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Welcome to the second March Male Carers month series of interviews supporting the mental wellbeing of male carers. Today’s interview is with David and Richard. David is Richard’s carer, but Richard has also been a carer, both as a young carer, and as an adult. They shared very honest and open experiences about being carers and also being a cared-for-person, which is very insightful in understanding how it can be different for male and gay carers when interacting with social care, and professional bodies, say nurses and doctors. It’s a different dynamic again in our focus on male carers, and it is a very interesting interview. If you would like to listen to the full podcast version or read the transcript, please pop over to our podcast page
We began by talking about being a male carer, and also being a young male carer and transitioning to being an adult career, then went on to talk about the challenges of being a male gay carer and different activities that can help to manage difficult thoughts and emotions.
I started by asking David and Richard what were the biggest emotional and psychological changes, that have faced, or you face now as a male carer and care-for-person?
David expressed how there is an often-difficult balance between loving someone, being their lover and partner and wanting to help and support them as a caregiver. He shared a recent personal example of trying to ensure that Richard’s physical and psychological needs were met, while also trying to ensure that they could meet other commitments, such as attending this interview, while also trying to manage his own needs as an individual, as well as a carer. David emphasised that an important part of being a carer for Richard was ensuring that he didn’t take away his independence. He reflected that Richard is a very capable man, and every day David is in awe of what he is capable of doing. However, again it is a difficult balance of wondering if he is being overbearing, or trying to do too much, or perhaps isn’t doing enough to support him. That, in itself, can cause a lot of stress and worry, because he is always mindful of the importance of promoting Richard’s independence.
David expressed that this can be something that carers don’t always recognise or realise that they are doing and is usually not done with any negative intent, but it is just something that can happen little by little, particularly when you are very busy or tired and get into behaviours and habits we don’t realise. So, for David it can feel quite stressful sometimes, especially because of the blurred line between caring for someone, but also, that they are a lover, a partner, a confidant, a best friend and often from an external perspective, people might not always see the daily struggles.
Richard shared that as a young man he was caring for his grandfather and the focus was consistently on how his Grandfather was and how could people support him. Whereas there was little to no attention paid to Richard’s needs, nor was there any acceptance that as his Grandfather’s carer, regardless of his young age, he knew his Grandfather’s problems and needs. He experienced this again when he cared for his Mother, it was so difficult getting authorities to listen to him, which resulted in him having to give up his work to care for her full time.
Richard and David then discussed how that sometimes the physical conditions or pain a loved one is in, can mean that they can verbally lash out at their nearest and dearest and as a carer you take the full brunt of this. Richard shared that pain is a very strong motivator and it can change how we react to situations. He recognises in himself, that when he is in high amounts of pain, he can be very snappy at David and it can be very upsetting for both of them.
David shared a recent example of this while working on a project for their business. He had been trying to explain something to Richard, but he was in pain and exhausted and was being snappy with David and despite trying not to, David ended up being sharp with him back. There is no right or wrong answer or magic fix to these types of situations, it is sometimes just having that conversation and avoiding the feedback loop that can end in misunderstanding and arguments. David concluded that even just trying to find that balance, actually causes its own stress sometimes!
This conversation was very insightful for me, as I have often described the tsunami of emotions I experience, often several at a time and it can be exhausting sometime trying to manage them. I have found it useful to start to identify and name strong emotions when I become aware of them, and then unhook from them by giving myself the mental space to accept that I am going to experiences these intense types of thoughts, feelings and emotions, then let sit there, until I just don’t notice them anymore. Another interesting point which Richard made, was that a lot of the time the focus is on the cared-for-person, which often is necessary and appropriate, however, as an unpaid carer you can feel almost invisible, which adds to the emotional roller-coaster carers can experience.
Next, I asked Richard if being a young carer has had a negative impact on his emotional or psychological wellbeing?
Richard shared that growing up he was told he had the ‘patience of a saint’, however, after the constant pressures of caring for his Grandfather, particularly in the last few months of his life, when he was caring for him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he was sleep deprived and frustrated at not being listened to by health care professionals. He feels that now, all these years on, the long-term effect is that he isn’t a very patient person at all now, so that part of his personality, his life, has totally changed. He reflected that having lost so much of his life caring and in hospital himself, he just doesn’t have the patience he used to anymore and is protective of his time, even if that means letting other people know in no uncertain terms that he needs space!
I then asked David, if he thought there were any additional stress or emotional challenges being a gay man and a carer, perhaps the way people react to him or treat him any differently?
David shared an example of when they both went to their local leisure centre, to go swimming, when we could go swimming! They enjoyed their swim but then Richard became unwell and had a seizure. David stressed that the staff reacted very quickly, were very good and very supportive. However, they then had to fill out a form about the incident, and David noticed that on the form the staff had made the assumption that he was Richard’s carer. He feels that this is another example of the blurry lines between, “am I his carer or am I his partner?” but he does understand that sometimes it can be difficult for others to make the distinction. David went onto share that on occasions, as they both wear glasses and are of a similar height and build, people make the assumption that they are brothers, and he has noticed that sometimes people do react differently once they realise that they are a gay couple.
David reflected that while homosexuality is in a better place than it was say, 50 years ago, he does notice a look on people’s faces sometimes and he has been openly challenged as to who he is when he has attended medical appointments with Richard. While he hasn’t experienced extreme negative reactions, it does create challenging dynamic sometimes, where people don’t always fully recognise the loving relationship, separate from the caring role.
