I stormed off to my bedroom, slamming the door so hard that bits of plaster fell to the floor. I sobbed. My entire body moving involuntarily with every wail that came out of my mouth. The weird and wild thing was, at that moment, I could not tell you why I had reacted like this. It wasn’t the first time and it definitely wouldn’t be the last.
I cried, I blasted Simple Plan or Panic at the Disco and tried to rack my brain for a moment when life last felt easy. When I last felt in control. And then I cried more because I couldn’t think of anything.
Up until this point, my life had largely been controlled by those around me. Not because of my age, or because by all intents and purposes, I was still a child, but because I had grown up as a child with adult responsibilities and expectations. My brother and my mum both suffered from a range of chronic health conditions.
In a letter to my parents, my dad’s aunt called me an odd child. And for a woman that never even tried to get to know me, I probably was. I knew how to pour out my brother’s medicine at the age of six, how to set up his Asthma Pump, and what number was too high on the thermometer.
I was a child who grew up around hospitals, doctors, medications, and ambulances. I was a child who didn’t know what each day would bring, a child who didn’t know how to express the feelings I was experiencing – intense anger, frustration, disappointment, worry, anxiety, and the sheer unadulterated weight of holding it all together, being strong because my brother and mum couldn’t.
I was healthy, there was no space for me to be sad. So instead, I was angry. The kind that was still slamming doors until I was well and truly passed my angsty teenage ‘accepted-door-slamming’ phase. In fact, the day I literally split my door frame in two was the same day that I wrote emails and sat in professional meetings for my newly formed not-for-profit organisation.
I was a girl straddling multiple worlds – a carer, a young woman, a business owner, and someone who was starting to be recognised as a change maker. I didn’t know how to handle the age I was at and the seemingly basic girl-based drama that I was experiencing, let alone understand how to healthily (and safely) get out the emotions that I had been feeling for so long.
My stereo (and later my headphones) turned up to an over-the-top volume and my ability to make myself so upset that I ended up with a self-inflicted migraine, was my only way of knowing how to deal with everything. Over the years, I found healthier mechanisms, and even though every so often, my desire to throw my room upside down and feel the satisfaction of slamming a door rears its ugly head, it has now been years since I last watched a piece of plaster fall from the doorframe.
I look back on my childhood with tears in my eyes. I had a wonderful family, a rotating (and at times questionable) group of friends, a roof over my head and I was engaged in my education. But the feelings of constantly coming second to my brother and my mum in the priority order of my parents love and affection made me act out, tell the biggest lies and get myself in all sorts of trouble.
My childhood was one filled with love and laughter but it was also filled with the feeling of never being good enough and a reoccurring nightmare that I was disappointing everyone in my life. Throw in bouts of anxiety and depression and we have a party!
Now, at 29 years old, and as the Founder and CEO of Australia’s leading non-profit organisation supporting Young Carers, I realise that I didn’t need a new family, or to run away and cause a scene to get the attention that I so desperately craved. I just needed someone to recognise and admit that I was different from my peers.
My value set, my way of thinking, and my maturity/empathy levels set me apart and no matter how much I tried to fit in, I was born to stand out. My caring role made me spectacular and wonderfully different, not something I should be ashamed of.
Did you know that 1 in 10 young people in Australia grow up in similar circumstances to me? Providing unpaid care to a parent, sibling or grandparent who has a chronic or mental illness, disability, addiction or requires care due to frail age? That’s a lot of young people who often, from the outside, don’t appear any different to you or me.
This year, and every year, we celebrate Young Carers for the hard work they put in behind the scenes. To ensure that support extends beyond the physical reach of Little Dreamers we need more attention, funding and direct delivery from Government, Community and Corporates to recognise, identify and celebrate our Young Carers.
Today, I get to remind other young people of that exact thing, every single day. Celebrating our young people who provide unpaid care in their families whilst also providing the support that they so desperately need to achieve their full potentials as young people, outside of their caring role.
I love it.
This Carers Week, I encourage you to spend time thinking back to your childhood. Did you have a caring role and you didn’t realise it? Speak with your friends, family, teachers, and colleagues about why caring about Young Carers is important. Tell them about the 2-3 children in every single classroom who have caring roles at home and that these young people are recognised as one of the four most at risk groups of young people in Australia.
It’s not all bad news, Young Carers are also resilient, empowered, and confident people who have big dreams and even bigger passion for changing the world.
Most importantly, share why you care on social media and with your networks by either creating your own “Do I Look Like I Care” video or sharing some of the Little Dreamers Carers Week content.
Don’t forget to always dream big and Happy Carers Week,