People don’t know I’m a carer. All people see is another mum dropping off her kids.

Laura is 36. She has four young children aged from 12 to three. Besides caring for her husband, Greg, she is in the process of relaunching her cleaning business. Two years ago, Greg began suffering from cluster migraines and then he had several heart attacks caused by a viral infection.

It was quite terrifying. He fought really hard. He’s had four stents inserted, but the damage to his heart is irreversible. Since then Greg has been diagnosed with COPD and is on a waiting list for a pacemaker. But the wait has been made longer by COVID-19. Physically it’s very tiring for him and it’s a strain mentally too.

While Greg was in hospital my kids went to stay with relatives so I could be with him.

What‘s been the impact on family life?

It’s brought the family together. Greg and I got married as result. It makes you realise that being together, being with each other is the most important thing in life.

My two older children [12 and 10] are now registered as Young Carers. They help out with Greg, running up and down the stairs, fetching and carrying.

[Greg’s illness] was a big shock for them, a lot for them to deal with. They were very worried. They’re coping pretty well now. I try not to be too hard on them.

Support for the children  [from CSM Young Carers] has been excellent. Catherine [Family Support Worker] has helped out with schools and checks in with the girls regularly too.

Do you think people understand what being a carer means?

Most people don’t know I’m a carer.

You can never tell what someone is going through. In public, people just see another mum dropping off her kids. Maybe they’re thinking I’m going home to put my feet up, back to my lovely little life, that I’ve got my act together.

You don’t know what other people’s lives are like. [Perhaps] they’re going home to tidy up, but maybe they’ve got a husband or wife or child at home who isn’t getting the help they need.

I look after my husband, but I’m disabled myself though it’s not obvious. You can never judge a book by its cover. A lot of people do put on a different face to the world.

[I wonder if] people are looking at me and saying, “Look at you, why aren’t you working or holding down full-time job.”

I do everything for Greg. Mentally it’s hard. Every time I leave the house I think, is he going to be okay while I’m gone.

How has CSM helped?

If it hadn't been for the help of CSM we wouldn't have known that we were both able to get help financially, get a Blue Badge which does make a massive difference when we do go out. It's great getting the email updates with all the information I could need. Last year, Catherine helped us to get food from a food bank before Christmas when we were struggling

What does your day look like?

I get up between 6-6.30am depending on how tired I am. I’ll have a cup of tea then the madness begins!

I get the kids up at 7am and they all have to be washed, fed, coats on, and out of the door with homework and PE kits by 7.40. I drop the youngest (3) at nursery, then over to Raynes Park with my oldest and then we head back in the opposite direction to drop the younger two at primary school. In the afternoon we’ll do it all over again.

When I get home it’s time to start tidying up from the night before, doing the laundry. When my youngest is at home she enjoys helping sometimes. She really likes playing doctor with her daddy. She can be very calm, then the next minute she’s like some kind of tornado.

Greg sleeps in until quite late. He’s not always capable of getting up. I kind of take it as it comes.

I have to take comfort in the fact that we’re both still here. I can get a bit stressed and resentful sometimes. I wish that I had something for me. But I have to deal with the day in hand.

I usually get to bed between 9 and 10pm. But the time I go to sleep varies depending on how stressed I’m feeling. Sometimes I can lie awake until half five in the morning and by then it’s nearly time to get up!

Covid

In some ways, lockdown made it easier not having to get everybody out of the house in the morning. A routine set in, but we didn’t have to worry about getting dressed and out. That whole thing of trying to keep them happy…lockdown wasn’t so bad for the kids. I was running up and down the stairs trying to get Greg to eat and drink.

But Covid also put much more strain on me. It had a knock-on effect with regard to Greg’s care. All the responsibility fell to me.

Keeping on top of his medication, for example. For six months, I haven’t been able to get [one of his meds] that helps to make his heart work properly. His hospital appointments were cancelled. I had to adapt the house, making room for a little fridge upstairs in his room so Greg could get drinks easily.

Greg was very poorly from February. I suspect he had Covid-19. In July I had to take him to A&E. He had pneumonia and his organs were starting to shut down. I got him to hospital just in time.

When do you make time for yourself?

On Sundays I’ll have a bit of a lie in, it’s a little bit of time for me, but my life really revolves around home.

Recently I went down with sinusitis. We had to wing it. Greg had to take over. He just about managed to get the kids fed, but it wore him out. He couldn’t get them to school. I felt my brain was shutting down. It was terrifying not being [fully present] to make sure Greg and the kids were okay and that he wasn’t getting ill.

Did you ever imagine you’d be a carer?

Yes, eventually, but it’s happened a lot sooner than I’d figured. I thought I’d be in my late 60s and Greg would be in his 70s.

Life before caring

We were already carers for Greg’s mum, but not like this.

We used to have a mobile disco and my cleaning business. But that all stopped. It would be nice to get one of them back running again and have something for us. I had a medical discharge from the army. My own health was under control, but that all fell apart when Greg became so poorly.

When Greg became ill that set off all my own medical problems.

Christmas

We spend it with family. It’s usually a big celebration with friends over. It’s looking quite different this year. I think it’s going to be a very quiet, minimal Christmas. Usually, I put by bits and pieces over the year and save up Tesco vouchers for Christmas food. But this year I’ve been using the vouchers through the pandemic so there’s nothing saved.

The kids really want a new Xbox. That’s pretty much the only present there’ll be getting. My three-year-old wants a doctor’s kit!

What about you?

No idea. A new coffee machine? A slow cooker perhaps. I don’t think about myself very much. I sometimes get my hair done. I used to read more. [pauses]

Maybe do something to take my mind away from things.

For Christmas I’d like to do something I’ve not done in a while. Sit out in the fresh air and paint a landscape.

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