This was an interesting point David raised, as due to the nature of my caring role, people are more likely to identify that I am a carer, because of my gender and age. So, society, health care professionals and alike, are more ready to recognise and acknowledge someone as being a carer, when the person meets their expectations of what an unpaid carer should look like. However, there are hundreds of different caring roles and relational dynamics like mine, David and Richard’s, parent carers or a friend, caring for another friend , but sadly most of society is not ready to have that conversation yet.
I then asked David and Richard if there were any activities or exercises that helped them to manage their emotional or psychological stress?
David shared that what helps him is to sometimes just disconnect from being a carer and to remind himself that the most important aspect of their relationship is that Richard is his best friend and partner. He is very mindful of the different dynamics between being a partner and a carer and because sometimes he finds himself identifying primarily as Richard’s carer, rather than his partner, he needs to ensure that he rebalances that when he can. David reflected that one way he ensures that he is present as Richard’s partner and not his carer, is when they watch an animated film together, which they try do regularly. Despite this genre of film not really being a favourite of his, he will often just look over to Richard immersed in the story and watch the look on his face, hearing him giggling and it really reminds him, that “it’s me and him, that it’s the love we have for each other”.
Richard expressed that for him, the most important thing was find something that you really enjoy, that you can do in the time that you know you actually have. For instance, he shared he loves sewing Georgian clothing (and he did look very smart with a beautiful Georgian outfit on) but it could be activity such as cross stitch, knitting or anything like that you can put down when you need to. Practical activities like that, where you are focusing on your hands or what you are doing, help you to escape into a different world, which he found very helpful. Another activity he finds useful is writing a journal, writing down your feelings and emotions, what things that have upset you. It is easy to rant and rave in it, because sometimes we can’t vent our feelings with those close to us, so being able to express and release thoughts and feelings in a journal is another of letting them go.
Another thing Richard suggested was ensuring you got some exercise, not just when you are taking care of your loved one by lifting them or doing housework, but actually doing some exercise for yourself, so again you can focus on yourself and make your wellbeing a priority. Richard’s last suggestion was to help to calm your mind and have a mental break away from everything that’s been going on. He learned meditation from a young age, still uses it today, particularly when he is in lot of pain. He is able to put himself into a relaxed, meditative state and before he knows it, an hour or two hours has past and he feels so much more refreshed and focused.
Lastly, I asked them both if they had any final thoughts?
Both David and Richard feel strongly that there is no ‘right or wrong way’ to being a carer, in whatever type of relationship you have with the cared-for-person. However, a lot of the challenges are how others view those in the caring role, particularly if you are a man and the perception is that you should just ‘man-up’ and get on with it. David expressed concern that often those in authority take the view that if you are coping with activities such as trying to create an income for yourself, then the assumption is that you can cope with everything else and do not need any external support. In a lot of cases, including for them both, this is not the case and has resulted in them having to taken on a ‘fight’ with authorities to try and secure the financial support they need. So, the final message from them both is to ‘push back’ when you need to, to ensure that as a carer you are being ‘heard’ properly and get the support you need and to be proud that of what you are doing, as it is indeed a very special thing to take care of the person you love.
I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. I am so grateful to David and Richard for being so open and honest about their experiences, about their personal relationship, about the relationship between a carer and a cared-for-person and how all those roles aren’t static. Transitioning between the identities of being a carer, a partner, a lover, a parent or a child is a complex and emotionally challenging, so, thank you again to David and Richard for sharing their thoughts and feelings with us.
So, the next event is Sak’s workshop ‘Take control of your mental fitness and prepare for life’s challenges’ is on the March 25 at 7.30pm, we’ll be posting more about that next week. The final interview is another very insightful and very interesting talk with Brian, this will be published on March 31. Brian is a working male carer and he shares with us about the additional challenges of being a male carer in the workplace, as well as negotiating between those different identities of being a husband, father, carer, and worker.
Thank you again for reading and remember what a special thing it is that you do.
About David Breaker
David is passionate about supporting others to focus on their passions and regain their purpose in life again. He spends his time educating and promoting a healthy lifestyle within the community. He uses his experience of once being an unemployed man, extreme gaming addict and losing 20 stone to inspire others to make positive changes in their lives. David is a certified Life and Weight Loss Coach and has qualifications in Counselling, Life Coaching and Nutrition and Weight Management. David volunteers for Medway Council as a Better Medway Champion and facilitates Healthy Eating courses for the general public. He runs an online Wellness Business Network group, called Wellness HQ, allowing wellness professionals to connect, network and support each other.
Company: Breakthrough Life Coaching Title: Certified Life and Weight Loss Coach
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/breakthroughlifecoaching/
Male Carers Month Free Workshop
Thursday 25th March at 7.30 pm online.
This practical & evidence-based workshop for male carers will provide practical tools to help you to take control of your mental wellbeing.
“The pressure and expectations of caring can make carers particularly vulnerable. In this interactive and engaging session for Carers’ Hearts, Sak will be sharing real-time or ‘fast skills’ male carers can use during stressful times. He’ll also be distinguishing these strategies from those that build long-term resilience. Participants will also get the opportunity to share the strategies that currently work for them. Sak is the Founder and Lead Mental Fitness Coach at ORANGE BALL. He is an experienced and accredited Executive Coach and Mentor and a Positive Psychology Practitioner.
To find out more about Sak and Orange Ball, please visit his website or give him a call.
Contact: 0333 050 6541