much and at times you may feel that you will never manage it. However, setting small targets will allow you to feel that you are making progress whilst you work towards your big goal.
Examples of Setting Goals
It may be that you would be happier if you were:
- Having more opportunities to make friends.
- Doing well at school so you could get a job you really want.
- Studying to get to college or university and study a subject that interests you.
- Playing sport.
- Having a break and being able to relax.
These are just examples and you may have completely different goals. In order to achieve your goals you may need help from other people. Examples of help you need could be money to pay for certain things, or assistance with providing care so that you have more time.
These are things that other people such as your family and health and social care professionals can help with. The first steps are for you to identify what would make you happier and what help you need. I explain how to ask others for help in the ‘Communicate With Others’ section later in this chapter.
Decide Who You Listen To
Your situation as a young carer may be made tougher by comments from others. Some people may make fun of you or the person you care for. Some people may criticise what you are doing as a young carer, and others might try to tell you what to do. Some of these people may provide advice and encouragement but some may have no knowledge or experience of what you are dealing with. There is no definite guide for this, but you need to decide which people you are going to listen to.
In order to understand comments that you may receive from other people, we first need to consider different types of people. My counsellor, Sharon, introduced me to descriptions of different personality types which have been really useful and allowed me to identify some of the personalities I have dealt with in the past. Here is a summary of these:
- The basic need of the critic is Power.
- Critics set limits, enforce discipline, make rules and regulations about how life should be – they set the dos and don’ts.
- The critic seeks to criticise and find fault.
- They may also be assertive.
- The use words such as ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘should’, ‘should not’, ‘must’, ‘ought to’, ‘have to’, ‘cannot’ and ‘bad’.
- They judge and criticise and use language such as ‘because I said so’, ‘you are wrong’, ‘you have failed’’.
- Their typical gestures include rolling their eyes in disgust, finger-pointing, folding arms and tapping feet in impatience.
The Kind Person
- The basic need of the kind person is caring.
- Kind people give advice, guide, protect, teach and sort out what makes sense and what does not.
- The kind person demonstrates warmth, support and love.
- They use words such as ‘don’t worry’, ‘good’, ‘can’, ‘positive’ and ‘choice’.
- They encourage and support and use language such as ‘well done’, ‘you should feel proud’, ‘let me help you’ and ‘you are a good person’.
- Typical gestures include a consoling touch, head nodding, pat on the back and sympathetic eyes.
The Sensible Person
- The basic need of the sensible person is rationality.
- Sensible people work on facts, store memories, experience and feelings, and use those to make decisions.
- They use words such as ‘situation’, ‘evidence’, ‘facts’ and ‘reality’.
- They make sensible suggestions and use language such as ‘the situation is’, ‘our options are’, ‘this has worked in the past’ and ‘this has never worked’.
- Typical gestures include asking for opinions, listening, giving objective feedback, remaining calm, maintaining eye contact and making useful suggestions.
Comments from Kind and Sensible People
Hopefully you will have kind and sensible people in your life who demonstrate the behaviours listed above. In my experience, these people will seek to understand the facts of the situation, they will make realistic suggestions, and they will give credit and encouragement to those who are trying their best. Comments from these people will assist you in your role as a young carer.
Comments from Critics
Some young carers may have to deal with people who behave like the critic. These people will think they know better than everyone else. They may only see the situation from their point of view and give opinions without knowing all the facts.
Critics may also struggle to cope with bad news. They might criticise a young carer who tells them the news, interrupt or stop them, or dismiss their comments without trying to understand them.
Understand People Who Try To Allocate Blame
Remember that the ill person is not to blame. There might be some situations where they are not helping themselves, but that may be because of a mental health issue. Ignore anyone who is trying to blame someone for their illness. People who try to blame others are simply being weak and dishonest. They are trying to avoid the problem and/or make themselves feel better by blaming others.
Ignore anyone who is trying to blame you for not providing enough care, or blaming you for any mistakes you may have made. If people have not been involved in providing care, they have not earned the right to an opinion. It is very easy to criticise others, but far more difficult to provide help and support. People who try to allocate blame are negative, so avoid them if you can. If you cannot avoid them, simply ignore what they say.
Should Young Carers Listen to Adults?
The answer to that is, ‘Maybe’. It depends on whether the adult is being kind, sensible or a critic.
This is a really serious point, because children are always told to listen to adults. However, when I was a young carer, many of the comments I received from medical professionals and family members were stupid. When I became an adult and I spoke with other adults about my mother, I again received stupid comments.
