Caring for the carers
Maggie is a carer for her cousin who has schizophrenia. Here she explains how crafting helps her when she is stressed, and why she decided to host a Crafternoon for Mind.
Maggie, who is a carer for her cousin who has schizophrenia, has supported Mind by putting on a Crafternoon.
My cousin was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was a young man. As I was travelling by bus to college, he would be walking many miles on his own. I always thought he looked such a solitary figure, but I never knew about his diagnosis until he was in his 60s, a few years ago. I’d been aware of him being a bit different, maybe not always coming to family events, but he was the same man I’d always known and I didn’t treat him any differently.
"I promised her I would care for him and overnight became his next of kin and power of attorney."
About a year before she died my aunt, his mother, had told me that he had schizophrenia. I promised her I would care for him and overnight became his next of kin and power of attorney. After all, our lives may be very different now but, as children, we both grew up in the same loving family, and who's to say who would be the one of us needing help?
It was unclear initially whether he would be able to live independently, there were many assessments and conversations between myself, his GP, and social services but it was my cousin who said emphatically that he could manage, and he has. As I was adjusting to caring for my cousin, I was also caring for my elderly parents, both of whom had serious health problems. I had to come to terms with my father’s dementia and help my mum understand the best way to cope.
And now I had the added responsibility of caring at a distance, not for someone with physical problems but a hidden condition I was trying hard to understand. I quickly became aware of my cousin's strengths, weaknesses and communication difficulties. Challenges ranged from the very practical, like how to deal with a burst cistern at distance, to the emotional like understanding my cousin’s agitation and moods. As the years go by I know challenges will continue, but I’ll carry on learning and understanding.
Before long it was having an impact on my own health. My blood pressure was high and now required medication, and I also suffered with shingles towards the end of last year. Sometimes, I would lie in the bath not knowing what to do next. My husband and close family were very supportive but emotionally it was very overwhelming.
"At my lowest, an hours crocheting or playing around with my paints has grounded me and brought me relaxation and calm."
During the difficult times, I relied upon being able to use my art and needlework to relax and unwind. At my lowest, an hours crocheting or playing around with my paints has grounded me and brought me relaxation and calm.
It was so important to me that I wanted to show other carers the benefits art and crafts could bring. Twelve months ago, along with another carer, I founded a Creative Carers' Group in Hereford called Rejuvenate! I have encountered many examples of people caring for others with mental health problems (particularly mums of children and young adults) and wanted somehow to pass on my belief in the rewards to be gained through creativity.
It was through this group and the many contacts I have made, I decided to hold a Crafternoon for Mind. A friend, who is an independent occupational therapist and carer with many years’ experience working in mental health, immediately offered to help.
I knew the good work Mind was achieving locally as my daughter had a spell working with Mind groups, and many of my friends are also connected in the care/nursing sector. So choosing to support Mind by holding a Crafternoon came as no surprise.
"We got started on planning our Crafternoon straightaway. We planned the activities, made some biscuits, and were ready to go."
We got started on planning our Crafternoon straightaway. We used social media as our main stream of advertising, planned the activities, made some biscuits, and were ready to go. The event was held at the Courtyard, our lovely theatre and Centre for the Arts where we hold our Creative Carers’ Group each month. We had many ideas for crafts but tried to keep it simple, bearing in mind the mixed abilities who were likely to attend.
We had a great afternoon, lots of laughs and managed to make a few items to take home. I had hoped more people would have ‘dropped in’ but I know that every little helps, and our donation could go on to help someone else like my cousin. And if any of the guests got the benefits of time spent crafting then I know it will have been worth it.
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