National Carer’s Week: reach out for help when it gets too much

Abby and Nicole
October 15-21 is National Carer’s Week, aimed to recognise, celebrate and raise awareness of people like Nicole (pictured, right) who cares for her children, older parents and grandchildren. [Source: VMCH]

Nicole finds it hard to recall what life was like before she became a carer. While the role is rewarding, it’s one that consumes her every waking hour and she doesn’t get much time to herself. Sound familiar?

The Bendigo resident, 52, and her husband Paul, 69, are full-time carers for their daughters Izzie, 13, and Abby, 12, who live with additional needs. Nicole also provides occasional support to her ageing parents, and two grandchildren who live with autism.

Nicole is a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ – raising her own family while caring for ageing parents.

“It’s hard to articulate what being a carer is like – I’m so used to doing things now, it’s my norm,” Nicole said.

L_R_Abby, Paul, Izzy, Nicole, Nicole's Mum and Dad, with two other daughters, son in law and grandkids
Nicole surrounded by her children, grandchildren and parents. [Source: VMCH]

Particularly challenging for Nicole is the juxtaposition of catering to her daughters’ separate needs.

“Izzie has sensory issues and likes to play with messy things like Play-Doh and slime, while Abby has a germ phobia, so I have to try to keep everything in order and clean. Abby also has bad anxiety and has trouble leaving the house. So, for example, if she needs a new pair of shoes, I’ll have to buy a few pairs, bring them home for her to try on, then take the others back,” Nicole explained.

Thankfully, both girls enjoy school, and her youngest, Abby, also drops into her grandparents’ place to help with gardening and housework.

Abby’s efforts with her grandparents were acknowledged earlier this year under the 2023 Young Carers Scholarship Program, which supports secondary school students who have caring responsibilities. Nicole is understandably proud of her daughter, who she describes as “extremely selfless and caring” towards others, despite her own challenges.

Abby with her certificate
Abby with her carer award. [Source: VMCH]

Another huge support for Nicole comes from social outings offered care services organisation, VMCH. Outings such as movie nights and luncheons have been a “godsend” for Nicole.

“It’s such a good break. I can go and not think about all the jobs and housework I have to do at home and just enjoy myself. It’s also interesting to hear other carers’ stories and know you’re not alone out there – we’re all facing similar battles.”

VMCH Carer Services Manager Fredricka Gonsalves said having a break looks different to all carers, so her team tries to provide meaningful experiences to suit individuals.

“Having a break helps carers deal with common challenges including social isolation, carer burnout, finding time for self and getting the right support when they need it,” Fredricka said. 

Nicole said she hopes sharing her story inspires someone in her position to seek support.

She said, “Others out there may not know where to go […] There is help out there, and if getting support makes your life easier, you should do it.”

“Reaching out and asking for help can be hard, but don’t be embarrassed.”

Last month, to help assist those part of the sandwich generation, The team at Flinders University’s Research Centre in Palliative Care, Death and Dying (RePaDD) collaborated with other Australian universities and Carers Australia to further develop the CarerHelp website to include more resources about services, symptom management and managing the emotional and psychological burden that often accompanies caring.

For more information on caring supports, visit the Carers Australia website here or call (02) 6122 9900. To learn more about VMCH Carer Support, call 1300 698 624.

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