Balancing Caring and Career: a personal account
Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. It also helps people who don't think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support. Carers Week 2021 (7-13 June) we came together to Make Caring Visible and Valued. To mark the week, Prof Mo Ray shares her own personal experiences
It’s Carers week and so it’s important perhaps to remember that many people who work or study at the University will also be caring for disabled relatives and friends. I know I’m not unique! Many of us will not be very visible. We are diverse and our struggles will be different.
Three and a half years ago, every part of our lives were affected when my husband* had a very serious stroke. He was fit and healthy and appeared to be an unlikely candidate for a stroke. For months, our lives were characterised by uncertainty and worry as Brian began the slow process of rehabilitation. The consultant was realistic about the longer term implications of the stroke and was clear that, while the absolute outcome could not be predicted, Brian would certainly have physical impairments and communication difficulties. Our lives became filled with stroke wards, rehabilitation at home, rehab staff, finding care, ending my husband’s business, trying to secure funding for ongoing rehabilitation to support Brian’s recovery. It was assumed by just about everyone that I was now ‘Brian’s carer’. I wanted to care for and support Brian, but I also wanted to remain in focus as his partner.
In the middle of all of this was my job at the University. My work is very important to me and was very much part of our lives. I wanted to continue to work – but I also needed to. We were a relatively ‘new’ couple and had a mortgage and my husband had to retire and his business ended. I am grateful for the life lines that the University threw me and the fact that I could take leave, agree flexible working and reduce my hours. It allowed me to do what was needed at home, support Brian and keep working. Doing something ‘normal’ at work was an escape from the endless effort of caring and social and health care complexities that we were in the middle of. Many people do not have the same opportunities and often feel they have little choice but to leave their workplace.
Nowadays, we are on an even keel. Brian has made a very good recovery but, the Consultant’s predictions were correct and he does have significant physical impairment and very serious communication difficulties and epilepsy. But, we have worked hard to build a life that we both value. My role at the University remains very important to me and to my identity outside of my personal and domestic life. We can still be broadsided by unexpected events and we are suddenly back to making it up as we go along and finding ways to be flexible to manage often competing demands. I believe my caring role is not very visible at work and it is not something that I talk a great deal about. But I do know that I have support when it’s needed and I am grateful to close colleagues and colleagues at the Carers forum who won’t judge when I allow myself to share the terrible day I’ve had because Brian’s carer couldn’t come and I had to find a way to support Brian’s start to the day alongside a full diary. Everyone else has had a similar challenge! While I may come to work and do my things with gusto and, I hope, effectiveness, at the end of it all, I remain a carer. The pressures, whether we are in a place of calm or not, do not go away.
Prof Mo Ray, Professor of Health & Social Care
The Universtiy of Lincoln will be marking Carers Week with a talk presented by Professor Marie-Pierre Moreau: Care-full futures? Transforming the care-free norms of Higher Education book your tickets here