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Reflecting on Carers Week

We take a look back at what we learned during Carers Week, speaking to our Pobl colleague, Rachel about her experiences of being an unpaid carer for her partner, Christian...

During Carer’s Week, we shared some thought-provoking facts and statistics on our social media accounts. They were eye-opening and humbling – and they made us think about how many people we have working at Pobl who are juggling their jobs with the work of a carer.

We spoke with Rachel Duggan, Team Manager for our Care & Support services in Newport and Gwent, who alongside working full time is also a carer for her fiancé, Christian.

Rachel met Christian six and a half years ago, after Christian’s guide dog decided they would be a good match.

Rachel says, “We met through the rugby – we’re both huge fans of the Dragons and Christian’s friends all told him that he had terrible taste in women, so he should let his guide dog choose.”

And that’s what he did – Sasha, Christian’s guide dog at the time always made a bee-line for Rachel and they hit it off.

But it hasn’t been plain sailing. Rachel says, “Christian is registered blind, hearing impaired, type one diabetic and has had a kidney transplant and two pancreas transplants.”

But the pair have made it work, sticking together, laughing together and supporting one another.

They were due to get married on July 11th – but Coronavirus put a stop to their wedding, as well as many aspects of their lives.

Christian is considered high-risk and has been shielding since the very beginning of this pandemic. When lockdown began, everything changed for the couple.

Rachel says, “At the beginning it was incredibly stressful. I was afraid that I would catch something in work and bring it back home.

“Every sneeze and cough or hayfever symptom made me anxious. I had a real fear of the unknown and it was playing on my mind.”

Rachel found herself battling her own worries whilst trying to remain positive and supportive to her teams in work. She says, “My teams were trying to offer guidance about the situation to people with learning difficulties. They were being met with challenging behaviours and taking the brunt of the blame for things changing. I was really torn between my responsibilities and I found it very difficult.”

Rachel, like all other managers in the Pobl care and support department were asked to work from home to reduce the footfall in the services. She says, “My teams were so supportive, if I needed to drop something or collect something from the services, they would leave it on the doorstep for me, we had social distanced conversations and they looked after me. But it was hard to accept, as I felt my role had been reversed.”

“I was trying to keep on top of things – we were in constant meetings as legislation was changing by the day. But at the same time, Christian was house-bound and I needed to be able to help him.”

Even simple tasks like visiting the shops or the pharmacy became an ordeal for Rachel. “The queues were so huge, a trip to pick up a prescription became an hour long. I only had very small windows of opportunity to leave my desk and it just wasn’t enough time to get everything done.”

“I was working 12 hour days to keep on top of things – and also trying to deal with Christian’s low moods and anxieties. His independence had been taken away and he was finding it really tough.”

“His behaviour changed. Our home had effectively become my workplace and he found it really difficult to cope with. He would stay in bed to try and stay out of my way. He was afraid of accidently interrupting my video calls and we both found it all very emotionally draining.”

And because Christian wasn’t allowed to leave the house, his guide dog Rossi was also affected. Rachel says, “Rossi didn’t work for two and a half months and I was scared that he would start to forget his training.”

But Rachel and Christian made it work and although he is still shielding, he is now able to go out for walks, which helps his mental health and allows the dogs to get the exercise they need.

Rachel says, “I’ve started going back to services occasionally, but I still have the fear. My fellow Team Managers have been so supportive in helping me emotionally, I’m trying to just relax about things that are out of my control”.

And that’s all anyone can do in an uncertain time. But in Rachel’s case – and for the thousands of unpaid carers in the UK like her, it is a daily battle to juggle responsibilities and a feeling of guilt.

If you’re an unpaid carer and you’re struggling to cope with the increased pressures of Coronavirus, there is a wealth of information and support available. www.carersweek.co.uk is a great place to start…