Interview With Carers

22 Jun

Margaret Lewis and Katie Jennings, mother and daughter, have gone through major upheaval and stress throughout the last three years. Moving in with the grandmother after the death of her husband and then caring for her following a stroke and an extreme change of personality, it was a real struggle. Margaret’s other daughter, Tamsin, then had a major relapse in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and was then diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

How are the carers coping? They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences and the emotional turbulence. So how exactly do they feel? They are the ones in the background who don’t receive the ‘get well’ tokens of pity and compassion. How do they cope with having to watch their loved ones suffer? What do they do when they can do very little?

Here we interview these two people in how becoming carers has changed their lives.



Margaret Lewis used to describe herself as an easy-going and hard-working person but what could have changed to make her view herself so differently?

When I asked her if her personality had changed at any point in her life, she replied that it had. When she elaborated further, I found a mournful story. She explains that when she became a carer her whole personality changed. She says she was happy to move in with her mother at the time.

Asked if she had had a close relationship with her mother, she told me that she used to, less so now because she is a totally different person. Having a good relationship with my mother, it really struck me: What if my mother totally changed? What if the person I had come to for help and spoke to every day on the phone was the reason for my nervous breakdown?

Having a happy home, happy family and overall happy life made Margaret worry that something bad had to be brewing for her. ‘I had too much luck going for me. I knew at one point something had to tip the scale and change things.’ It is weird to think that the scale needs to be tipped the other way now as Margaret and her family are still waiting for some good luck to return.

After the sudden and unexpected death of her father, the abrupt move in with her mother, and the constant arguments between her brothers and husband, it is difficult to see what more could go wrong. ‘One thing seemed to lead to another. I think my daughter could see that I was struggling and in a lot of pain and she couldn’t do anything about it. So I think that her subconscious allowed her to be in control of one aspect of her life, her weight. I think that is where her anorexia originated from.’

If she had her chance again, would she still move in? ‘My father wanted us to move in. He told the neighbours that if anything happened to him that he knew we would move in and look after mum. With that said, I would seriously reconsider moving in, but that’s easy to say with hindsight. If we hadn’t moved in then I don’t know if mum would still be here. If I didn’t move in then I would just feel guilty.”

Some of the family didn’t deal with the move very well. In terms of her marriage, Margaret says that it made them stronger as ‘we have helped each other.’ But how does she feel about her brothers? ‘Sometimes helpful – some more than others. But I feel alone in terms of that family as they don’t help at all.’ What was an extremely close-knit family turned out very differently when something major happened.

If she had decided to remain where she was, what would be in store for her? ‘I’m unsure in what way my life would be different but yes, it definitely would be. It could have been worse because of my guilt, but it also could be less stressful as I wouldn’t have had to become a carer. It all depends on what would have happened to mum.’ Margaret is carrying a lot of confusion, ‘if she had gone to a home and deteriorated then I would have felt guilty. But to be honest, I don’t see how it could be worse than the last 2 years.’

And how does she feel towards the people who put her in this situation of worry, panic and sadness? ‘Sometimes angry. I can get very annoyed at my mother but I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s not her fault, although that is hard to do.’ She adds as a quick after thought. ‘It doesn’t help that I don’t get a break from her. I also worry about my daughter a lot.’

The role reversal is very strange to deal with. ‘It’s almost like my mother has gone back to childhood.’

However, Margaret seems to be happier than she has been in the last two years and is looking forward to a well-earned break next week when she goes on holiday to Florida. ‘I can’t wait! I seriously need to just get away and I can’t wait for all the sun!’ Her face has lightened up considerably as she is reminded of what awaits her.

And what is going to happen when she has to return to real life? ‘I need to start having more breaks and some ‘me time’ – away from everyone, just to chill.’



Katie Jennings is your average seventeen-year-old girl. Her hobbies include driving, Wii, shopping, socialising, and, having just passed her driving test, driving. She is the middle child of 3 children and thinks she suffers from middle child syndrome. She has lived in Cardiff all of her life but has only lived in her current home for the last ‘two wonderful years.’

