At 19 nothing could have prepared me for becoming a carer.
In the space of two weeks I went from being a relatively normal teenager to having another person entirely reliant on me.
Kate was my girlfriend and her health deteriorated overnight. We were in university and had just moved in together.
One day she was fine, the next she couldn’t leave the house without using a wheelchair. Living in pain became her new reality.
She’d later be diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and fibromyalgia but at the time we had no idea what was happening.
For my partner it was a rollercoaster journey from health to dependence. For me it went under the radar. It was months later when the revelation of how much my life had actually changed finally sunk in.
But as much as it crept up on me, at a certain point I made a decision to care unconditionally.
When I did this, knowing that I wouldn’t get anything back, it took a surrender of self.
I made a choice to put her needs ahead of my own and accepted that life could become wake, care, sleep, repeat.
Like for most carers this comes with a clash of emotions. There’s love for the person you care for and grief for what they’ve lost. There’s confusion at what’s happening but a commitment to riding it out.
From a young age my priorities ended up being different. I had to grow up faster than the people around me and let go of things I wasn’t necessarily ready to.
Being a carer can be all consuming. But whilst the day-to-day reality is one of sacrifice and balance, it’s not a one way street.
I can’t explain the joy and sense of satisfaction it can bring. When you can start to see progress and know that those hours of hard work have paid off for that one moment – I’m never so proud as I am then.
But despite being a carer I still had other aspirations.
In a world where success is as much based on speed as it is distance travelled, it was hard adjusting to a position where I couldn’t keep up.
I found myself in a position where failure was inevitable. I couldn’t care like I needed to and work towards goals like I wanted to.
These two parts of my identity kept getting in each other’s way until my perspective changed. Instead of seeing my carer role as something that would hold me back I came to see it as something that could propel me forwards – a part of my life that reflected the best of me.
Being a carer makes me a better journalist. It’s made me the man I am today and I am infinitely better for it.
So I want to help change the narrative. I want us to talk about how being a carer makes you amazing.
I’ve interviewed a lot of young carers as a journalist and they have been the most capable, resilient and impressive children I’ve ever met.
The reality is they deserve better. They should get more support. Whilst ultimately there’s not much we can do about their caring responsibilities, what we can do is make sure they have the same opportunities as everyone else.
We can make sure people know their value by changing the narrative to start viewing being a carer as a strength, instead of something that holds you back.
And if we do this we can put an end to wasted potential.