This week I was fortunate enough to win a very unique award.
Every year the Chairman of Bath and North East Somerset Council holds a special awards evening to thank and celebrate people who have contributed to the local community through volunteering, fundraising and helping others.
When I arrived at the Guildhall I expected this to be a small modest affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We sat in a hall with hundreds of others. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed.
We heard about so many amazing groups and individuals who day in day out work selflessly to help and support others. From charitable neighbours to societies that cook up a storm for the famished. I was bowled over by what I heard, saw and felt.
Then there was little old me. I wish I had the time to volunteer. I wish I could be more of a giving person. But for me (as you know) life is already a bit like a treadmill on top speed. At the moment my cup runneth over with things to do and my family is my priority. So I felt rather small being on the nomination list. What have I really contributed? What have I given back to society?
Sometimes seeing yourself the way others do is a complete eye opener. I do what I do because that’s my life and I am determined to make the best of my experiences. So when they announced the winner of ‘Carer of the Year’ I was fully expecting another story. Someone else’s life to be heard and for people to clap for another wonderful community giver. So when the person announced was me, there was nobody else more shocked.
My husband nominated me. He wanted to thank me. For supporting him, for supporting others and for always being there on the difficult days. The words they read out were from his nomination form. I think he has probably said these things to me in fragments over time but to hear how he felt about my ‘caring’ in one collective swoop was quite frankly overwhelming.
When I ‘care’ I do it because I also love. I want to support. I want to be there for him. It’s not an effort or a chore. It’s a need.
But I guess if I’m honest it does take its toll. And he sees this too.
To be a carer is a full time job. Even if that person is fully functional (as my husband is) the unpredictability of what we deal with on a daily basis, of what the future might hold can be psychologically draining. As can the worry. About what might happen. About how we’ll pay the bills. About how we’ll cope when things take a turn.
Granted I don’t spend every minute thinking of these things but their shadow is ever present and I know for now we as a family can never take a break or a holiday from what we carry.
I felt humbled to be honoured in this way. I am one of the lucky people. But I know too well how easy it is as a carer to be forgotten. To slip into the shadows.
Until recently I ‘got on with it’ – quietly. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t tell many people at work. I didn’t ask for help. I just kept ploughing away, thinking I could manage.
But there comes a point when you have to speak. You have to seek support and look to others to lean on. To know your rights at work so you can strike the right balance. To find organisations that can talk you through stuff. I left it a long time before I did this and if I’d known what I know now, I’d have reached for a hand many years before.
If there is anything I have learnt from this whole experience of caring for a loved one which I intend to carry with me, it is that you should never ever lose sight of yourself. To be an effective carer you must keep back a little bit of yourself for you. Treat yourself. Love yourself. Be kind and never let yourself be forgotten.