Looking after yourself when you are a young carer
It's important to look after yourself when you're caring for someone with cancer.
Eating – food and feelings
Written by people who've been in your shoes
The advice in this section has been written by people who are 12-18 and caring for someone with cancer. You can download their complete handbook - Let's talk about you [PDF, 2.1MB].
Yes, we know it’s obvious, but you must remember to eat. And eat healthily. Some of us didn’t feel like eating, because we were so worried we felt sick. And some of us ate a lot as a way of coping.
Being a young carer can be very hard, both physically and mentally. You may be having a bad day, or be too busy to bother about food. But your body needs food for energy. And you need energy to care for someone who is living with cancer.
Sometimes food becomes a problem when it’s used to help you cope with painful situations or feelings, or to relieve stress. If this is how you deal with emotions and feelings, and you’re unhappy about it, then you should try to talk to someone you trust.
My room became a sanctuary – somewhere relaxing just for me.
When we were helping care for someone with cancer, we could have done with a lot more sleep. This was for lots of reasons, but the main one, and the one we all shared, was worry. It can be hard to switch your brain off at night. Your head hits the pillow and your mind goes into overdrive. Thinking about the person who’s ill. Thinking about what will happen in the future. And all that worrying keeps you awake.
You may also find that there are people coming in and out of your home at different times, and that can be a distraction if you are trying to get to sleep. Or it could be that the person you’re caring for is having a bad night, which then keeps you awake.
Here are some things we’d suggest to get a good night’s sleep:
Read a book – it will focus your mind on something other than cancer before you go to sleep.
Have a bath – if you like, you could add something like lavender oil or bath soak, which can help you relax.
Light some candles.
Have a warm drink.
Listen to a relaxation tape or CD.
Write a diary – if you get all your thoughts out on paper, they won’t be quite so busy in your head.
Making time for you
It’s easy to feel guilty or selfish about going out and enjoying yourself. We all did. We worried that if we went out to see our friends then something might happen to the person we were caring for. And we felt guilty for having a good time when someone so close to us was ill.
It’s important, for your own sake, that you make time for yourself to do the things you should be doing. This might include catching up with friends, going shopping, playing sports, doing some art, or going to the cinema. Things like these are an important part of life.
If you’re worried about going out, talk to the person you’re caring for. Let them know how you feel. It’s likely that they’ll want you to go out and have fun. They will want to see you happy, because they love you.
Drugs and alcohol
Lots of young people experiment with drugs and alcohol. But if you’re stressed or upset, you may be using drugs or alcohol to block out your feelings.
I started doing solvents. From 11 until I was 14 I was looking after my mum and didn’t quite realise how much it was affecting me, because I just put it to the back of my head.
If you think you’re drinking too much, or if you’re taking drugs to help you cope with what’s happening in your life, you should try to get help as soon as possible. Try talking to friends and family. Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are lots of helplines and groups you could go to for support. Their phone numbers are in the back of this booklet in chapter 13. You may also want to go to your GP, who can offer counselling and support.
Perhaps there are other things you could do to help you chill out, for example going swimming or for a walk. Change your routine so that you’re not thinking about drugs or alcohol at certain points of the day. And if your friends are drinking heavily or taking drugs, it could be time to rethink who you hang out with.
One in ten teenagers self-harms. Self-harm is when you deliberately hurt yourself. Self-harm is linked with depression, and it usually affects girls more than boys.
If you’re helping care for someone with cancer, you may be at risk of self-harming. If you’ve had thoughts about self-harming, or if you’ve started to hurt yourself, you must get help. Tell a relative or friend. Or call one of the helpline numbers listed in chapter 13. You should also make an appointment with your GP or talk to your young carers’ worker if you’re worried that you may have depression.