‘Wait. Other children come home and just sit on their phones all evening?’
When I figured out that fixing the tea, helping your younger siblings with their homework and getting them ready for bed wasn’t the after-school reality of all kids my age, it was quite a shock – I’d been doing it for so long that I could barely imagine another way to live.
It’s why I think storylines like Amelia’s on Emmerdale are so important. She, like me, is a young carer for her dad after he became disabled following an allergic reaction.
My brother Owen was three when he was diagnosed with autism. Though I was only eight, that’s probably my earliest memory of taking on a care role in my family – my mum had stage four arthritis, so I helped with changing his nappy, and other small tasks like washing up and watching him in the bath so that she could get a break.
It wasn’t until I’d started secondary school that my role taking care of the house increased dramatically. My mum was diagnosed with a form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome when I was 12, a condition that stops her from eating, so she has a feeding tube in her stomach.
She has near-constant medications and she’s tired a lot of the time, so I need to pull my weight and help with my younger siblings: Owen, who’s now 11, plus a nine-year-old sister and my youngest brother, who is three.
My role in the house was something that, for the most part, was a secret within my family. No one really knew the amount of real stress I was under.
In school, it does get hard to stay on top of homework and you get detention after detention. I tried to tell teachers that it’s difficult to get everything done, but I didn’t really have the words to fully explain my home situation.
My mum and I have a great relationship, and she’ll always give me a hug and comfort me if I’ve had a tough day. But as much as she tries, she’s not the best with mental matters. My dad suffers from depression, but she preferred to push it under the rug when any of those signs came about with me.
It wasn’t until I gave a drastic cry for help that I started to get some support.
Last year, 10 days before Christmas, I tried to take my own life. It had all become too much and I just wanted to escape all of the stress I was under.
It was my way of saying ‘help me now, please’.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the end for me. I was taken to hospital, and doctors were able to save me. I have to admit, I felt foolish after I did it – if I hadn’t have been saved, who would have taken care of my family like I do?
We told the school about what had happened, but apart from the headteacher taking note, nothing much changed there, and teachers still wanted to know where my homework was from last week.
In Emmerdale, Amelia also runs into trouble when she starts skipping school and stealing credit cards to cope with her family’s financial burden. It’s good that the show is highlighting all the difficulties that being a young carer can bring.
But I’m grateful that, following my incident, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) put me in touch with Eastern Ravens Trust, a local organisation in Stockton-on-Tees that helps young people who care for family members, and they’re amazing. Before that, I don’t think I knew I was a carer – it was just normal.
They give young carers a place to go with others who know exactly what they’re going through – but we don’t sit around and talk about our home lives, and who we look after. We play bingo and card games; we have fun and just feel normal. It’s great to feel like a child again.
I barely remember what that’s like, but there are some photos from a holiday to Turkey when I was an only child. I looked like I had no worries. I look happier.
Younger me was also more confident and outgoing. I could literally talk to a stranger on the street, whereas now I can’t even talk to some of my family.
Out in public, I think people are judging me all the time. I have this sense of fear, and I feel like it’s because I don’t have much of a life of my own.
I have friendships but because I often have to miss things, I worry that they’re saying stuff about me behind my back. A lot of relationships fall apart because of this, and it just lowers your self-esteem. Also, the stress of taking on so much at home means I started to eat more – so, I became chubbier, which knocked my self-esteem down even lower.
I’ll admit: it’s tough. My sister helps out sometimes, but I try not to give her too much pressure: she’s only nine and I don’t want her to have the childhood I did.
Still, despite the challenges, my role is very rewarding. I get to see my siblings grow up, knowing that I’ve impacted them and helped them get to where they are.
Recently, I started studying Applied Science, as well as BTECs in Business and Health and Social Care at college. I want to be a marine biologist, so I have my sights set on studying at Plymouth University afterwards.
Yet I’m always thinking about my family, and I’m aware that life might get in the way of my big dreams. If I end up having to leave college after one year, studying BTECs at least leaves me with half a qualification, so I can get a job if needs be, and come back to it later.
If my mum’s condition worsens, I’ll probably have to take a year gap after finishing college to help with my brother. I like thinking ahead to the future I can have, but it is daunting because I’m also considering all the ways that things can change.
Soon, I’ll receive a Young Carer card, which I’ll be able to show to my teachers at college and they should be able to understand my reasons for missing homework, or needing deadline extensions without having to have an awkward, desperate conversation about it.
I wish people knew the amount of stress young people who care for their families are under. It’s important for people not to view people who self-harm, in any form, as attention-seekers – it’s our way of saying ‘Please, listen to me’. School staff are taught to see the signs, but I don’t think there is always as much action taken as there should be.
Because of this, I’m glad that Emmerdale is highlighting some of what some children and teenagers go through.
If it can help a young person realise that they’re a carer earlier than I did, then it’s a positive – they might be able to get the help they need without having to go to the same drastic measures I found myself taking.
If you are a young carer looking for advice or support, please visit The Children’s Society website.
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