Lynn was sitting in her GP surgery back in 2016 while her husband had his appointment with the GP for his mental health issues, as he had been diagnosed with PTSD and alcohol addiction. She noticed that there was a leaflet on the notice board about Gateshead Carers, she took this leaflet home and read it through and realised that she could be an unpaid carer for her husband and her Aunty who had Alzheimer’s. Lynn telephoned the office and discussed her caring role and registered with us. Her first appointment with the Carer Wellbeing Facilitator was to explore what we as an agency could help her with and to guide her through the complex needs of her husband so that she could support him through what ended up being a very difficult and long caring role.

Supporting her veteran husband with his complex needs

Lynn explained that her husband was a veteran and had a very stressful time in the armed forces and he had been suffering also from Bulimia, PTSD, and alcohol dependency to help him cope with his mental health. Lynn’s husband was receiving help from the veteran’s agency and EVOLVE (addiction service in Gateshead at that time) and Lynn felt that she had just been left to get on with things.

Feeling that she had been left to just get on with things by herself

When she attended her first appointment she felt secure in talking about her feelings of anxiety and isolation and she was looking forward to exploring time for herself as she had never done this in the past. Lynn quoted ‘I have never thought about me and me alone, it has always been about looking after my husband’.  Lynn’s world had been full of secrets from her husband’s forces days but he was starting to open up about this world he lived in at that time and this was upsetting for her to hear or comprehend. We discussed that if she felt uncomfortable hearing his thoughts that he should share this with his Psychiatrist and veteran worker, we also tried to find a veteran group in Gateshead but at that time there was not one where he could go to talk to like-minded people who knew what he was discussing. A few months later there was a group set up in Gateshead by her husband with the help of EVOLVE as they realised there was a need for the veterans to have a group of their own.

Financial support to help support them both

A few one to one meetings later, when her husband became unwell and was going to have to stop working, we explored Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for her husband, which then would entitle Lynn to get Carers Allowance. Gateshead Carers completed these forms for them and they were successful which meant that Lynn could look after him full time and receive an allowance for her caring role.

Looking after her own mental health and wellbeing

With the help of suggestions on how Lynn could take time for herself and relax for her own mental health and wellbeing she started to do Yoga and relaxation exercises which helped her with her own anxieties. Lynn started to attend the weekly group Care to Share (which is now known as the CALM sessions). These weekly sessions look at Stress, Confidence, Protected time and Guilt. Lynn enjoyed these sessions as it was a place to discuss her caring role in a confidential space with other carers also attending.  We also referred her to a NIWE Eating Distress Service who ran a mindfulness course on eating disorders so that she could understand her husband’s Bulimia and Lynn found herself a group called The Ripple Pond for families affected by someone who was in the armed forces. Attending these groups she was gaining knowledge, understanding and confidence. Lynn started to look after her own mental health and wellbeing now and started to feel less isolated.

A short break away: Just what the doctor ordered, peace and tranquillity

When Lynn and her husband started to feel a bit more confident we applied for them to have a short break in Bamburgh through the Carers Trust funding so that they could have some nice memories and relax in a wonderful area. They hired a cottage that would accommodate their dog and somewhere quiet so that they could have walks on an evening beside the sea. They both really enjoyed it and Lynn said ‘just what the doctor ordered, peace and tranquillity’.

Lynn was also looking after her Aunt who had to be placed in a care home as she had dementia and could no longer live on her own. Lynn’s caring role seemed to increase with this move as she was now having to go to the home to see her Aunt but she was also clearing the flat her Aunt lived in and then sell this. Sadly her Aunt passed away in June 2019, but this did mean that she could then focus on herself again.  

Helping other unpaid carers

Lynn has done a lot of work helping promote Gateshead carers by doing a video which can be seen on Gateshead Council's website under Adult Social Care
She was also interviewed on BBC Radio Newcastle helping to promote Carers Week in 2019. She has loved being a part of our agency.  Lynn has contacted us when she has needed to receive one to one support or advice on something new that has cropped up. Lynn has loved the groups and activities that we have run in the past like the Christmas Festive day and the activities that we run during Carers week. She quotes that ‘Gateshead carers have been her lifeline, she would not have got through the past four years without our help and support’.

Coping with the COVID 19 lockdown

Lynn contacted us again in May this year as her husband was going to have his leg amputated and she had struggled with the Covid 19 lockdown and her caring role was becoming too much to cope with. We discussed all the coping mechanisms that she had used in the past and she was still going for a walk daily with her dog or by herself. She was worried about her home once her husband came out of hospital as it was not fit for him to live in. Adult Social Care are still in the process of adapting their home as due to Covid this could not be done all at once. Although all this work is ongoing and her husband is doing his own therapy, it is a different kind of carer stress than before the lockdown because she now doesn’t have the help from family and friends that she had prior to this and like everyone she missed this.

Managing her low mood and stress through counselling

Lynn began to show signs of low mood but because her Carer Wellbeing Facilitator (CWF) has known Lynn’s caring role for 4 years she suggested referring her for counselling through the North East counselling Service which is specific to Carers in Gateshead. She agreed to this referral and started her sessions on the phone and she began to feel less stressed again. Her CWF felt that she could benefit from someone with fresh ideas and techniques and she has. Lynn is finding herself again and thinking in a more positive direction.

Enjoying her own space in her summer house

Her CWF also applied for funding through the Carer Wellbeing Fund for her to get some furniture for a new summer house that she has got so that she has her own space. In the summer house she can do activities that she can focus on – like mindfulness, knitting or just listening to some music. Her husband has a weekly counselling session so she will go to her summer house when he is doing this. The summer house has already benefited Lynn by being her own space for herself and her only.

Lynn will continue with Gateshead carers for as long as she needs us to be in her life to help her with her ongoing caring role.