During recent times we have seen repeated instances of adults in positions of authority who have acted in terrible ways. We have seen police officers who have lied in statements, MPs who have cheated their expense claims, priests who have abused children and BBC directors who have ignored child abusers. None of these adults would have been any use to a young carer.
In my working life I have encountered other adults who were dishonest, unprofessional, selfish, self-motivated, unable to see somebody else’s point of view, uncaring or simply stupid. In fact, I have witnessed adults behave in much worse ways than children. I recommend that you listen to all comments, but then decide which ones are useful.
Communicate With Others
Communicating with others is crucial to improving your situation, so here is some key advice:
When you do speak with other people about your situation you may feel all sorts of emotions. You may feel upset or even angry as you tell your story. Bear in mind that if you start criticising others for leaving you in this situation, they may become defensive. That may result in them trying to end the conversation, which is not what you want. When you do speak with adults about your role as a carer, you must not get angry. You must state your case clearly and fairly.
Describe Your Life As A Young Carer
Do not expect other people to understand your life as a young carer. Some people will not investigate or question how you live. Those that do see how you live may choose to ignore it or assume you are happy because you have not complained. Therefore, if you are not happy with your normal daily life, you need to tell people.
When you tell people you need to explain every detail of your life as a carer. Don’t assume that people will link together pieces of information. Also, don’t assume that people will remember what happened in the past and how it might relate to the present or future. If you have completed Chapter Eight – Tell Your Story, then you might want to read some passages out loud.
Express Your Emotions
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions about being a carer. It is OK to say things like:
- I feel worried all the time.
- I feel lonely.
- My situation makes me angry.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If anyone accuses you of being selfish, it may be because they are trying to keep you quiet. It is fine for you to say:
- What about my childhood?
- What about my education?
- Why am I making all the sacrifices?
- Why is no one helping me?
Set Rules About Your Role
Try to set some rules about your role as a carer. Some possible questions to ask are:
- What are my responsibilities?
- What are other people’s responsibilities?
- How are the caring tasks shared fairly?
- What support will I receive to perform caring tasks?
- What support will I receive to do activities that are important to me?
- Who will help if my caring role has a negative impact on my education?
Deal With Difficult People
If people ask questions, they should ask open questions, which allow you to explain your opinion. Examples of open questions are: ‘What do you think?’, and ‘What do you suggest?’
You should watch out for closed questions, which only allow a yes or no answer; leading questions, which try to steer you to an outcome; and unreasonable questions, which give a one-sided opinion and try to undermine your opinion. Examples of these sorts of questions are: ‘You are managing OK, aren’t you?’, ‘I’m sure you agree with me about XXX?’ and ‘Do you really expect me to help looking after your mother?’
If adults ask questions that do not allow you to tell your story, I recommend you reply with: “Answering that specific question would not tell the whole story. Let me explain …”
You may experience difficulties when trying to communicate with some people. It may be the case that the person:
- Has not understood the information you have given them.
- Understands, but thinks you are coping OK.
Understands, but does nothing because of:
- Not in their personal interests.
- Believes there is nothing they can do.
- Believes it is not their responsibility.
- Simply does not care.
Some people might interrupt you, speak over you, tell you to “shhh”, and say things like “stop complaining” or “stop whinging”. Some health and social care professionals may try to ignore the problem. They might make a quick decision that you are doing OK based on something simple like school attendance or exam performance.
If this is the case, you either need to speak to the same person but communicate differently to make them take action, or speak to someone else.
If you do speak to the same person, you will have to take a firmer approach, but do not become angry. Some people only respond to a situation when it becomes personally important for them, but if you get angry they may try to stop the conversation. Some suggested things you could say are:
- “I have explained that I am a young carer and that I cannot continue to provide all the care myself.”
- “You have decided that it is acceptable to leave me in this awful situation, which is very disappointing.”
- “If you continue to provide no help I will speak to a variety of doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers until I find someone who takes me seriously. I will tell them that I asked you for help and you refused.”
- I know my rights according to the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Care Act 2014 (described in Chapter Seven). If you refuse to help I will approach charities to explain my situation and ask for support.”
Identify Good Friends and Keep Them Close
Some friends will stick with you through good times and bad. They will understand how you feel and try to help you when things are tough. You need to identify these friends and keep them close. My close friends have been very important to me throughout my life, and I wish I had told them about some of the difficulties I faced as a young carer.
