I was a young carer, although I didn’t define myself as one at the time; I am not even sure the term ‘young carer’ was used back in the 1990s. About 15 years ago I started volunteering at Young Carer groups, supporting at youth clubs and being a befriender to a number of young carers. Now, as a counsellor, I hear young carers’ intimate, often unspoken stories, that echo my own and others I have heard over the years. I have learned about a type of a loneliness that young carers often feel. Imagine if a sort of cage separated you from your friends and peers so that, even when you are in the among those you love and have friendships with, you can’t wholly or lightly be part of things, you are not free to just ‘be’ in the games or activities you are doing. Sometimes you may feel you are not free to be the person you actually are. It seems as if the cage has formed around you because you have stepped so closely into another person’s intimate world that you can’t be fully present in your own world of school, college, friendships and activities. Stepping outside of the cage for any length of time can feel impossible for some young carers, perhaps because of daily caring responsibilities, perhaps because of the emotional burden of feeling you need to help make somebody else ‘better’. Confusing, contradictory emotions (like love, responsibility, resentment, worry, anger, frustration, fear and guilt) are compressed into the cage as you try to maintain an exterior of normality. Friends and teachers often don’t notice the cage – many young carers I have met are swift at pulling an invisibility cloak over it, working hard to keep separate their home and school/college lives. To add to this, some young carers feel they must keep their caring world hidden for shame and fear, particularly perhaps if they are caring for parent with a mental illness or drug/ alcohol addiction. As loneliness takes root, one cruel irony for many young carers is that it won't be until they are an adult that their friends will have the emotional wisdom to ‘really get it’, and by then, the young carer is no longer a 'young' carer. They are possibly still caring and still someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, but they are no longer a young carer, no longer balancing between different worlds; they were there alone.
It can feel fragile and risky sharing your inner world, especially when it is so closely entwined with another’s. Being someone who young carers talk to, I know that loneliness is something that fundamentally changes with connection. Imagine if the emotions inside the cage begin to be understood, calmed and feel safe. Imagine that together we carefully take the cage down so you can step forward into adulthood with awareness, acceptance and readiness. Recently a young carer gave me a straightforward answer to how she wanted her adult life to be. ‘’Simple’’.My response? “That makes sense”. For more information about young carers and support take a look at these sites and conversationsCarers UkAction for ChildrenChildren’s Society Include ProgrammeYoung carers support in Bucks (Carers Bucks)