There are so many family carers out there, approx 6.5million – “and the rest if you ask me”.  The trouble is, so many of us (and I was once in this grouping) don’t see the looking after of a loved one, family or friend, as a family carer role.  We do it out of love, duty, commitment and human kindness.

Being a family carer though, for many, can be so mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting.  We lose the drive or feel unable to get out, take a break for ourselves and often become trapped in our own world.  It’s tough.  And in doing so, whereby we know we nee dot focus on ourselves and to make the effort for us, we don’t.  If we’re not healthy, how can we look after someone else.

It reminds me of the message given by Air Flight Attendants…

“In the case of an emergency, plus put your own gas mask on first before administering another.”

This of course sensible and true, when you hear them say and you think about, the natural reaction instinct is to make sure your child, parent or loved one next to you is ok first.  It’s how we’re created.  Human nature.  To care for someone else before ourselves??  It makes sense to do your own mask on an aeroplane, as if we all do it then everyone will be fine and there’ll be no panic or mixed confusion over doing another person’s.

The snag is, this rule doesn’t quite work when it comes to caring.  Or does it?

This morning I’ve been chatting with one of our counsellors about helping a young adult carer with their mental and emotional health, discussing the life circumstances they face as a young adult carer, what’s the background, family history, has anyone else received counselling, etc., the usual questions to understand as much as possible.  One key and important thing came out of this, is that actually there is a need for everyone to focus on themselves first.  Not so much because “…unless we do, we won’t be able to help the person we’re caring for.”, but because those who we’re caring for need to find a means of being more self-focussed on helping themself.  I know, before you say it, not everyone who is being cared for can look after themself “that’s why we’re caring for them!”.  That I get and understand.  But, if we truly look at our own caring duties and give serious thought to how much we do and how much we need to do.  There can be quite a gap, if we’re truly honest with ourselves.

Here’s the dichotomy. Our natural human instinct to care and in some cases over care, surpasses all pragmatic options.  Love is blind and makes us do things we wouldn’t or shouldn’t do, but it is a mighty strong and powerful emotion.  One that we all crave for and enables us to have a sense of belonging.  There is no exact science for understanding our heart and emotions, it leads us and well, can we really control it?  The brain through, whilst still not fully understood, is something that we can apply process, logic, pragmatic thought and actions towards for improvement.  Which is great for our mental health.

But when we find ourselves having to make that decision on the care for a loved one and whether we put them first and consider how much ‘me-time’ we’re getting.  That requires a pragmatic thought and approach coming from the brain.  A bit like the sensibleness of putting on your own oxygen mask first when aboard an aeroplane.  Yet, when an emergency kicks in and you’re needed to react on instinct, human kindness for another steps in.  Our heart rules our head and chaos and dysfunction can be caused as there is no logic formed and complications of caring circumstances and people’s mental and emotional health are formed.

The challenge is to break this behaviour to one where there is controlled reactions and instinct (if that’s not an oxymoron??), so our response in emergencies and our caring actions are measured so as to not create chaos and dysfunction.  I wonder though, whether we actually will achieve this.  There’s a sense that actually, we like a bit of chaos and dysfunction.  Life would be the same, functional, possibly monotonous and well, less interesting.  And we like life to be interesting.