Friendship is a two-way process, so you also need to look out for your friends. If they are going through bad times, you need to be there for them.
It’s a good idea to tell these good friends about your role as a young carer. Even though they may not be able to assist your situation, simply chatting it through with someone will make you feel better. If you do not want to speak to your friends, you could phone some of the organisations listed in Chapter Nine such as Carers Trust or Childline.
You will probably have other friends who are there in good times, but don’t want to help during bad times. These are often referred to as ‘fair weather friends’, because they are only with you when life is going well. You cannot rely on these people. Their unwillingness to help when you are in real need means they are not true friends. You may want to keep them in your life, but do not place too much importance on the friendship.
Manage Negative Emotions
Every person has times when they feel negative emotions. This can include feelings like stress, anger, sadness, frustration and loneliness. Experiencing these emotions is perfectly normal and is part of the brain processing feelings. I imagine that every young carer will experience some negative emotions. I don’t think anyone can face the challenges you do and remain positive all the time.
Ignore Unhelpful Comments from Others
Some people will say they always have a positive outlook on life. They may even be critical of people who are experiencing negative emotions and say these people need to stop being negative. However, I have never met anyone who is able to take a positive approach to life all the time. I have known people who described themselves as positive, but then experienced one difficult thing in their lives and became upset.
Do Not Feel Guilty
In amongst lots of other emotions, some young carers may actually experience times when they feel guilt. That may seem strange bearing in mind they provide care and support for someone else, but there may be times when they feel they could be better at some aspects of their caring role. There may also be times when they feel angry or resentful towards the person they care for, because caring has an impact on their life. Afterwards they might experience guilt because they had been angry.
If you are a young carer and you have experienced guilt, you need to remember that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Being a young carer is extremely tough and will result in a range of different emotions. Focus on all the good things that you have done, and remember guilt is just another normal emotion, along with many others.
Use Positive Thoughts To Counter Negative Thoughts
If you are a young carer and you experience any negative emotions, remember the following:
- Negative emotions come and go, so if you are having a low time, remember that it will not last forever and the emotions will pass.
- If you are experiencing negative feelings, you will benefit from encouragement and support. Try to spend time with people who understand your caring role and can provide that help.
- If people criticise you for being negative, listening to that criticism will make you feel worse, so try to ignore them.
There are some simple ways to train your mind to counteract negative thoughts with positive thoughts. One approach is:
- Identify something really positive that someone has said to you, or something really positive that you know you have done.
- Turn that into a positive memory.
- Whenever you have a negative thought, or you think of someone who has been nasty to you, remember your positive memory.
- The more you do this, the more the negative emotions will stop.
Another approach is as follows:
- Set a goal that you are working towards.
- Imagine what it would feel like to achieve that goal.
- Picture yourself as a winner, having got exactly what you want.
- Remember that feeling, hold onto it and remember it whenever life is tough.
Ask For Help
If you have negative emotions and they do not go away for a very long time, you need to ask for help. You may have developed depression and you might need help to beat it. Organisations you can approach for help are listed in Chapter Nine – Getting Support.
Every person in the world experiences anger at some time. Young carers who are under a lot of pressure and are experiencing stress are very likely to feel angry. I certainly felt angry when I was a young carer and there were times as an adult carer when I have felt very angry indeed.
It is important that young carers should not criticise themselves if they feel angry. Anybody coping with your difficult situation would feel angry. What is important is having the ability to control the anger.
Emotions That Lead To Anger
Anger can be caused by lots of things, but generally people think about something, feel another emotion first, and then that emotion leads to anger. The emotions that can lead to anger include:
Triggers, Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours
In order to control anger we need to understand what happens in our bodies. There are some differences in opinion, but here is a simple model:
- There are things that make you feel angry which are called Triggers. These could include things that another person says or does, or being in certain situations.
- Once a Trigger happens, you will start to have Thoughts.
- As you concentrate on the Thoughts, you start to have Feelings, and your brain releases certain chemicals such as adrenaline.
You might then take physical actions, so your Feelings lead to actual Behaviours.
The Behaviours are often negative, such as aggression, which can have very negative consequences. Other people will often only see the Behaviours, without understanding what you felt before your angry outburst. Therefore other people may assume that you are bad-tempered and/or violent, without understanding the background to your life.
Some people learn to control their anger, whilst others do not. People who do not learn to control their anger can find themselves in trouble and it can have a negative effect on their whole life. It is important that young carers learn to manage their anger.
