So a work friend and I somehow started talking about this old show, Trap Door, a crazy cult classic first aired in 1984. Trap Door features a cheery-natured blue guy called Berk, his best friend, a disembodied skull called Boni and an androgynous pet spider called Drutt. So while the theme tune whirls around in your head, and it will, let’s examine this old gem!
Berk spends his time cooking and cleaning a rambling old castle and following the orders of The Thing Upstairs, typically each four-minute episode features Berk managing to loose some kind of mischief from the Trapdoor and chaos ensues. I was laughing about all of this when it hit me that Berk is a carer. A run-of-the-mill, overworked and attempting to be cheerful about it carer with a host of issues that pop up along the way.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am by no means calling your loved ones The Thing Upstairs, that cantankerous character who is never seen but described as having many heads, a humped back, a missing eye and other strange attributes is unlikely to be an accurate description of the members of our family that we support on a daily basis. But isn’t it true that wonderful and loved as they are, the all-consuming nature of the caring role doesn’t half demand attention, it becomes so much a part of your life that it becomes who you are.
The loved one may not actually yell “BERK, FEEEED ME!” That is, unless your name is Berk; but when it all mounts up, the feeling is the same.
Watch only one episode of this classic and it’s clear that there are similarities to our lives all over the place. An unrelenting need that has to be met and is easier with a smile and all the love in the world sounds rather like parenting, caring and so for me, being the mum of an Aspie. Trap door is my life. And probably yours too.
My caring role is a simple one, my daughter has high functioning autism and she is amazing (yes, I am indeed biased on that front!) but it doesn’t let up. There are the usual parenting aspects, the constant care, cleaning, laundry and so on. But as a carer I worry a lot and they are worries that go beyond the parenting role, I am usually a laid-back person but parenting is ten times harder when I spend my time worrying about everything from how my girl is coping socially, to whether she has scratched her skin raw again because she is stressed at school, to how her needs affect her siblings. Ensuring she has the emotional tools she needs to cope with the sensory overload in this complex world is exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
As a carer advisor I hear some challenging and complex stories, the job you lot do as carers is amazing and so incredibly worthwhile. I hear your wonderful, challenging, painful, emotional, enduring stories and you inspire me. So many of you say that you don’t want to be a burden, that you have only asked for help because something happened that made everything so much harder. Those things, they are the monsters from the proverbial trapdoor.
These monsters take many forms, it may be that your monsters are tackling benefits. Brown envelopes full of stress, worrying that you’re answering the questions wrong, that the often-misleading questions are actually tricks, that you may not get the benefit or assistance you so desperately need to not become a human ice pole in the winter, eaten by local cats. The monster you face could be a pipe leak that is timed perfectly to cause you the most amount of stress, plumbing is notoriously awful and unless you’re lucky enough to know a plumber or be one, it is expensive! Perhaps your monster is those dreaded white goods, the ones that always seem to break in threes.
Or, let’s face it, that monster may well be your mental health. The PIP envelope arrives, your stress levels have skyrocketed, the pipe under the sink has leaked and your floor is flooded and ruined, your fridge, washing machine and dishwasher are in cahoots and decided to go on strike at once and you just can’t take it anymore. The anxiety kicks in, you can’t breathe properly, you get tunnel vision and feel like crawling into your duvet and never coming out but you don’t have that option. These trapdoor critters are a nightmare, they seem simple enough but when your life is complicated and full of someone else, or several other people’s care needs, it can be more like a scene from a horror story than a cute playdough cartoon creature.
What is it that you do when your monsters sneak out? Who do you call? If you ask for help at all. Many of you tell us that because your life is full of caring, you have few people in your lives that are there to support you. Many of you only accept help when we tell you just how much you are entitled to, that you are not a burden and that we NEED you to be okay, to keep going, to put yourself first because what you do is so vital.
Maybe your monster needs to be fixed by accessing community support, getting help to fill out the forms that you hate with a passion. Just having someone to read through it all and tell you it is fine before you send it can relieve weeks of stress, waiting to see if your application has been a success. You might need a list of trusted traders who can help fix that pipe without charging you the Earth, because let’s face it, none of us are rich doing what we do!
If your monsters are those that attack your confidence, your mental wellbeing, your ability to feel okay, you can get help for that too. There are people who care, who will listen and support you as a carer and an individual, who want to teach you ways to cope with your monsters. We have all been in that place at one time or another, we have all seen the horrors of the trapdoor and there is no shame in asking for help.
So next time the trap door opens and chaos ensues while you juggle the workload in front of you, ask for help. It may not be in the form of a sarcastic admonishing skull or a sweet, zany pet spider (unless you have one of those) but it is out there, you are not alone.