Gwen (not her real name) is a caregiver to a mother with dementia and a sister with schizophrenia. She has had over 30 years of experience caring for her sister and researching how to help her through the internet and books. Gwen attended CAL’s C2C (Caregiver-to-Caregiver Training Programme) expecting to gain more knowledge about caregiving and to pick up practical skills. Nevertheless, her initial impression after attending the C2C lessons was a feeling that she was in the wrong class.
Despite this, Gwen faithfully continued to attend the C2C programme. Her turning point came after attending Lesson 7 on empathy and Lesson 8 on communication, which helped her to understand what recovery for those with mental health issues is all about. She realised that all these years she had treated her sister and mother like sick patients to be cared for, instead of as family members. In the process, she made decisions for them mechanically and would scold them whenever they 'misbehaved'.
Through the C2C programme, Gwen learnt to separate the sickness from the person, to recognise their unique identity and self-worth in spite of the symptoms of their condition. With a mother affected by dementia, Gwen has had to get used to answering the same questions over and over again. Her mother could often ask the same thing more than eight times due to her forgetfulness, but Gwen is now aware that each time is a brand new experience for her mother. Getting angry with her mother only frightens her. Now, Gwen uses a more loving approach.
Gwen also now treats her sister differently. In the past, she resented the idea of being caregiver to her sister because she was unwilling to compromise her own quality of life, in having to continually care for someone with physical and mental health issues. Now, she has told her sister that she is prepared to stay with her and to take care of her. While she previously did not do anything when her other siblings criticised her sister, Gwen has now learnt to speak up about being patient. She hopes to encourage her siblings to attend the C2C programme as well.
The most telling change to Gwen’s relationship with her family came about when her sister was feeling unwell after spraining her back. Although in pain from the accident, her sister went out of her way to prepare a cake for Gwen to bring to her C2C graduation class, in appreciation of Gwen's newly expressed love for her.
The C2C programme has led to Gwen loving her mother and sister more than before and accepting that their ‘brains have fallen sick’, rather than labelling them as 'crazy'. She is glad to have attended the C2C programme, and to have experienced a transformation in her family life.
Photo courtesy of caregiver in story