Manage Your Anger
You need to create a strategy to deal with anger and ensure you don’t bottle it up. People who have not experienced your challenges may suggest ways to manage anger which are unrealistic. You need to decide what is right for you.
If you have had angry outbursts in the past, you need to stop these. You need to focus on keeping calm in difficult situations, not letting others provoke you, and behaving in a winning way. Here is a suggested approach:
- Remember a time when you lost your temper and did something you regret.
- Remember how you felt afterwards.
- Remember the trouble you got into and what other people said.
- Focus on what you want to achieve in life.
- Imagine how that would feel.
- Take a deep breath.
- Focus on the fact that this immediate issue is not worth the hassle.
- Don’t have another angry outburst.
Also, remember that if someone does a little thing that annoys you, don’t take out all your pent-up frustrations on them. The person will be surprised at the anger in your reaction and you may be seen as the bad person. Try to keep things in perspective, take a deep breath, and remain in control.
It is essential that you find ways to relax and ‘blow off steam’ in a positive way. This is entirely your choice and could be an activity like listening to music, talking with friends, playing sport, doing exercise or doing a hobby. This will make you feel better both emotionally and physically. Crucially, it will help to lower your stress levels.
Deal With Bullies
Unfortunately, there are people in the world who take pleasure from causing distress to others. Whilst you might try to be nice to them, avoid them or ignore them; they will make efforts to find you and bully you. I don’t have a magic solution regarding how to deal with bullies, but here are some thoughts.
Most bullies get a feeling of power from bullying, which makes them feel in control. The bullying can involve a range of activities, from something major to lots of small actions over a long period of time.
Therefore you need to ask the following questions:
- If you explained how you felt, would they stop or would they keep bullying you?
- If they like the effect they have on you, can you react differently to take away their power?
- If you told a sensible adult you were being bullied, could that adult make it stop?
- Can you accept their bullying until they are no longer in your life, for example, if you go into different classes at school or if they leave school?
- Can you beat them with words?
- Even if you win an immediate argument, will they keep coming back to you?
- If you hit them, can you win the fight?
- If you hit them, will it make you look bad?
Bear in mind that if you don’t deal with bullies, they will continue to behave badly towards you. You may decide to stand up to a bully, but be aware that whilst that approach might stop the bullying, it might also make the bullying worse. Only you can make the decision regarding your approach.
I have stood up to many bullies, though sometimes this has caused me problems. However, it was very satisfying at the time!
Limit Any Risk-Taking
It is perfectly normal to take risks and it is actually an important part of growing up and becoming an adult. Taking risks allows a child to explore their abilities, and having a good understanding of risk will help with future decisions as an adult.
Healthy risk-taking includes activities like sport, volunteer activities, travelling or entering competitions. These activities have the possibility of failure, but the consequences of losing are not serious.
Unhealthy risk-taking behaviour includes activities like playing truant from school, smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, stealing and unprotected sex. These activities have potentially very serious consequences, which could affect an individual’s entire life.
As a young carer who is used to handling stress, you might feel able to cope with any risks and their consequences. Always remember, though, if things do go wrong, you might have to live with some serious consequences. If you are not happy with the possible consequences, don’t take the risk.
Be Careful With Alcohol and Drugs
I appreciate that officially children should not experiment with alcohol and drugs, and therefore some people might say I should not include this section in a book for young carers. However, the reality is many children, both young carers and those who are not carers, will experiment with alcohol and drugs. Therefore I think it sensible to include this section.
The issues of alcohol and drug misuse are very complicated and I don’t attempt to explain them in this book. I also appreciate that some young carers have parents or family members who are addicts, which will have a massive negative impact on the young carers’ lives. If this is the case, and you are struggling to cope, I suggest you contact the organisations listed in Chapter Nine – Getting Support.
The advice I give is aimed at young carers who have taken, or are considering taking, alcohol or drugs. I also want to clarify that when I mention drugs in this section I am referring to recreational drugs like marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. I am not referring to drugs that have been prescribed by a doctor for a medical problem.
What Alcohol and Recreational Drugs Do To People
I have never taken drugs, but I do drink alcohol. I know some of the effects are similar, so my advice applies to both alcohol and recreational drugs.
People behave very differently when they have taken alcohol and drugs. Many people lose their inhibitions and say things or do things they would not normally do. Whatever emotions they are feeling at the time, alcohol or drugs make them more intense, so:
- If someone is happy, alcohol and drugs will make them happier.
- If someone is sad, alcohol and drugs will make them sadder.
