One thing that's taken up a lot of time recently is a photo film I've made of three family carers and the support they receive in their area (which happens to be in Oxfordshire, UK), for National Carers Week (9-15 June 2014).
The film - A Grand Job - looks at two main things - how can you tell you are a carer, when you are already in that person's life as their sister, partner, friend? - and about how the support they've received (from Action for Carers Oxfordshire) has helped them.
One of the things talked about (by Deirdre, who is caring for her husband with vascular dementia, diabetes, and other health problems) is the emotional side of being a carer: that sense of being overwhelmed, out of the blue, as the accumulation of what you're doing and what you're facing hits you. As Deirdre says, she became a bit weepy, but got through it and got on with it because it has to be done.
How being a carer affects you emotionally will vary hugely from person to person, not least because we are all different - the relationship with the person we're supporting is different - and the nature of the care we're providing is different, varying through a whole range of aspects.
How it can feel is as if a knot is twisting its way through your body.
There's not much support with the emotional side - I guess we're all much better at doing practical things. Certainly, as a carer, one of the things that can aide your own feelings is to be busy doing practical, caring things. To feel that you are 'doing something' (rather than 'doing nothing') can often be calming, even when you are exhausted: it's counter-intuitive, perhaps, but no less true for that.
And, of course, there is the very real issue that if you did truly 'let go' of how you were feeling, you might never be able to stop.
Both of which slightly beg the question, so how do you support a carer emotionally? I can answer for me - as the carer for my mum during her terminal cancer - but wouldn't assume this is the same for others.
For me, two things made all the difference. The first were those who asked how I was doing - even if I didn't share much in those answers, it was the fact that the question was about me and not about my mum. Don't get me wrong - they asked about my mum too. But a few of them had the nouse to ask about me, and not just me as a carer, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle full me.
The other thing that would have really helped was practical help in my own life. My mum lived over 100 miles away, so I was constantly driving (it felt) long distances to be at her house while she had surgery, chemo, more surgeries, more chemo, and the rest. I simply wasn't at home much, for nearly 18 months. I could really have done with someone popping in to water my plants. Or pick up the post. Or - best of all - mow the back lawn. Just practical stuff. Anything. Just to keep things ticking over: otherwise I had that to face, too, when I raced home, in between. Nothing to do with the actual caring, but a by-product of my simply not being there.
My neighbours were great - but I only have 8 of them. Two of those lost their partners while my mum was having chemo (one in her 50s, one in his 60s - so not so expected as you might think). One house is a holiday home and the person seldom there; another lives part of the year overseas and wasn't there much either; another neighbour, in his late 80s, was showing signs of advancing dementia. And on, and on. (And they did give me help, for the record, one in particular - the point is, they had their own major stuff to contend with at the same time. So there were limits.)
So, if you know someone who is a carer - someone who, as the carers in A Grand Job make clear, is helping another person who couldn't manage their daily life without that help - ask them how they are. Them. That person. And because we seem to struggle so much to tackle the emotional side, see if there's something practical you could do for them, in their own life, that's nothing to do with the caring role.