When I was initially referred to Gateshead Carers Association (GCA) I thought it was something for my wife rather than for me. I was slow to realise that I needed help too and that this was the ideal place to get the support that would help to get me through tough times ahead.

My wife had been drinking heavily for some time until eventually her health suffered both physically and mentally. My wife’s health started to deteriorate slowly until she needed medical intervention at the hospital. This was due to her alcohol addiction and the health issues that were connected to this. At that point, we seemed to have a lot going on with GP appointments and referrals for specialised tests and checks that came thick and fast. With a little family help, we were researching options to pull her through this crisis. Among the confusion I contacted GCA.

In the initial telephone call I found a warm, friendly welcome which encouraged me to get more involved with GCA. My basic details were noted and then a personal appointment was arranged. I soon found myself relating the details of recent events to my Carer Wellbeing Facilitator who has specialist knowledge and experience of the type of problems and issues that I was having and feeling at that time. She quickly understood my position and started to give me sound advice and guidance.

She must have been frustrated by my initial obsession to care for my wife while she was constantly trying to teach me how to look after myself. I kept telling her that all I wanted was my original wife back. And all she kept doing was wanting to talk about me and how I was feeling.

However, it did eventually dawn on me that if I did not give some priority to my own health and welfare then I would become yet another patient for the NHS. I was preoccupied to the point that when friends or family asked me how I was doing, I gave them an update on my wife. In the North East we often greet one another with “How ya doing?” or “Alreet?” The answer is normally just as brief “Aye, canny,” is all that anyone expects, but I was giving them a recent history of medical appointments and test results for my wife and not telling them how I was. I was losing the plot.

I gradually started to have one to one discussions with my Carer Wellbeing Facilitator and started to learn that I could talk confidentially to her as the ability to talk openly with trusted contact or contacts became a lifeline. In my own life I was inclined to be relatively deep and private about personal thoughts and issues.

The expression, “It’s good to talk,” is well known but I wonder how many of us appreciate how supportive it can be? In order to talk you must collect your thoughts and consider your own position. This already takes you a step forward. Then you share those thoughts and collect reactions and feedback and with a little good fortune, you find experiences from others that are relevant to you. The therapy then grows quickly.

GCA provides great platforms for talking via one-to-one contact and also through discussion groups such as the Care to Share programme. (Now called CALM.) In the sessions which consist of small groups are expertly managed and guided by a Carer Wellbeing Facilitator they discuss relevant but difficult issues such as Stress, Protected Time, Guilt and Confidence. Confidentiality within each group reassures the participants and encourages you to open dialogue.

Along the way my Facilitator was teaching me a variety of different coping mechanisms and strategies that have helped me to deal with my day to day problems and even enabled me to anticipate some issues before they arose. Then she warned me not to expect my original wife to re-emerge. This came as rather a shock at the time but has proved accurate so far.

Since becoming a member of GCA I have also became involved in activities that they ran (pre Covid) such as Carer Days or Weeks (these are now online if you look at their website the information is there) when a variety of activities provide interesting involvement and act as a good distraction from your caring duties. These activities are also an opportunity to meet people in similar situations as yourself, and possibly the first time you feel you are not on your own.

At home we were fortunate that we did not have a financial crisis but I guess everyone can find a little extra money useful. Initially, I was put off when I found that I could not qualify for Carer’s Allowance or any other supplements for me. However, with encouragement and specialist guidance from GCA, I received help to complete an application on behalf of my wife for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and she gained this award.

In the longer term my roller-coaster caring experience has continued with my wife going through a series of changes in her health, treatments, medication, etc. Part of my duties became recording all this to help us manage our way through when speaking on her behalf with the medical professionals.  At times her health has been very poor and she needed a great deal of physical help and care. At all times there has been psychological pressure to preserve our relationship while managing her affairs in all things including family interactions and healthcare.

Before Covid 19 we were already in a kind of lockdown of our own. At times I was unable to leave her unassisted for more than an hour or so. In better periods I could manage to get an evening out with friends and attend appointments of my own. This helped me keep my sanity. When the virus came along it prevented home support from Social Services this was at a time when this was an increasing requirement. Social Services were about to conduct a full assessment which would help me with my caring role. Fortunately, we survived that crisis and her health improved. As the Covid era progresses we have restrictions to getting any recreational time that might help us to keep going. My training and support that I received from GCA helped me to appreciate the little things that we often miss in our busy lives like a brisk walk, a quiet corner of the garden or a stimulating word puzzle.

Our situation highlights a problem within NHS procedures. My wife lives in denial of her addiction and the arising consequences to her health. She has been referred to the Mental Health teams on a number of occasions but they refuse to see her while she is still drinking. They require a six month period with no alcohol before they will see her. However, it is in regards to her addiction that she needs help and treatment. We need their help to achieve a period without alcohol. If she could simply stop drinking for six months there would not be the immediate problem. Meanwhile the damage to her brain continues with no assessment, no diagnosis and no treatment. This is a classic “Catch 22” dilemma.

The cynical view might be that her problems are self-inflicted. Fortunately, this has not interfered with a variety of support from GP and Hospital Services. Their commitment and perseverance have been admirable.

Similarly, the patience and understanding of GCA has been inexhaustible they have been supporting me throughout these troubled times. Their experience and expertise have been excellent and I do feel that I would not have coped without them.

How a carer feels

My time as a carer has included emotional turmoil
I feel the loss of my wife and our lifestyles
I feel the love from our earlier years and that still keeps me going
I see glimpses of my original wife that remind me of how good we were
I feel angry that my wife puts herself in her unhealthy situation
I get frustrated when we cannot discuss alcohol or reducing it without a row developing
I sometimes feel overwhelmed by too much to do and some of it totally outside my control
I feel frustrated by the lack of active support
I am never alone but sometimes feel lonely
I feel that we are wasting our “golden years” after working hard for 50 years to earn them
I feel fortunate that things are not worse when I see others with far greater problems
I feel uncertain about what might arise next as my wife’s health stumbles along
I feel fortunate and extremely grateful to have the ongoing support of GCA