Rhianna has looked after her mum from a very young age. Although she found some aspects of school tough, she believes being a carer can be a positive thing.
“I became a carer at around the age of six. Mum was always quite unwell but my dad left for good when I was six. I noticed Mum not talking to other mums and realised I was looking after her. At first it all started gradually, but I was doing things like ironing by the age of eight.
Mental health caring is always difficult. My mum isn’t there in a ‘mum’ capacity; in many ways our roles are reversed. That can be really hard emotionally. When I was at school I couldn’t have people over and that really affected my friendships. I didn’t have nice things and people didn’t always understand why.
Although I found school very tough, being a carer has definitely helped me later in life. It’s given me resilience and the confidence to seek out other opportunities.
Surrey Young Carers offered me some support though. I remember going to the theatre one night and being so happy that I was being picked up and fed and that I didn’t have to worry about the cost of it all – something I always thought about. I remember a canal boat trip too and support groups with meals. Although I was shy, the trips and groups were really nice.
When I was 17, I reconnected with Action for Carers Surrey in a big way. I was applying to uni but finding it really hard. Firstly I had to make the decisions about where to apply based on location, but also looking at what support they could offer me as a young person with a caring role.
I found it very difficult to get the funding I needed; the council wouldn’t talk to me as I was under 18 and didn’t get that my mum wasn’t able to supply the financial information they needed. Action for Carers Surrey were amazing! Lisa took me out for coffee and spoke to the council on my behalf, she helped me with forms and applications. She really stood up for me and wouldn’t take no for an answer! Without that support I wouldn’t have been able to go to university.
Although it’s obviously massively stressful, responsibility at a young age really matures you. I’ve also always been very happy to work and have been working part-time from quite a young age. Action for Carers Surrey approached me to speak at a conference about my life which was great for my confidence. Snippets of that speech went into booklets and were published which has been brilliant and something I can talk about in interviews. Not many people can say that they’ve had that experience so it’s been very helpful!
Although I found school very tough, being a carer has definitely helped me later in life. It’s given me resilience and the confidence to seek out other opportunities. I applied for a job at uni which I got and I don’t think I would have done that without my caring background.
I worked through uni and actually found that being a carer was a benefit in that respect. I have a strong work ethic and although it’s really hard to juggle everything, my manager appreciated my maturity and knew she could trust me to get stuff done. I progressed rapidly through the organisation and was promoted to Assistant Manager within a couple of years.
The commuting aspect was tough. I had to make the decision to move out of home which was very difficult and definitely took its toll, but again I got some support from Action for Carers Surrey. Just being able to talk things through with Lisa really helped and to get my travel paid for so I don’t need to stress about money means that I can visit my mum and sometimes save up to do something for myself.
I wish people knew what being a carer entailed and what a wide range of carers there are. I often find myself having to explain that I don’t work in a care home, and when I say I’m an unpaid carer people think I’m a volunteer!
Being an only child and caring for a parent is a heavy load and I wish there was greater understanding of what life is like. There can be all different levels of carer and it can affect people differently too. I remember when I was at school thinking, “Really, how am I going to do anything? I can’t even revise!”. But it all worked out, I ended up graduating university with a 1st class honours degree and got on to a very competitive graduate scheme. I now work securing funds for medical research. I would say I’ve developed some good skills from being a carer and that it really can be a positive thing.”