While she points out that living in a family of five can be hectic and you’re not left alone for more than ten minutes, she likes it. Although she does admit that sharing a room with your older sister does have its drawbacks. When her sister received her diagnosis, Katie says that she felt ‘sad.’ Her eyes raise slowly from the ground as she tells me that she wasn’t angry when her sister was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but was for the Anorexia Nervosa. Explaining that this is because ‘OCD is more mental rather than with anorexia which doesn’t begin mentally but develops into something mental.’ Asked why she believes that Tamsin is prone to these anxiety illnesses, Katie notes that ‘she has always been a worrier and I think that it didn’t help that she used to be quite largely overweight and would be more paranoid due to past bullying.’

Katie points out that she sometimes felt like less attention was put on her and their other younger sister, Bryony, since their parents were always focused and worried on Tamsin. ‘I also didn’t want them to be any more worried than they already were so I tried not to discuss any problems I was having.’ Looking-shame faced at the table between us, she adds, ‘I know it sounds bad, but I was always the thin one. It was just my place within the family. When mum said that she thought Tamsin could be thinner than me, I felt like I had been punched in the gut.’

‘I try to help her. I used to help a lot more as it was easier to help with her OCD and I was the only person to know at first. However, now that I’m not the only one to know, I’m not included as much.’ When I ask her if she gets on well with her sister despite the illnesses she smirks and comments, ‘sometimes but she can annoy me.’

While people may pity the poor sufferer of these illnesses, does anyone think of their carers and families? How can it effect them personally? ‘It takes a long time to recover from OCD so no matter how much I tried to help, it didn’t work as quickly as I would have liked. It was also very difficult to cope with the fact that my sister could die.’

I ask her if she could go back in time, would she change anything? Her reply takes a while to come as she deliberates the many possibilities. She finally looks up and states that she would change nothing because if we didn’t make the mistakes then we wouldn’t regret anything.

Has she noticed any changes since becoming a carer? ‘I am more understanding now and know a lot more in my psychology classes at college thanks to these illnesses.’ Unfortunately these things seem to be the only advantages of having to suffer alongside a family member, but even worse was when Katie had to move out of her local community after the sudden death of her grandmother. ‘We all thought it would be nice living with Nan,’ she says with a quick smile, ‘but after her stroke we became her carers, too.’

Katie has had to cope with an extreme change of personality in her grandmother but she is still always an optimist. ‘When the rest of the family all went downhill, into depression and nervous breakdowns, I just tried to carry on and remain happy.’

Thanks to this strong will of Katie’s, she pulled her sister out of the dark side and into recovery. Though she does say that if they hadn’t moved in, ‘Nan would probably be dead.’ When asked whether she misses her grandfather and the ‘old’ Nan, she frowns. ”Course I miss them.’ Her face relaxes slowly. ‘But we do sometimes get glimpses of the old Nan.’

Does she believe that if these ‘events’ were more spread out then it would have all been easier to cope with? ‘Yes, definitely. Less stressful. I wouldn’t have found it necessary to have to bury my emotion so much.’

And when she was finally asked if she thought that life is improving or if it is going to improve, she assures, ‘We’re quite happy at the moment. Could be worse. Life is going to improve because we have a holiday planned to Florida! Also when we get back, I am going to Teenscene! It’s a Christian camp which is really modern and great! I can really see my religion improving there.’

What did I find when concluding this interview? That one, Katie Jennings is in no way selfish, giving so much of her time to helping others. Second, that the carers of the ill suffer, too, and that the government should spend more time thinking about them and what they are going through.

About the writer: Becky has just finished a degree in English and Creative Writing and is very happy with her 2:1. She is friendly, bubbly and just so happens to be the co-creator of Yellow Bunting. She hopes you enjoy it and that you get involved!


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