As carers we need to look after ourselves so we can support each other as well

9 June 2014

This week is Carers Week in the UK and today one carer - Malcolm - talks about how a support programme has helped him understand both the challenges of being a carer as well as his own mental health.

It's very moving for me to hear other carers' journeys and to relive parts of my own. Every meeting helps me understand and accept what happened to me, when my partner of 22 years had a life-changing mental heath episode nearly two and a half years ago.

When my partner came home after five months in hospital and began the journey to recovery, I did a carers training course and began to get the 'momentum' and yes, maybe the 'authority' I felt I needed, to claw back time for myself and begin to move forward with my own life.

So it was a major step forward to be asked back in 2014 to help to facilitate the same seven-week 'Carer Support Programme'- being re-run as part of a tri-borough initiative. This involved sharing my own and my partner's journey through the health care maze, as well as delivering segments of the training programme and group exercises.

Another useful way of restoring the balance for my own recovery has been to participate in my local mental health trust's paid opportunities for carers and service users, sitting on recruitment panels, assessing care environments and tender presentations. It gives a real insight into how local mental health services are being reconfigured.

Of course, as a carer, I still make mistakes all the time, and tend to go through phases, of over-caring and over compensating, and then feeling resentful. I still need to practice saying what I need to say more constructively.

Being on the course and staying in touch with other carers helps me to 'reframe' the challenges in a more positive practical way. I still constantly need to 're-set' limits, on what I'm willing and able to do, without feeling guilty or angry. I must learn to relax, to not be over-vigilant and remember that the onset of early warning signs does not automatically lead to a relapse.

I'm aware of the need to break my own cycles of denial, anger and depression and by becoming more involved with my local mental heath community I guess I'm now moving towards acceptance.

I've gained new perspectives from all of the carers I've met and I feel it's important to acknowledge the honesty and compassion that we share and remind each other that despite all the challenges, we don't give up friendships, plans, and activities that bring us joy.

As carers we need to look after ourselves so we can all continue to support each other as well as those we care for.

Carers Week is a UK-wide annual awareness campaign. Its aim is to improve the lives of carers and the people they care for.