Experiences of 2020
Beth - Storyteller & Mum
Pre-2020, as a self-employed storyteller and a carer for my autistic seven-year-old daughter, stress was already part of my life. There was also lots to appreciate - my kid is the funniest, sweetest person I know and I am consistently blown away by how tough she is when dealing with all the challenges that the world throws her way.
However, my girl feels things very strongly (contrary to what poorly researched TV might tell us about autism) and she can become pretty overwhelmed if she’s worried or if other people are distressed. Staying calm and squashing my own feelings when she’s struggling is essential (showing her when I’m wound up would be like throwing petrol on a rapidly spreading fire) and near total self-control has become my default.
This seemed doable until lockdown, when we were all cooped up together and my job came almost to a standstill. With no dashing about for projects, no quiet time for creativity, and essentially no chance to just be myself, I started to really struggle. I tried my best to help my daughter cope with feeling anxious and frustrated, to jazz up the dreaded home-schooling - even with my husband doing plenty of the childcare, I felt that the responsibility to steer our ship was mine. My sleep deprivation grew worse, my shoulder muscles become ridiculously taut but I couldn’t let myself see what my own needs might be. I was permanently tuned in to my kid, unable to switch off as my brain whirred away inside my exhausted body.
I couldn’t out run the emotions forever, of course, and when I cried for the first time in almost a year (while watching a rom-com that actually had no tearjerker moments), it became clear that I was burnt out. I needed help, and I was lucky enough to have people around me who wanted to be there, to remind me that it didn’t all fall on my shoulders. My husband was great at encouraging me to have a guilt—free nap or walk, even when I knew our kid wanted me glued to her side. My parents would remind me over the phone that sharing my struggles didn’t make me disloyal to my beloved girl – they were also very keen to be on grandparent duty again as soon as it was allowed. I’ve been able to, gradually, get creative again and I can see now that having this for myself is key to my mental wellbeing. I’m especially lucky to have a daughter who, with all her daft jokes and giant cuddles, really is the greatest joy in my life.
For me, caregiver burnout was brought to a head by the pandemic - I’m very aware that right now there are others who have less support, whose children have more complex needs, who have no chance at an outlet for themselves. I honestly don’t know if I could cope if I were walking in their shoes…