Care is love with its work boots on

Written by: Audrey Birt, Associate Director Health and Social Care Academy, the ALLIANCE

Published: 13/02/2020

Audrey sheds a light on her own stories of care across the many relationships in her life.

After getting my tonsils out as a wee girl, I was smitten. Although my memory of the stay in hospital wasn’t particularly happy, I loved the care of the nurses and I was certain I wanted to be a nurse. I studied nursing at university, unusual at that time and loved the breadth of the course. My teachers at school said I was too clever to be a nurse and I remain offended by that as what could be more important than caring for another human being. But we as a culture value cognitive expertise more than caring and this remains a problem in terms of financial value and how carers are seen in society.

I’ve been a carer in so many ways; a nurse, a mother, a friend and a daughter. Each role is different of course but at heart it is the same. It needs an unconditional love, which can be especially difficult with family where relationships do not come without complexity. Indeed caring for strangers while my own parents struggled triggered real cognitive dissonance in me. Guilt is never far away when you are pulled between generations or formal versus informal caring. And yet for me  there is no satisfaction greater than helping relieve suffering; be it physical or emotional. And now disability has robbed me of that role in so many ways. It’s one of my greatest sadnesses.

Recent years four diagnoses of cancer and a benign growth on my spine means I have very slow and uncertain mobility, I struggle with chronic severe pain and I can’t stand for long. This means that I need care now. I need support with personal care and with mobility. I can’t drive any more and therefore I’m very dependent on others to get out, for meals, for safety around the house. The spinal surgery wasn’t a success, although so far has stopped paralysis, so since my operation I’ve had to be cared for. It’s not easy. I noticed in hospital I regressed to a need to please those carers. I was very aware how dependent I was and how I lost my personal power. I felt scared at times. But many of the team worked with me as a partner in my care and that really eased my recovery.

Now at home my husband has become my carer. His life has changed as mine. We’ve both struggled at times. I see his fatigue and want to help…..but there is little I can do. It leaves me with guilt and frustration. I feel like a burden although that’s never mentioned. I do my best to persuade him to go out and do the things that help him like golf. His golf friends’ kindness is so important.

Those are difficult days for me but often friends will help and the friend who runs a taxi has been hugely helpful, especially when I was initially so vulnerable.

I’ve had to learn to lean into being cared for and now my family and friends are all very aware of our inaccessible world. Dropped pavements can change my day! I continue to do my coaching, facilitation and retreat hosting and I’m very aware that my ability to do that has been at the expense of Andrew’s retirement plans, even if it’s just to relax!

But as Valentine’s Day approaches I recognise that this shift has made us closer. Our 40 year marriage, tested over the years as they all are, is now more loving and close. And for all the hardship of late that’s a wonderful effect of caring.

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