Growing up, providing care was just a part of normal, everyday life. I didn’t know what my life looked like without medications, helping to calm down outbursts, calling the ambulance and packing the hospital bags. My life was so neatly planned around caring that even when something abnormal went wrong, like my mum getting sick, things just moulded and shifted around that. Everyone knew what their assigned role was, we autopilot-ed into action and thought about our feelings and emotions later. Not the healthiest way to handle situations I must admit, but definitely effective.
I recognise how lucky I am that as I got older, the health of the people I care for, my mum and brother, greatly improved. Hospital visits reduced from 10 per year to three, then two and sometimes even to one. I had the space to start figuring out who I was without caring responsibilities being the centre of my universe. It was weird and wonderful. I figured out that I like to try new things, like learning how to knit. I also figured out that I am not very good at knitting, or sticking to new things that I don’t pick up quickly. I found a beautiful group of friends, many of whom had or have caring responsibilities themselves (coincidence? Who knows!) and I successfully built an organisation that I am incredibly proud of.
I remember thinking to myself earlier this year that it had been a bit quiet in the Buchner household, we hadn’t really had any hospital visits, big diagnoses or illnesses in a while. I distinctly remember thinking how nice it was, and that maybe, this is what the rest of society, the 90 percent of people without caring roles, feel like every single day. Well, I should have stopped my thought process then and there and knocked on some wood.
Shortly after, my mum had an accident in the middle of the night resulting in a 2am phone call from my brother, a race over to my parents in my Ugg boots and pyjamas and a drive to The Alfred Hospital at 3.30am after my dad had forgotten to take the hospital bag with him. Then a few weeks ago, my dad received some test results that have led to a series of many many tests, none of which have provided any concrete answers yet. And how did I find myself reacting? Not well. Yes, my body jumped into autopilot and I did what I needed to do to support my family. But between you and I, my mind was racing. How was I going to fit caring into my life that has now been built around not having those intense responsibilities anymore? What was I going to have to give up?
At the time, I wasn’t proud of these thoughts. I was deeply ashamed and felt incredibly guilty. My mum was hurt and recovering, my dad anxiously waiting for test results. Here I was wondering if I was going to have to start cooking for my family, and how would I do that with all of their dietary requirements – I don’t have a massive repertoire of recipes and of the recipes I do know, they mostly can’t eat.
What I have realised during these last few months is “once a Young Carer, always a Young Carer”. We are strong, resilient, fiercely passionate, empathetic, driven young people who know how to get stuff done. And the one thing I have now that I didn’t have when things were really bad last time, is a phenomenal support network. I reassured myself that no matter what happened, I will be able to move things around without giving up the life that I have set up for myself now. And I know now that feeling these emotions is a completely valid response.
This year, the theme for Carers Week is “Millions of Reasons to Care”, bringing attention to the 2.65 million Australians who provide unpaid care in their families every single day. This week I want to encourage you to think about the people and causes you care about. What are the strategies you can put in place to make sure that one of those things you care about is yourself, no matter how many people you might have to care for? What strategies are you going to put into place to ensure that even if things change, you can still function and do what you need to do to get through each day.
This Carers Week, I am reminding myself that it is ok to feel all the feels and that sometimes we need to give ourselves the permission, time and space to get it all out, process it and then get back to action, doing what we do best.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the 1 in 10 Australians under the age of 25 who are providing unpaid care in their families.
Over the course of this week, we’ll be sharing with you just some of their stories, through a series of blogs and live streamed conversations. Taking you into the psyche of Young Carers in a way that goes beyond the common statistics and numbers that you see. Putting a face and name to the Millions of Reasons to Care.
Happy National Carers Week!