- If someone is angry, alcohol and drugs will make them angrier.
In the past I have occasionally got angry when I drank alcohol. Now I am older, more relaxed and much happier, I can use alcohol reasonably, but that has come with age and experience.
When Use Becomes An Addiction
When someone repeatedly uses alcohol and drugs, the body gets used to the chemicals and they have less of an effect. That person then needs to start increasing the amount of alcohol or drugs to get the same effect. Some people take so much alcohol and drugs that their body and mind craves it. People become addicted and start to focus on getting their next drink of alcohol or fix of drugs. When this happens people’s lives tend to go very bad.
Addicts will often have problems at work and may lose their jobs. They may struggle with relationships and become, or stay, single. Many people who use alcohol and drugs excessively develop mental health problems. Some people might spend all their money on alcohol or drugs and lose their home. Whatever happens to each individual person, their life becomes a mess because of their addiction.
Consider Any Experiences of Alcohol and Drugs
If you have experimented with alcohol and drugs, you need to be honest about how much you used and whether it was a positive experience. Did you do things you regret? Do you feel that you need the alcohol and drugs to cope with your situation? If you are starting to use too much alcohol and/or drugs you need to ask for help. Organisations you can approach are mentioned in Chapter Nine – Getting Support.
Cope With Bereavement
Some young carers will have to cope with the death of someone close to them. Some people die of old age, whereas others may die from other causes such as illness or an accident.
It is likely that immediately after someone passes away, you will feel numb and it may be difficult to accept that they are gone. Over time you may feel negative emotions such as anger that they have died, anger that perhaps doctors should have saved them, or guilt that perhaps you could have helped them more. These negative feelings don’t make you a bad person. It's perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions.
You may also feel a great deal of sadness that results in you being upset and crying. Bereavement affects people in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to feel. There is also no set amount of time that you will feel sad. However, after a period of grieving, you need to move on with your life. If you do not move on, you will remain feeling sad and upset.
Look After Your Physical Health
Many young carers will be very busy and therefore might struggle to complete all their tasks in the time available. This may result in eating food that does not take long to prepare, such as ready meals and snacks like crisps and chocolate. They may also find it difficult to find time for physical exercise. This can cause problems with physical health, such as gaining weight and not getting the right vitamins.
Eat Well and Exercise
Fruit and vegetables give your body energy and vitamins that are crucial. Chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks and fast food might make you feel good when you eat them, but they are full of rubbish and you will feel hungry again very soon. Use them as a treat and limit how much you have.
Exercise is a crucial part of looking after yourself. It makes your body work better, is proven to reduce stress, and after exercise your brain releases chemicals that make you feel better. If you stay fit and healthy it helps your self-esteem.
If you are not happy with your body, then change it. Take responsibility, set yourself a goal, create a plan and then do it. Maybe set a target for doing an event, like a 5km run, for a charity you care about.
Look After Your Mental Health
It is important that all young carers understand some basics regarding mental illness. Crucially, it is important to realise that having mental health problems is not a sign of weakness.
Some young carers will care for someone with a mental illness. Others will care for someone with a physical illness, but that person may experience mental health problems, such as depression, at certain times. All young carers may experience stress themselves, possibly at high levels, and therefore are at risk of developing mental health problems.
Types of Mental Health Problems
Some people have permanent mental health problems like bipolar disorder, chronic depression, schizophrenia or personality disorders. They might be on medication to reduce and/or control their symptoms.
Some people have temporary mental health problems like depression, anxiety or a nervous breakdown. Depression is when someone feels very sad for a long period of time and it affects their health. With the right help, people can completely recover from these.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You must look after your own mental health. Look out for the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are:
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Appetite or weight changes.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Anger or irritability.
If you are demonstrating any of these symptoms, you MUST ask for help. Do not suffer in silence, because that will make things worse.
Cope With Setbacks
Every successful person I know has had to cope with setbacks in their life.
People can experience setbacks in many different ways, such as failing to achieve a goal or breaking up with a partner. Sometimes you can do everything right and things still go wrong.
It may also be the case that you make mistakes. There may be times when you get things wrong, do things you regret, or say things you don’t mean. You are only human, and all of us make mistakes.
Setbacks can make people feel sad, frustrated and disheartened. Focusing on the negative emotions will not improve your situation.
Go back to your goals, check they are still what you want to achieve, and then work towards them again. Communicate with people and do not be ashamed to say that you failed but you are trying again. Apologise for any mistakes, then identify how you will put things right.
