There was so much I wish I knew about being a carer before I became one. It might have taken the edge off the anxiety I was feeling about my other half’s medical conditions, his recovery, how much ongoing hands on support he would need, what changes it might mean for us in many areas of our lives, was I being a good carer and getting it right, etc. etc.

It’s not like you get a manual at the hospital or GP and ongoing support and advice from an expert to help you deal with this new caring role. You are figuring it out as you go and you often have to proactively find the information you need. So here I summarise the 10 lessons I learned from being a carer to help you in that quest.

Read about the 10 lessons I learned from being a #carer #caring #seriousillness #chronicillness #seriousinjury tell a friend

This all comes from the reflection I’ve been doing this past month on the impact of a serious illness/injury on a relationship. It was our wedding anniversary a month ago, this month is my 10th year anniversary of having had a serious neurological illness and next month will be 5 years since my husband had his brush with mortality. So a lot has been going through my mind including my experience of being carer and the caring role.

Picture of a man sitting down and reading a booklet on Return to Wellness's 10 lessons on being a carer

Here are the 10 lessons I learned about being a carer

Lesson 1 – A serious illness or injury can put long simmering issues in your relationship into perspective

To the point that you realise that the long simmering issue is no longer an issue. The illness/injury event feels much more serious. For example, we moved from a flat into a house but I didn’t feel the need to move. The flat was big enough for us both I thought. But we moved because my husband was very keen to. I was finding the transition difficult. The day my husband unexpectedly went into hospital, it was like something switched off in my body. The house was no longer an issue as I had other much more important things to deal with.

Or maybe the issue is still very much an issue, and an important one to you, so now you are galvanised to do something about it. A serious illness or injury can cause us to face our mortality. And when we do that, we realise what is most important to us, and what we are willing to do and not do.

Lesson 2 – If you’re the carer, it’s not uncommon for your other half to get angry with you.

Despite all you have been doing for them, some things you just won’t get right. You are learning too. My husband once got upset with me in the early days of him dealing with his medical conditions when I struggled to get meals cooked on a schedule which would help him manage his sugars. It was tough.

I was trying my best and struggling with the impact of everything. I gently told him that I was impacted too, was trying and would look again at how I could schedule my work differently to get meals out on time.

It’s important to deal effectively with your loved one’s anger and I wrote about how to do that here, so I encourage you to read it. What you don’t want to do is take on and carry other people’s anger as they takes a lot of your energy which you need for yourself.

A woman being a carer is holding on to the ball of her other half's anger and has dropped the ball of her own wellness

The potential impact on the carer when you hold on to someone else’s anger

Lesson 3 – As the carer, you’ll get angry with your other half too.

You can become angry because you feel frustrated with yourself, that you are getting things wrong as the carer. Like I said before, it’s unlikely you have a ‘how to be a carer’ manual on your bookshelf.

Or you may be angry over what has happened with your loved one, the pain and changes they have had to endure. It’s hard to see our loved ones ill or injured. We want to take their pain away.

Or you may be angry over the impact the illness or injury has had on your lives and the changes you and your loved one have had to make as a result. In cases like this, the anger is more often directed at the impact of the illness or injury has had.

Or the anger be a cover for another emotion like sadness and grief, which is often the case for the previous two examples.

Or the anger could be more about other relationship issues which have pre-existed prior to the illness/injury. And the stress of dealing with the impact of the illness/injury is fuelling the anger.

Whoever is getting angry, at its worst, it can lead to blame and shame. That is what you want to avoid.

Dealing with #seriousillness #seriousinjury #chronicillness can be stressful so it’s not uncommon for you and your loved one to get angry with each other. Just make sure it doesn’t lead to #blame or #shame tell a friend

So do a quick self-check on your anger and ask yourself:

What am I really angry about?

Am I really angry with my other half for getting ill/injured?

Am I angry about the impact it has had on my life? Our lives?

Am I angry at the illness/injury?

Am I angry at having to deal with all the stress?

Or am I angry about another aspect of our relationship which has nothing to do with the illness/injury?

If my anger was covering other emotions, what would those emotions be?

I want to say though that anger is not a bad or forbidden thing. It’s about how you deal with it which is key.

