My name is Amber Nichols and many of you may recognise me as someone from Canberra who recently competed on the latest series of The Voice. You may know me as singer, a performer, an entertainer. What you may not know about me is that I too have been a carer.
You may praise me for my efforts on the show, ask me questions about the celebrity coaches or even applaud me for turning a chair at my blind audition but you won’t do is congratulate me for caring for my younger brother, for preparing his meals, for picking him up from school or for keeping him safe and entertained.
And that is because the work of a carer often goes unnoticed. It’s not broadcast to millions of viewers each week. You won’t read about them in your gossip magazines or your daily newspaper. And you will never see the name of a carer in lights, lit up for the world to see.
Because they are the silent heroes. Selflessly improving the lives of those who need care due to disability, mental illness, a chronic health condition, dementia or ageing.
What you probably don’t know is there are currently 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia right now. They are spouses, parents, sons or daughters, siblings, friends, nieces or nephews, or neighbours and they are from all ages some as young as 10.Any one of us at any time can become a carer. For my family it was when my brother Ethan was born. Ethan has Downs Syndrome and as such requires a high level of supervision.
I’ll never forget the day Ethan decided he would walk to the Tuggeranong Hyperdome on his own. No doubt with the thought of a donut King caramel milkshake and KFC chips in mind off he went. It only took a few minutes for us to realise he was gone but that was enough time for him to completely disappear without a trace and with no indication of where he was going.We were in a panic madly searching the neighbourhood and the local parks trying to think of where he could be and where he might be headed.
When the call finally came through from the police that he had been located at the local IGA we found him sitting with an older lady, thankfully a Good Samaritan enjoying a chocolate paddle pop with a great big smile on his face.
Ethan’s care needs have evolved over the years from feeding, dressing, toileting and bathing to finding ways for him to be as independent as possible. I can remember my mother feeding a tube down my brother’s throat all the way to his stomach to feed him expressed milk when his low muscle tone prevented him from being able to nurse.
I remember early on as a family learning sign language so we could communicate with Ethan despite his delay in speech.
I remember changing nappies for years and years because even at five toilet training was still beyond his skill set and abilities.
I recall knowing every word and dance move to the entire Wiggles repertoire and have sat through the movie Babe at least a 100 times if not more. I’ve also buttered more vegemite toast and cooked more two minute noodles than I can count.
I’ve been thankful to care for my brother over the years. It has been a rewarding and life enriching experience but there have been challenges and there are always sacrifices.
Only last year my parents made the tough decision to relocate 8 hours north to Coffs Harbour. Packing up the family home was hard for all of us.
And saying goodbye to friends and family and a city they’ve called home now for over 30 years was not an easy one. But my parents had decided they needed to create a lifestyle that Ethan could be a part of. They decided to move into the hotel business. My brother is now 18 and this relocation was a sacrifice that will ensure full time employment for Ethan when he finishes school at the end of this year. Helping my parents with the running of a hotel is a lifestyle that he can engage in and feel a part of.
There are many aspects that he can assist with including hugs on arrival.
Often we don’t realise we have become carers. It can creep up on you. I certainly didn’t. You don’t see yourself that way. For me I was just another family member simply looking after the needs of someone I loved and it’s for this reason that many carers don’t think to look for or ask for help.
So today in preparation for the week ahead, we want to do two things.
One. Celebrate the work of unpaid carers and the enormous contribution they make to our community. Often the needs and wants of the carer are put aside and the focus remains on the person being cared for. We want to shift that focus. We see the late nights and the early mornings. We see you battling your emotions, the strain on finances, the selfless giving. We want to say we see YOU. We see you putting your needs aside to focus on the needs of another. We acknowledge your sacrifice and we commend you for it. We say thank you.
And two. We want to support you the Carer. To give you a life outside of your role as a carer. Whilst the rewards are high the challenges can be great. Organisations like Carers ACT exist to make your life and the life of the person you care for easier. Whether that’s through technology to assist with daily tasks, a friendly face when you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply providing a break when you need it. There are so many services available to you.
Few people ask to be carers, and coming to terms with your role as a carer can be a difficult journey but one you don’t have to walk alone. And thanks to Carers ACT you don’t have to.