Ahead of the launch of We Need To Talk About Caring, our survey into caring within the screen industries, we invited our community to share their experiences of caring.
Huge gratitude goes out for the openess and willingness shown by those people who have kindly taken the time to get in touch with us. We share two of their stories below.
Female, working in film exhibition
I’m a single parent. When my two children were 5 and 6 my mum became ill and moved in with us for about six months, until she died. My mum was 84 when she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer. She was a widow and I was her only child. A year before she was diagnosed she’d moved 200 miles to live near me. Where she lived her only surviving relatives were elderly and she had no other relatives within those 200 miles.
There was no set hours or regular weeks, I just incorporated looking after mum – like making meals, attending doctor and hospital appointments and doing laundry – with looking after the children. As her cancer developed she became increasingly restricted in what she could do and in the last two months of her life, I didn’t like to leave her in the house on her own, I would just make a dash out for the school pick up and to the local shops.
But it’s not just about hours and time management and how long it takes to help someone bathe or eat. It’s the emotional side of it too. It’s the just being in the same space as a person who is coming to the end of life and not necessarily ‘doing’ things for them, but just ‘being’ with them. That’s what makes being a carer more humane, for everyone, making the time to just ‘be’ with the person you’re looking after.
How did you manage to balance your care for your mum with your work?
My mum’s diagnosis coincided with my being made redundant from a job I’d had for 14 years. I didn’t want the redundancy, I didn’t choose it, but I have no idea how I would have given my mum the care I did if I’d continued working full time. I had three months wages to live on and together with my mum we worked out how we could live together on her pensions. I would have found it very stressful to ask my employer for more flexibility. I’d had some flexible working in place in that employment, around my childcare responsibilities, and I got the feeling that it wasn’t widely popular. After I was made redundant, the COO commented to the remaining staff that flexible working was a thing of the past and had finished with the staff who had been made redundant.
I think there are lots of issues around flexible working, around asking for it, being granted it and then around making it work and staying respected and relevant in the workplace. There is an old school mentality that regards working from home with suspicion and working flexibly as a privilege that causes resentment. I’m left wondering how our society imagines the next generation of parents and carers is to be nurtured.
Mum loved that she wasn’t in hospital and was in the midst of family life with her grand-daughters. The District Health team and the Marie Curie team reported that we were, according to their remit, a prime example of what they worked to do in the community. Basically to keep a patient within the family, where the whole family stays connected and all members of the family, however young, are involved in caring for their loved one. And having time to say goodbye. A good death, in other words. I don’t know if that’s something working carers have space and time to wish for, amidst the logistics and the juggling.
I had a short-lived, but intense experience of ‘sandwich’ caring. My children benefited from seeing how an elderly and ill granny could be lovingly cared for in the home. They would climb into the bed with her everyday while she read to them, or while she slept they’d watch CBBC on a laptop in her room.
I think there’s a feeling of needing to hide from employers and colleagues the mental and emotional load that you carry as a working parent or carer. In case they think you won’t be giving them 100%. This ‘hiding’ isn’t going to help the next generation of parents and carers.
Male, working in film production
I’ve been caring for my partner of 25 years since 2012, when he experienced a life-changing mental health episode. Across a week the amount of time I spend caring for him varies, sometime more or sometimes less than 35+ and sometimes 70 to 80 hours when he’s very unwell. It took time to accept and adjust to the idea of thinking of myself as a carer.
Do you mind sharing how you manage to balance your care for them with your work?
It was only at least a year afterwards I first became a carer, when I attended a ‘Training for Carers’ course that I began to get the ‘momentum’ and yes, maybe the authority I felt I needed, to claw back time for myself and begin to move forward with my own life. That’s when I began to appreciate that I was still grieving for the way things were before and I wasn’t responsible for what happened and that many carers feel guilty even though they shouldn’t. The training gave me many tools and skills to support the person I care for and reminded me to focus on my own needs. It’s still a constant juggling exercise but now I’m much better at blocking out time for myself and for my professional life.
Does your workplace or industry provide any support to help you balance your work and caring?
Not really as a freelancer, its extremely challenging. And caring has had a profound effect on my professional life, my career completely stalled for over a year. Being a carer has greatly limited the projects I can get involved with. I am still working, sometimes part-time, in the industry and once again gearing up to become more active again.
As a carer, I’m kind of the front line of defence when something goes wrong. I rarely get respite from being a carer, and if something happens, there is sometimes no one else to step in. So if there’s a sudden escalation or unexpected medical situation, despite my best laid plans, my partner’s health always trumps everything else. Occasionally I’ve had to drop what I’m doing, most clients are understanding.
Do you agree that there’s a general a lack of understanding and awareness of the carer experience in the screen industry from managers and employers and little to no HR support?
Yes, absolutely there could be a lot more support to empower carers – by really listening and having empathy with some of the practical issues we’re actually dealing with. Most carers become very good at multi-tasking: maintaining detailed and accurate records, liaising with professional services, managing and scheduling appointments and dealing with enquiries, supporting physical, emotional and social needs. There’s still a taboo about discussing caring responsibilities at work, although there is a noticeable improvement in being able to talk a bit more openly about mental heath issues than even just a few years ago. But I have to say there’s a huge issue around the economic hardship of being a carer and so many unpaid carers like me being exploited by the system.