Caring for a loved one can sometimes feel all-consuming, but it’s important to know help is available. Because carers need taking care of as well.

Carers: Where to find help and advice

There’s no rulebook when it comes to caring for a loved one – and often no notice. Thankfully, there is support, however. And step one is looking after yourself.

Being a carer for someone you love can be one of the most rewarding experiences you have. It can also be one of the most challenging.

If you are already a carer, you probably live this strange dynamic everyday. If you aren’t, one day you may be. This article provides a small insight into the vital, unsung service performed by thousands of older Victorians.

There’s no rulebook to becoming a carer. That’s because few people ever set out to become one and because what it means to be a carer is about as diverse as an experience is possible to be. People providing care to another know who they are, although they may not see themselves as ‘carers’. Likely as not, carers may not know anyone who is in quite the same situation. After all, carers can be of all ages and abilities and the people in their care can be similarly diverse.

There are more than 700,000 Victorians providing unpaid care or support to a partner, family member or friend but, somehow, carers still tend to be overlooked by society. There’s probably a great deal more information and support out there for people who need care than those who do the caring.

Broadly speaking, carers are seen to be capable, resilient and experienced – souls who are equal parts selfless and self-reliant. As such, conventional thinking may be because they have these skills they’re able to manage without help.

The reality is, conventional thinking almost never applies. Carers develop their skills because they have to, not because they are somehow extra special people to begin with. There’s little idealism involved. Most carers take on the role because they feel it is the right thing to do; to look after someone who needs them and whom they care about. Or maybe the person they’re looking after simply has no one else to turn to for support.

In most cases, caring is something that gets sprung on you. There’s no preparing for those days when someone integral to your life is gradually or suddenly debilitated by illness or disease, or has a major accident that leaves them suddenly dependent – a radical contrast to their previous level of independence.

The incredible work of carers is unsung because many carers want it to be this way

As a carer, life throws a curve ball and suddenly you’re on your own very steep learning curve. Suddenly you’re doing your best to balance the practical and psychological needs of the person relying on you, at the same time as you’re trying to balance your own needs.

A classic coping mechanism (for want of a better description) is to not think of yourself as a carer at all. You’re a partner, daughter, brother, sister, or parent to the person you look after. That makes perfect sense because this is who you are first and foremost to that person. You were this before assuming your ‘carer’ role and now, even though your daily activities have changed profoundly, it kind of helps to still think of yourself in this way.

Above all, carers don’t make a song and dance about what they do. This is one of the biggest reasons why the needs of carers often get overlooked and why society doesn’t seem to value them as much as they deserve. It is also why there seems to be few support networks available to help carers cope.

And this where everything starts to get complicated. The incredible work of carers is unsung because many carers want it to be this way. As a carer, you continue to manage stoically, maintaining an upbeat veneer because you want the person you care for to stay as positive as possible. The last thing you want them to think is that the person they rely on – their rock – isn’t keeping it together.

But everyone is human, whether you’re the carer or the one being cared for. No carer can cope day in day out without getting physically or emotionally exhausted after a while. Carers need to know there is support available for them – either to share their thoughts or just get some time out to recuperate so they can pick up where they left off with renewed energy and an even more positive attitude.

Need help? Visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/carersupport