Gill Bennett has been a caring mum to her son, James, for 20 years, and for most of that time she’s never had a moment to herself.
Like most carers, she puts her own needs last and, for a long time, never thought about taking time for herself. James has ADHD and, particularly through his teenage years, he needed a lot of support. Gill was constantly on edge in case something would trigger a ‘meltdown’ in James’s behaviour. She was always caring but two years ago, things started to change.
James decided he wanted to be a painter and decorator and, with Gill’s encouragement and daily taxi service, he completed a two-year training course at a college 20 miles from their home.
At the same time, Gill (52), was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. She had a second knee replacement after the first one failed and she knew she’d have to spend a lot of time sitting down - something she wasn’t used to doing as a carer!
Gill decided to buy a cross-stitch pattern to fill in the time while she was recovering - and from that moment on, her life changed for the better. ‘I got chatting to the lady in the shop and she told me about quilting classes she ran. I was very apprehensive as I’d never sewn anything in my life,’ says Gill. ‘But I went along and was soon hooked. Everyone was very friendly and it gave me a social life and new friends. ‘I found that quilting helped me deal with all the stress of caring,’ she says. ‘When I’m focusing on sewing, I’m not thinking about anything else.’
Gill also took her doctor’s advice and had six months of counselling to help deal with the stress of caring. ‘Carers have to battle for everything they get and caring really can take over your life,’ says Gill. ‘There are endless forms to fill in and often appeals to be fought with all the stress they bring. No one knows what it’s like to be a carer unless they’ve been one.
‘I would never have thought that counselling would help me but it really did. It helped me process all my thoughts and put life in perspective. I suppose I thought that counselling was for people who couldn’t cope, but it isn’t! It helped me and I’d recommend it to any carer who is offered it.’
Gill is still battling with her own health problems - she thinks she may have ME - chronic fatigue syndrome - but her life is now much better than she could ever have imagined.
‘If, by telling my story, I can encourage one carer that you can come out the other end of a difficult situation, then I’ll be happy. I never ever dreamed when James was young and times were really hard that he would complete a course and want to get a job but he has done it and I’m so proud of him.
‘Over the years I’ve discovered it is so important for carers to take time out for themselves. I know from experience that it’s often really hard to do so but it’s well worth making the effort even for a few minutes every day. I wish I’d discovered quilting years ago. It’s given me a whole new outlook on life.’ Gill’s tips for carers:
- Join a local carers’ support group or Carers in Touch - talking to others really does help.
- Make time for yourself every day and perhaps take up a hobby. Everyone deserves some ‘me time’.
- Go to a local Carers’ Rights Day event and find out what’s available in your area - knowledge is power!
- Carers Rights Day will be held on November 29 and the theme is ‘rights, advice and support.’ Events will be held across the country. For more information visit www.carersuk.org or call 0808 808 7777.