Jane was navigating university life when her younger sister experienced a serious mental health condition while abroad, leaving her lost and confused. Attending CAL’s Caregivers-to-Caregivers for People with Mental Health Issues (C2C-PMHI) programme helped her find her bearings - and had the unexpected benefit of bringing her closer to another family member.
It was August 2021 and I had taken a leave of absence from university to care for my younger sister. She had experienced a serious mental health episode a few months prior and had been admitted to hospital to stabilise her condition. It was my first time encountering something like this. My family and I were at a loss as to how to navigate my sister’s recovery when she returned home.
An ex-classmate and long-time friend came to know about my situation. She had completed the C2C Young Caregivers’ course some weeks before and recommended that I attend. It could not have come at a better time.
I will never forget the first phone call I had with someone from CAL. At that point, I didn’t think anyone could understand what I was going through. I was overcome with weariness from day-to-day caregiving and worrying about an unknown future. I was fatigued from repeatedly explaining my sister’s condition in a bid to seek help.
With CAL, the voice on the other line brought hope and comfort to my situation. Mental health is complex. I recall being unable to explain in clear terms what my sister went through, given the brevity but also severity of what she experienced. I was confused, desperate and even felt ashamed. But Veena, the Programme Manager I spoke with, was able to understand and help me recognise the burdens I didn’t even know I was carrying. It was the period between medical appointments, and I was anxious and frustrated with the limited answers I had about my sister’s condition and recovery.
While I had originally planned to sign up for C2C alone, Veena suggested that my father attend the programme as well. My instinct was to say no. As Dad had to work, I wasn’t confident that he would agree to it. As I was the primary caregiver to my sister, I also assumed that the course would not benefit my dad who predominantly played the breadwinner role for the family.
But somehow Dad agreed to attend, and I have since discovered how wrong my initial views were. Attending C2C has helped my dad and I to grow closer than ever before. We’ve also been able to manage a more coordinated response as a family, which has significantly benefited her recovery journey.
I’d like to share three reasons why caregivers should attend CAL’s C2C programme:
You will understand the emotions behind caregiving and the impact of mental health conditions on families
During the first few C2C classes, we learnt about the three emotional stages in a caregiver’s journey: crisis, coping and advocating. A crisis takes place when there is a trigger event that causes distress, fear or anxiety. These emotions can be overwhelming, often leading to or indicating an inability to cope with the situation.
Learning about these stages helped make sense of my experience as a caregiver. On most days, I didn’t experience recovery as a linear and straightforward exercise. When I understood that it is at times possible, or even normal, for the person to revert to an earlier stage, it brought comfort and clarity. Moreover, family members can land on differing emotional stages at a given time. This was empowering to learn as it shed much light on conflicts that arose with family members while caring for our loved one.
You will learn important tips on caring for your loved one in a sustainable manner
One of my favourite classes was no doubt on self-care. I found this incredibly difficult to put into practice due to the competing priorities that weighed on my mind. However, I discovered how rewarding it was to set aside time to develop my own self-care action plan with the class. This consisted of considering thoughts or actions that helped direct our attention to our personal well-being on a daily, periodic, ‘booster’ or ‘treat’ basis. I also benefitted greatly from learning how my C2C peers took part in self-care themselves. There were interesting examples like using a nice smelling shampoo and crazy dancing to loud music. Indeed, caregiving is just one of many roles in life, and I am still learning to make time for my own life.
You will connect with other caregivers
I walked away from C2C with some of the best friendships I could not have imagined. The caregiving experience can be very lonely. You are looking after someone but the emotional isolation can be intense. For me, this was due to the change in priorities for me compared to those around me. I was planning around my loved one and family’s moods and schedules while my peers pursued lustrous internships and careers. Yet, there is only a distant grief in that respect now. It is my prayer that caregivers will find support in one another, just as I did. Hope is just around the corner. Don’t give up!
I would like to add a special thank you to my trainers, Karen and Niky, for walking through this journey with class C2C 710/2021. I would not have found the support I did today if not for your commitment and willingness to share your lives and stories with us.