Amar’s mother got a schizophrenic disorder around the time the family moved from Kenya via India to England. Over forty years later, Amar is her mother’s main carer, on top of a full time job and being a parent.
Amar is from a Sikh family. She was born in Kenya where she spent her early childhood. After a year in India, the family came to Britain when Amar was nine years old. Around that time her mother got ill. Amar, being the eldest and being a girl, became responsible for looking after herself and her sister and brothers. She describes their childhood as unhappy, but that they worked as a team.
Amar felt that she and her family were stigmatised due to her mother’s illness (she is suffering from a schizophrenic disorder). She says people’s body language gave away negative attitudes, and that she was unable to marry someone from her community because of stigma. Today she describes herself as spiritual but not religious and she does not want to visit the Temple. She finds her community’s attitude to mental illness hypocritical. Her mother, who is religious, doesn’t go to the Temple either now, due to the attitudes of people there.
When she married outside her own community, her family protested strongly. Amar studied social work as a mature student and started working. She moved to Portugal with her husband and two step-children, but returned to give birth to her son in Britain after 10 years of marriage. Having a son made it easier to be accepted back in her family.
The full responsibility of caring for her mother gradually moved onto Amar. When her father died three years ago she has become the main carer. She feels that her siblings are not doing their bit. In fact, she says, they are not all fully accepting that their mother is ill.
Being a qualified social worker with long working experience, Amar is today closely involved in the medical care of her mother. She often knows more than the health professionals about procedures, policies and practice.
Amar visits her mother before going to work every day. She makes sure her mother is dressed and has something to eat. If she is unwell, Amar will ring a few times from work, or take time off to be with her. After work she goes to her mother’s to cook dinner, clean and do other housework. When she is finally home, it is late and she is tired. She doesn’t have the energy or much time to socialise. She finds it hard to maintain friendships because of her caring responsibilities. Due to her responsibilities and her son being in college, she can’t live with her husband, who is retired abroad.
Amar strongly believes in the value of caring, and this helps her during difficult periods. She also practices meditation and yoga, which she learnt as a child. When crisis hits, she sometimes uses counselling to get things of her chest and to sort out her thoughts. She thinks more such services should be available to carers.
Amar doesn’t know how long she can continue as her mother’s carer. She is tired and dissatisfied with her situation and would like to change direction in her work life. She is also very worried about the impact the situation has on her own and her son’s well being.