Carer Veronica Lindsay-Addy explains how a local arts group helped her cope with her situation
Most of us probably know a carer.
A teenager, who helps keep the household running when mum or dad is living with a mental health issue, is a carer. A parent, who cares for a son coping with an addiction, is a carer. A pensioner, who cares for their spouse who has dementia, is a carer.
There are thousands of different stories to be told, but most carers are likely to help with basic household tasks such as cooking and cleaning; personal care such as bathing, dressing and administering medication; and emotional support such as listening, offering advice and friendship.
Yet, behind some of these mundane descriptions lurk worrying figures. Nine out of every ten carers have reported that caring has affected their mental health, including stress and depression.
This year’s national Carers Week starts on 6th June. It calls for more carer-friendly communities; in the workplace, at study, in hospital, or wherever; so we all have a better understanding of a carer’s daily life, and know that carers can be under a lot of pressure and are often hidden from view.
I personally became a full-time carer ten years ago this month. I began looking after my adult daughter who was going through a mental health crisis. I had to leave a paid job I was good at. It had been fun working in a primary school as a special needs assistant and I liked the status my art teaching had given me; I had even had an arts event I’d organised with a colleague written up in the local paper. But with so little provision in the borough for people with complex mental health needs I had no choice.
I desperately wanted to regain some of the creativity I had lost, but I was so absorbed in caring it was difficult to see how. Living in Leyton, I joined Waltham Forest Carers Association (WFCA) where I met other carers that could relate to my situation, and I also signed up to local art classes.
Later, WFCA encouraged and supported me to run its creative carers group, which I have been doing since 2014. It was set up so local carers, both women and men, could come together to do something creative, take a break from their everyday caring roles and immerse themselves in art activities for a couple of hours. Some are able to leave a few worries at the door; some are able to share their worries with the group as we get into drawing, sculpting, painting, or whatever it is.
Those few but profound words of William Morris; “fellowship is life”, run deep within this group and surface in unexpected ways. Many a time I’ve witnessed what I’ve come to call ‘sideways chat’. The group contemplates the task in hand, chat subsiding as we all get stuck in, and then a carer will recount the most personal, intimate story about the person they care for. The others will listen, provide solace, share knowledge, and most important of all, give due recognition of what it is to be a carer. This kind of fellowship is priceless. I’m convinced that something very special happens when people get together for a shared creative endeavour.
Both my daughter and I are in a better place now, though it continues to be a struggle to access mental health services when they are needed most.
Waltham Forest Carers Association welcomes new members to its creative carers group, as well as the others it runs. For more information:
Call 020 8556 0857