Lucinda Childs reflects on her own experience of being a young carer, and the difference that understanding and support can make
My name is Lucinda Childs and I’m a Young adult carer. I’m now 21 years old and have been caring for my mum since before I can remember. My mum has Schizoaffective disorder which is seen in about 0.3% of the world’s population. It is a lot like bipolar with rapid mood and thought changes but it also causes hallucinations. She also has Spina Bifida Occulta, which is a malformation of one or more vertebrae and causes her severe pain at times, This combined with NEAD (non-epileptic attack disorder) means that she can spend the day bed bound and has to be careful when leaving the house. When I was seven my sister was born, she had a severe speech impediment and has a slight case of ADHD.
All through school I coped with my home life by not letting anyone see what I did at home. In primary school I didn’t even realise what I was doing was any different from any one else, and felt as though I wasn’t good enough as all my friends seemed to have so much time to themselves; to play and do things after school. I spent the time before school helping my mum out of bed and setting her up for the day with plenty of water, food and the tv remote close to hand.
During school I’d often use toilet breaks to call her to check she was okay and spend most of my time at break and lunch checking on her and my sister. Being on the phone at break times and lunch times caused the other kids to label me as a ‘mummys girl’ or spoilt for having a phone. This caused me to have arguments and my teachers, seeing this often, offered me their rooms so that I could have peace, however this often increased the separation and the feeling of being alone. I was a bright kid and fought to keep people from knowing what I was doing by completing homework and tasks before they were due to keep teachers from looking too closely. I used the fact that I was ahead to my advantage, going to my mother’s appointments and having days off where I needed them never affected my work as I was ahead and my teachers knew I could catch up.
At 12, I realised I wasn’t normal. The other people in my class weren’t rushing home to look after their mothers or siblings, but I thought that perhaps they hid it better than me. I didn’t realise that I had my issues buried so deeply that no one else noticed. In high school it got harder to hide but I pushed myself to keep on top of everything, missing out on sleep seemed like a small price to pay to keep up the charade that everything was fine. I kept everything hidden from everyone, even my family, due to fear of being ‘found out’ and social services getting involved and then separating my family. My mum and sister mean everything to me, and the thought of my mum being put into hospital and me and my sister going into care terrified me. If I had known then what I know now, that social services wouldn’t have done that, perhaps I would’ve come forward and sought help sooner, but the mind of a child and teenager is hard to change on the social stigmas we’re brought up exposed to.
At 16, teachers started to notice that I was more and more tired. My sister’s ADHD was starting to manifest in more violent ways and it was affecting my mum. They started to check on me more regularly, but I convinced them that it was just exam stress and they backed off. During sixth form my head of year started to notice that again I wasn’t sleeping well and took time to ask how I was every time she saw me. Having her there for me, for the first time I felt I could explain that I was just tired because of home life. Even though I knew I was different, I still didn’t completely believe what I was doing wasn’t normal, such was my denial.
Eventually I told her about the extent of my caring responsibilities and she put me in touch with the Rhondda Cynon Taf Carers network who took me out of the house on days out and showed me that it was okay to talk about what was going on at home.
Now, 5 years after meeting with the carers group, I’m able to talk about it and have the support I need to do anything I want. My support worker sat me down and went through all the logistics about me moving out, and how it was possible to take a step back without leaving my mum without support. When I started my University application I was worried about not having any extra curricular achievements due to my need to be home all the time. She talked to me about how extra curricular activities weren’t as important as I thought, but then wrote me an extenuating circumstances letter filled with all the skills being a carer gives you which helped take some of the pressure off. Even with this I was still so nervous when interviews came around. I still remember being the last in the room as the head of department had requested my interview be with her. I was so nervous until she told me why she wanted my interview; she was a carer too. She cares for her daughter (who by the way, is lovely) and wanted to make sure I knew I could talk to her about anything. It was so reassuring having someone in my corner.
I took my A-Levels and applied to university, I just missed out on the grade I needed for the ‘Mathematics’ course but I had a phone call from the head of maths at the university asking if I would like to do ‘Mathematical sciences’ which is the same course but with a different entry grade. If it wasn’t for her my life would be completely different right now. With the help of my lecturers and my carers network I’ve just finished studying my BSc Mathematics and have my placement at Cardiff Metropolitan University to study for my PGCE in September so that I can reach my dream of being a high school mathematics teacher. I’m now proud to say I am a carer and it is something that has had a very positive impact on my life and how I perceive the world.
This series of articles to mark Carers Week have been guest edited by Kate Cubbage.
All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.