In Safe Hands

Two things happened this week that have made a big difference. I had a counselling session and I went to the Carers’ UK national conference. 
The counseling came about through our local Mind having a commitment to offer support to older carers. I think of myself as fairly young and fit and not quite ready for SAGA magazine or chairobics so I still have trouble sometimes remembering that this means me!
It was only my second session and I had been having second thoughts about going. I told myself I was too busy; it was too self-indulgent; I wasn’t sure if she would understand.
I really underestimated her because it turns out that she works with a lot of carers and also people being cared for, and she really did understand. I told her about the situation and my consuming guilt that I could never seem to do enough for Nick. To my amazement she – not in so many words but the underlying message was clear – told me to back off. Give him some space. Let go of control. Let go of trying to do every last little thing for him, trying to make it all right for him in every little way, all the time. Let him make some of those decisions. Let the council carers get on with doing their job. 
She made me see that always trying to take control, always being busy and going through the place like a dose of salts every time I go in can be a way of avoiding him too. Never having to properly stop and listen to what he is really thinking, because in my heart of hearts I’m afraid to know.
It was food for thought. Especially when I was just about to leave town for a day or two.

So, to the big city. Headed for the golden pavements of Canary Wharf for the Carers’ UK national conference, and I really did have my spotted bag slung over my shoulder. It was such a treat to be in London, to feel intrepid and carefree and actually managing to catch up with people a little.
And the conference was a revelation.
One of the reasons I’d wanted to go was to find out what political muscle carers could have, when so much of the time we seem to feel so invisible and weak. I say “we” from all the conversations I’ve had with other carers that voice how I feel so much of the time – lonely, scared, out of our depths and struggling. And in the broader realm, overlooked, unrecognized, unheard. The financial restrictions really don’t help either, as if we are only fit for the most lowly, lowest paid work in addition to our caring responsibilities.
It can’t be right. I have raged about it and needed to join forces somehow. Surely other carers must feel the same way or are they all too knackered to argue?  

The conference was in the kind of grand corporate venue with three storey ceilings that I rarely get to step inside anymore, all glass and polished floors and giant artworks in the lobby.
The first thing that struck me was how well dressed everyone was – like we’d all taken off our aprons and rubber gloves for the occasion, torn up our to-do lists and had our hair done. Absolutely the opposite of invisible. I even wondered if some of them were actually carers at all! 
But then – what does a carer look like? Have you got a mental picture? Because you just can’t tell. 

And the day itself – the word that kept coming up was “dynamic”. Carers UK describes itself as both a support service and a movement for change. By twenty minutes in I was sitting back in my seat knowing that I'd come to the right place. You never know if a national organisation really has your best interests at heart or if they actually can offer much hands on help for their individual members, but here was an active commitment to lobby for increased political and financial recognition for carers' rights. The Chief Exec spoke forcefully about the need to incorporate these into social policy and to push for more joined up services in all the affected areas - social, housing, health - and continue campaigning for lasting change.
She said she was meeting the new Care Minister to discuss this next week, and it is clear that she is a force to be reckoned with. It set the tone for all the discussions during the day about the national picture of care - its social and economic value as well as the individual stories and how we all manage. I heard some humbling, tear-jerking stories. Amazing that so many of us got there at all! 
I thought of Nick back home with his carers coming in and Simon popping round in the evening and everyone managing quite well without me for a few days, and I know that some people don't have that. How they find the time and energy to do stuff like this, I don't know, but it's so important. To be acknowledged and welcomed and find that you're really not alone. 
Meanwhile I ate a delicious vegan lunch and met some great people, exchanged numbers with a couple and said taraa and see you next year.  
It was an inspiring, thought provoking day. I felt part of something bigger than myself - a solid, powerful army of people who want to change things for the better. I felt as if we were all in safe hands.