I didn’t know I was a young carer

I’m Tom, I’m 22 and I’m from Newcastle, NSW.

Originally I was a carer for my nan, who lived with us. Mum was a single parent, so she worked full time. Then unfortunately, when Nan passed away my mum couldn’t cope with it. She essentially had a nervous breakdown. I had to step in and pick up that load. I was 19.

I didn’t even realise I was a carer until further down the track. It just started with little things. You know, Mum saying, ‘I can’t do this,’ and me helping her out. I didn’t realise I was going above and beyond the call of duty until I talked to my friends, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m doing all the cooking at home. Why aren’t they doing that too?’

If mum was having a really bad day, I’d be on call constantly. She’d be so depressed she just stayed in bed. Even getting up and pottering around the house would be exhausting to her. That was just how her brain worked, being flooded with chemicals that weren’t meant to be there. When Mum was really bad, I’d do all the domestic logistics—housework, buying food, helping with paying bills. Just making sure that everything was running smoothly because she couldn’t afford to have it not.

Listening to my friends, I saw that there’s a lot I didn’t have. You know, my friends would say, ‘Me and my mum all went to the coast for the weekend’, or ‘We all went to the movies’. I never had any of that. But then, Mum and I definitely have a closer relationship than a lot of my friends group. Also my friends were often hindered by their parents, whereas my mum gave me a lot more independence through the process.

I didn’t let my friends at school know about mum being sick. Earlier in her life, they’d often come round to our house, and they had a really good relationship with her. I didn’t want them to look at her differently. I didn’t want them to know we were struggling. Eventually I did tell them, and they were really accepting. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d told my friends sooner. Maybe if I had someone to talk to, I would’ve had to let out the stress in other ways that maybe weren’t so healthy for me.

Mum got treatment for the depression, and a few years ago she started to get better. Then a boyfriend came on the scene, which helped too. There was a period of about a year and a half, then I moved out. When I first left, my feeling was definitely relief. It was a weight off my shoulders. It’s good to see the difference I’ve made. You know, putting in all that time and effort when Mum needed me. And it worked out well.

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