Becoming a carer isn’t something people plan for; it’s often not a relaxed transition. Some people are born into the role but for others, such as me, they have to adapt overnight.
I had just started year 9 and was deciding which subjects I wanted to pursue for my GCSEs. I could not have predicted I would become a young carer.
Being the being the overprotective father he was, my dad would drop me off and pick me up from school, so I was a bit confused as to why he wasn’t there to take me home one day. Not giving it much thought, I walked home with my brother to find that he wasn’t at home either. My mother told me he was feeling “a little unwell” and had to go to the hospital. My dad was the type of man to pop back a dislocated shoulder himself rather than go to see the doctors to do it for him, so I instantly knew something wasn’t right. We hadn’t had any form of contact with him for over a week when we finally got the call. It was him, his voice was hoarse and he was short of breath. We spoke for a little bit and in that time he reassured me that he was fine and would be home shortly, then told me to give the phone to my mother. The relief I received from talking to him was quickly muffled with concern. I felt lethargic, irritable and was apathetic towards anything that wasn’t news about my father as he was the only thing I cared about.
I later found out that my dad was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently, and that his heart was only functioning at 23%. The next few weeks were full of anxiety and had I lost interest in school. I stopped wanting to do things I enjoy.
It wasn’t until two months later that he was back at home, during which he moved from hospital to hospital across the city seeing different specialists. I had little contact with him during this time. Things changed. Suddenly I had rules in place for how to care for my dad, ensuring he takes his medication on time which included 18 pills a day. Missing just one would lead to him going back to hospital, a prospect that left me terror-stricken and under pressure to ensure I did my duties correctly.
I had to adapt to these changes in my dad’s life and soon became his primary carer. To help me cope with this role I was referred to BYCAS (Barnet Young Carers and Siblings) who began helping almost immediately. I was given a one on one session with Francesca, one of the coordinators who took interest in my future goals and personality, giving me numbers to call should I ever need help. Registration with BYCAS meant I didn’t have to fulfil my caring duties alone, they cater to any problems I have; whether it be finding work experience or wanting a day out with my friends.
Every summer there is an annual day trip out to a riverside property on the banks of the Thames in Buckinghamshire. Activities include petting zoos, swimming in the heated pool and going on boat rides. The day out was my first activity with BYCAS, before I could even feel apprehensive I was approached by a few girls of my age that were very inviting and struck up a conversation. It felt pleasant getting to talk to people in similar situations and reassuring to know I’m not the only one that struggles with caring.
The people I’ve met through BYCAS are some of my best friends and we always look forward to seeing one another at events. The older carers usually use BYCAS for more practical and school related help whereas the younger carers see it as a getaway from the hardships of daily life; having a day for them to be a ‘normal’ child without needing to worry about a sick parent or guardian at home.
This day is a luxury: allowing carers to be kids, playing and laughing. The older carers including myself usually help out at these events, as well as enjoying ourselves. Reassuring them that there are other carers like themselves and that they are not alone is vital.
Being involved with BYCAS has helped me manage my caring role far better than I could have ever myself, they’ve helped to teach me how to balance education and care, while looking after myself at the same time with the biggest help being easing my apprehension for the future. Although my father’s health is still unstable, I am now more prepared to cope with sudden and unexpected events whether it be coping with setbacks, deterioration or even periods of seeming remission as things can change within mere minutes. The future is uncertain and although I am terrified of the thought of change with myself having no ability to control it, with BYCAS’ support, I am hopeful for the future.