The key to success, is to keep going.
Behave Like The Great Person You Are
An element of your life that is entirely under your control is how you behave towards other people. Many people may try to tell you how you should behave. However, they are not living your life, so their opinions may be rubbish.
Behave How You Would Like To Be Treated
If you want others to like you and treat you with respect, you need to behave like a nice person. If you want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you also need to behave like a nice person. If you have angry outbursts, if you sometimes hit others, if you break rules, if you drink too much alcohol, etc, other people will just focus on that behaviour. This might result in others having a low opinion of you and avoiding you. This will make the situation worse because you may become further isolated.
Do not take out your frustrations on others. Most people will not understand the difficulties you face. Therefore if you take out your frustrations by being nasty to someone else, most people will think you are a nasty person. The focus will be your behaviour, not the underlying frustrations that you have because of your circumstances. Remember, picking on others is a tactic used by bullies.
Avoid Peer Pressure
At school you might feel you have to do things because other children say so, which is known as peer pressure. My advice is, don’t do anything you don’t want to do. If people like and respect you they will not force you to do something you don’t want to. If someone is trying to force you to do something, it is probably for their benefit and not yours.
Maintain A Sense of Humour
It is crucial that you try to maintain a sense of humour and, when possible, have fun. This will help you physically and mentally, and will reduce your stress. Maintaining a sense of humour will also help your relationships with others.
Be Confident and Competitive
You should be very proud of your role as a young carer and therefore you should feel confident in the type of person that you are. You should be competitive in life and want to succeed, not at the expense of others, but based on your own abilities. Do not try to measure your success against others; set your own goals and concentrate on achieving them.
Sometimes aspects of our lives change due to something that we did not anticipate. Some people try to resist change; they want to live in the past, and they blame others for change. However, some change is unavoidable and the most successful approach is to accept change and respond to it positively.
If some of my friends read this book and see that I am giving advice on romantic relationships, they will either laugh or cry! However, here are a few thoughts. When I was a young carer I stayed away from relationships with girls. Now I would take a completely different approach.
Being Attracted To Others Is Normal
It is perfectly normal, often when children become teenagers, that they find themselves attracted to others and want to start a relationship with them. This may be people of the opposite sex if they are heterosexual, or people of the same sex if they are homosexual.
Just because you are a young carer does not mean you cannot pursue a romantic relationship. If you really like someone, and you think the other person likes you, then tell them! Speaking to them may be nerve-racking, but it is well within your abilities.
Your Emotions May Change Over Time
When you are in a relationship you might stay with this person for a long time or you might break up after a while. Either is completely normal. As you get older you will probably be attracted to different people at different times. If you do start a relationship, the other person will probably be impressed that you are a young carer. You don’t have to tell them everything about your caring role at first; you can wait until you both know each other better and then tell them slowly.
Unfortunately, during your relationships there will be times when you are upset, and you might experience heartbreak. There might be other times when you really like someone but they are not attracted to you. Those heart-breaking emotions always pass, however bad they might feel at the time. Relationships will make you both happy and sad, but overall they are very good and certainly worth the effort. Being with someone who cares about you will build your self-esteem and bring out the best in you.
Get An Education
There are a few people in life who pay no attention to education and qualifications and still succeed. However, they are rare and most of us need to pursue education and gain qualifications to achieve what we want. There are many benefits to gaining qualifications, such as:
- Improving self-esteem and gaining a sense of achievement.
- Earning money.
- Building a career.
- Allowing flexibility to change jobs.
It may not always feel like it, but school is actually the ideal time to study and gain qualifications.
Some adults find themselves stuck in jobs that they do not enjoy, but have to stay in that job because they do not feel qualified to change. Some adults may continue working whilst studying for qualifications in their spare time, but this can be difficult when they also have work and family commitments. Getting qualifications when you are at school is a much better approach.
Some people decide to pursue academic qualifications at school and/or university. Others may not like classroom studies and might struggle with written work. These people will probably be better suited to practical jobs where they use skills rather than doing lots of paperwork. Many schools and colleges offer practical courses, often linked to apprenticeships with employers.
Whichever route you intend to take, try to achieve a reasonable level of English and Maths. These skills will help in your personal as well as your working life.
Does Being a Young Carer Affect Your Education?
If you think that your role as a young carer is having a negative impact on your education, you must tell someone. If you sacrifice your education due to your caring role it will cause problems later in your life. You deserve to have an education and you should be allowed to pursue any qualifications you want.