Picture of questions to help you sense check your anger when being a carer.

Lesson 4 – What you can do together as a couple changes so adapt your approaches and/or find new things to do together

This can relate to the anger mentioned in points 2 and 3.

What you are able to do together as a couple may have to change. It may be sex. It may be a spontaneous afternoon out. Or a night out in the pub setting the world to rights over a few beers.

Your circle of friends may also change.

My other half and I used to do that night out or Saturday afternoon in the pub setting the world to rights. But for medical reasons we no longer do that. I miss it because we enjoyed a conversational intimacy where we connected in a different way.

You may no longer be able to do the activity, or you have to adapt how you approach it, and find new activities and friends. I think this is incredibly important. This leads to my next point.

Lesson 5 – Illness and injury can be intimacy killers. Nurture intimacy. Make it a priority in the relationship.

Important to nurture #intimacy in a #relationship when a #seriousillness #seriousinjury #chronicillness enters it. And intimacy can occur on several levels. Read more about that here tell a friend

This too is incredibly important. I feel intimacy can occur on different levels.

  • Sex
  • Holding hands, hugs, kisses, holding one another
  • The nature of your conversations – both surface level and deeper conversations
  • Humour
  • Sharing hobbies and interests – cooking together, sport, photography, whatever
  • Being mindful of the other person – Their loves, hates, needs, desires and wants

Picture of the levels of intimacy in a relationship (there can be more). Sex, holding hands, hugging, kissing, the tone of your conversations, shared interests and hobbies, being mindful of the others needs, wants and desires.

There may be more which are a feature in your relationship. Some of those levels may be important to you in your relationship or not. Some may be important to one of you but not the other.

But how you continue to connect as a couple is super important. Particularly if there are issues and you want to remain as a couple. Again, get help if you need to.


Lesson 6 – Fill your own cup first

Caring can be bloody hard work. Not only do you have your responsibilities, you often have to take on their responsibilities for a period of time or for forever more. On top of that you are going to great lengths to look after your loved one, making sure they are ok and have what they need. Whilst being a carer, you play many roles. And you have your own life too.

But there can also be joy in caring. There is nothing like feeling like a team, working together, each knowing your role so one of you (or both) can find a new version of health again within the illness/injury. In some cases, depending on the illness or injury, your other half may not be alive or be in a worse state if it wasn’t for you and your efforts.

Caring is a journey. Caring is a gift you give someone. But to give, YOU HAVE TO GIVE TO YOURSELF FIRST. Because you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Important quote when being a carer. You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.

Guideline 1 when you are in the caring/supporting role

Lesson 7 – As the carer, it’s ok to ask for what you need from them.

You are still a significant part of the relationship, you have needs and they matter. No matter if you have the illness or injury, or are in the caring role, it is ok for you to have needs, to express them and to ask for what you need from the other.

This may require you to let go of old ways of being which no longer serve you, i.e. ‘my needs don’t matter’. This leads on to my next point.

Lesson 8 – This often requires you both to have conversations differently than you did previously. If you need to get external help to do this, please do.

I wrote about this earlier this month so have a read of this blog.

Lesson 9 – Trust is an essential ingredient

This is my husband’s contribution to this blog post. He said that knowing you can rely on the person to help and support you when you are very ill or injured is important.

If you don’t have that, if it wasn’t present in the relationship prior to the onset of the illness or injury, are you willing to continue? It’s a hard question, I know.

Lesson 10 – Finally, a well-tuned sense of humour helps. A lot.

My husband and I both enjoy humour. A lot. After nearly 20 years together, we still make each other laugh. Every day. We connect through our humour. It has taken the edge off of life or death situations.

Like the time he was in hospital having just had a life-saving procedure and he had to pee. I gave him the bedpan for men which looked like a snail to me. So I named it. I then had to carry Mr. Snail full of my husband’s wee and give it to the nurse. I then referred to the bedpan as the Royal Wee. Bad humour I know. But we smiled and that helped us to keep a sense of balance.

What’s it like for you?

Do any of the lessons above resonate with you? What lessons have you learned from being a carer? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).

If you are living with a serious health issue or caring for someone who is, and would like support to deal with issues you are experiencing, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

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