Daphne has been caring for her husband Mike for almost 40 years. When her health suffered from the stress of being a carer, Daphne had a carer’s assessment done and it helped her rebuild her life.
On my wedding day in 1973 my mother-in-law said, ‘When you marry Michael you marry his moods.’ Two years on I knew what she meant. Gradually his mood swings got worse and I found it very difficult to know how to handle them and I was really worried about him. Eventually he tried to kill himself and got a brain injury caused by the carbon monoxide poisoning. He’d wiped out his brain.
Difficult to cope with being a carer
I grieve for the person I had before – the man I married. But my life is before-and-after. We had planned to have a family but I couldn't cope with having children as well as a child for a husband.
It was very difficult to cope with and I felt very angry. He has slowly got better, so I have spent 38 years in an improving situation, although that is reversing as he now has Alzheimer’s.
“The sooner you get the carer's assessment done, the sooner you know what is out there to help you.”
Working while caring
I was an inspector of teaching art and design in colleges in London. I came back every Friday night to Cheltenham to support my elderly parents as well as Mike, doing a week’s worth of things over a weekend and then going back to my job.
I was the key wage earner, but I also planned a full schedule of all sorts of stimulating things for Mike – making furniture, being read and talked to, and that really got him going again. When I had a holiday, I was so exhausted that I was always ill.
Asking for support
I struggled like that for 22 years with little help or support. But, one morning, I could not get up. I was a complete wreck mentally and I just stared at the walls. I was almost suicidal! My whole body and mind stopped.
I contacted social services, and within 24 hours there was someone helping me put my life back together.
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Carer's assessment helped
We did a carer’s assessment and there, written down, are all the aspects of your life that are affected by being a carer: money, time, health, emotions - everything. I realised that my health problems were all stress related, because that’s what happens to carers.
It had a massive impact. I suddenly saw how much caring for Mike had taken away from my life. When I reflected, I realised I’d had lost all my creativity, and I wasn’t going away, giving myself space. Ever since, I go up to London about four times a year for a few days, and see friends, go to exhibitions, and have some time for me.
I rebuilt my confidence, and one day I was sat in a meeting where people were speaking up for carers, and I thought 'I could do this!'. And that began a 20-year career fighting for carers in Gloucestershire.
Get help early on
I would say to any carer: never give up your job, you need it to keep your sanity and you need the money. But never feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
The sooner you get the carer's assessment done, the sooner you know what is out there to help you. Don’t wait until you’re at the point of crisis, like I did. Find out what support is available for the day you might need it.“
- Carers' rights at work: if you balance being a carer with having a job, make sure you know your rights in the workplace.
- Dementia and other memory problems: read our guide if you're also caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
- Respite care: find out about the different types of respite care that's available if you need to take a break from caring.
Page first published: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 May 2017