11-17 June is Carers Week and to celebrate this, Bridget Blankley, a member of our Writers as Carers Group has written this blog on the theme of staying healthy and connected.
I’ve been a carer for almost six years now and a writer for about four. I did write before, but mostly technical stuff; training manuals, course books, sets of instructions; but not real writing, nothing that stretched my imagination. I wasn't going to be a carer, not for long.
We had one of those, ‘well we can’t be sure of course, but two or three months maybe,’ conversations. So, I closed up the house, packed a change of clothes and moved in with mum. After all it wasn’t going to be long, so I didn’t need to do much more than cancel a few appointments and tell my employers that I was taking extended leave. No problem.
Oh, how the gods laugh at us! Not that I’m complaining, of course, the fact that I’m here, looking after mum, so much longer than the original plan is a testament to the skill of the staff at Southampton General Hospital, and to my mother’s stubborn determination to outlive her cousins – the battle continues. The point is I hadn’t planned, I wasn’t ready. Living with mum was meant to be more of a holiday than a lifestyle choice, - and I am definitely someone who likes a plan.
"I wasn’t going to be a carer, not for long."
It’s not that being here has been that bad. I’ve moved from the middle of nowhere to the middle of a city and that is great. Yes, the middle of nowhere has great views and all the silence you could want, but it doesn’t have a Waitrose – or any other supermarket, or a post office, or a bank, or even a regular bus service. I’m much more at home in the city. But I left everything behind. Everything from my books to my winter clothes to my friends. That would have been OK for the planned couple of months, but after a while it becomes a problem. I wanted to be here, but I wanted, I needed something more. Once mum was stable and the treatments were not so odious, I decided to take stock.
I realised that I was behaving like a teenager. Living in one room, living off ready meals and rarely seeing daylight. There were advantages, for one thing you appreciate being lazy so much more as an adult. As a teenager you’ve never really been busy, never had to pay the mortgage, work to deadlines or please the boss. As an adult you know what you are leaving behind, so when I finally handed in my notice, I did so knowing that I was happy to leave the world of quality assurance behind.
So what next? There are only so many cakes you can bake, and my waistline was beginning to suffer, my new clothes were all two sizes larger than the ones I’d left at home. I needed company and I needed to keep occupied, after all you can only watch cricket in the summer. It was time to take the whole, ageing teenager thing to the next level. I went back to school.
It’s been brilliant, kept me sane, helped me meet people, given me a new career. There’s not been much logic to what I’ve studied, or how I’ve studied. In fact, you could say that I’ve been learning what I like. I’ve attended weekend classes in printing – great fun but unfortunately, I have very little artistic talent. I haven’t let that stop me though, every few months I sign up for a new class. I’ve tried evening classes in art – as I mentioned no talent but the gallery visits have been fun. I’ve tried online learning and weekly classes in literature and classics and history. My only rule is not maths or physics, because that’s what I studied the first time around.
It’s had its downsides, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount on books and exhibitions. But I’ve met some interesting people, and some strange ones. I’ve made some good friends, and have somewhere to stay if I visit, Chennai, New York, Nice and even the Falklands. I’ve learnt that there is more to life than maths, I’ve had the courage to start writing and I’ve completed the first year of a new degree. Most importantly I’ve remembered to look after me while I’m looking after mum.
So what’s next? Well, I’ve got the second half of my history of art degree to finish and after that? Who knows. All I have to do now is work out how to lose all these extra pounds. Note to self - find a local wild swimming group.
About Bridget Blankley
Bridget is a prize-winning author who comes from a family of storytellers and fable weavers who has recently started recording these tales on paper. She spent most of her early life in Nigeria, returning to England to finish school. She came late to writing, having been an engineer, an educator and a full-time carer. Website: bridgetblankley.com | Twitter: @bridgetblankley
About Carers Week
Carers Week is organised by Carers UK, and seven other charities, to draw attention to just how important caring is. This year they are encouraging people to think about ways to help carers to become Healthy and Connected.
About the Writers as Carers Group
The Writers as Carers Group exists to support members who also have caring responsibilities, to keep in touch with their professional writing community, to keep writing and to help each other through difficult times. Find out more
The SoA will be hosting an open afternoon for members of its Writers as Carers Group on Thursday 14 June. Find out more