Lucy was just 10 years old when she first started to realise that her family situation was a bit different to others. Lucy’s mum had mental health challenges including borderline personality disorder (BPD) and “lots of ups and downs in her mood.” Here, Lucy shares her journey of growing up having caring responsibilities for her mum and both the lessons she learned, and the strengths she gained, along the way.
When did you first start to realise your family situation was a bit different to others? Why?
I was about 10 years old when I started to realise my family situation was a bit different to others. My mum had mental health challenges and a lot of ups and downs in her mood. This could be really hard at times. Mum needed support with her mental health and I did what I could to help her as best I could. As I got older and entered into my teenage years I took on more caring responsibilities for mum. Sometimes this included household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and organising things at home. Sometimes it involved being there emotionally for mum when she needed someone to talk to when she was having a hard time. When I was older and had moved out of home I helped mum organise things when she needed to go to the hospital or access other support services for her mental health. Sometimes I would bring her groceries or things she needed and helped her with her appointments, often talking to wonderful support organisations that were involved in helping mum out.
My mum had a very difficult childhood and went through a lot of really hard times as an adult too. As a young person I didn’t always understand how she was affected by that or why she seemed so different to other mums. I just wanted her to be happy but I felt like I didn’t know how to help and that I was getting things wrong somehow.
It helped me to start going to support groups and workshops on how to understand how to have a healthy relationship with a loved one that has BPD. Even though it wasn’t easy, mum and I tried over time to have a healthy and happy mother-daughter relationship because we loved each other so much.
What were some strengths you gained through your caring role?
One of the strengths I gained as a carer was the ability to develop skills in empathy. I have found that empathy is the ability to try to understand someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. When trying to understand mum and why she would act certain ways at times I used my empathy to try and put myself in her shoes and see things from her perspective without judgement. Sometimes that was really hard! I notice now that I am good at building relationships with people based on kindness and understanding.
The other strength that helped me was learning how to develop healthy boundaries and communicating them with mum. It was hard to figure out how to do that but I had some great support services that helped me. Developing boundaries with mum helped us focus on growing a healthy mother-and-daughter relationship and enjoying that more. Sometimes I had to let mum know I couldn’t come over or help with something because I needed to take care of myself and recharge my batteries. I always suggested other people or services she could reach out to though. It was hard at the beginning but we both learnt we could reach out for support from others which was good for us. I think that developing healthy boundaries has helped me in my relationships today as well because I reflect on what I am and am not comfortable with and I feel ok to communicate that with others which can be really helpful!
What do you wish someone had said to you, or done to support you, at the time?
I wish someone told me “You are doing amazing, support is out there and you don’t have to carry everything on your shoulders”.
I would have loved to have more services to go for support and opportunities to connect with other people that understood what I was going through. Sometimes I felt alone and uncomfortable talking to others because I thought no one could really understand my life. Things could be a real whirlwind at home sometimes and it would have helped me to share my story and experiences with other people that might have been going through something similar. Sometimes I found it hard to get things off my chest and my feelings built up inside me. When I found support groups and other support services when I was older that was awesome because I could share my experience and I would see people nodding like they knew what I was talking about and that kindness and connection helped me. It also helped me to learn more about BPD to try to understand mum more.
My mum is sadly no longer here but I am thankful for the time I had with her. She taught me a lot and was a wonderful, unique and amazing person who loved nature and gardening and had so much strength and wisdom.
Thank you Lucy, for sharing your story about growing up with caring responsibilities. National Carers Week is an opportunity to raise community awareness among all Australians about the diversity of carers and their caring roles. Find out more about National Carers Week at their website.