"We carers are not alone."

In her own words, Esther recounts her journey as carer of someone with a mental illness.

For a long time, we knew my husband, Thomas, was ill, but nobody knew the diagnosis. I would cry and worry every day. I used to close my eyes and imagine that when I woke up, he would be out of hospital.

Soon, my husband was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia, a severe mental illness. He will typically have an episode every two years.

When he is unwell, I am his worst enemy. He would say that I was after his money, that I was a prostitute. When the episode was over, he would apologise constantly and cry bitterly because he has no control.

My husband’s illness affected our relationship. I tried to keep it all inside because there is a stigma of mental illness. I felt alone, devastated and terribly frightened.

I became ill with severe anxiety and depression. I was recovering from surgery, I gained weight and I was in a dark place. I never thought that I could get that low and it frightened me.

Through lifeAssist and the Carer Hub, I got encouragement, help and support to recover miraculously from my depression and anxiety.

I stopped thinking I had to take care of everyone. I had to take care of me too, not in a selfish way, but to know that my needs are important.

Help is invaluable. I am so glad I found lifeAssist through the Carer Hub. I had support previously, but it wasn’t much. It is only once you see the support which is out there that you see what a blessing it is.

Respite is the answer. You can’t be the carer you want to be without it. Through lifeAssist, I was able to take a break and play golf and tennis, do Tai Chi, go to the movies, the hot springs and more.

My lifeAssist Consultant, Bernie, uplifts me and encourages me. She sees opportunities for me, educates me in caring for someone with a mental illness. Because of her, I have learnt to be proud of myself. She has bent over backwards for me and I couldn’t have done it without her.

Now, I support other carers, educating them about self-care. I learnt carers have to connect with others. There shouldn’t be a stigma about mental illness. We all need each other and we carers are not alone. At the Carer Hub, we talk about our struggles and draw strength from each other.

My husband was unwell again last year, but I found I could handle the situation so much better. I have set boundaries. I won’t visit him at the hospital every day like I used to. I visit every second day and if he gives me a hard time, I will leave and come back when he is having a better day.

I was able to get him admitted into hospital as soon as I could. This is because I have learnt how to be an advocate. I value my own needs more. I always used to say, “my needs don’t matter, I will be okay soon.” But now I give myself credit for my role.

Recently, my parents reached frail age and I now support them. I have become a beam of strength for my family. They can’t believe my calmness, they say to me "how can you do all this?"

Through it all, my faith kept me going. Faith is about living. I have a belief and hope that there is someone who loves me even if I don’t love myself. I believe God loves everybody just as they are. You find your strength and you faith in Him. Through hope, all things are possible and my hope comes from above. But you need to apply yourself, you may make mistakes but you need to reach out and try again and again.

My advice is to pay attention to yourself. Persevere and be determined. What you do isn’t easy but have hope. Be reassured that if you care for yourself and step away from your caring role, if you see your needs and look inside yourself, your life will become so much easier.

People think that you can do it all on your own but you can’t, be humble, you need to reach out. You can do a better job when you are supported. lifeAssist gives that support.

– Told by Esther, a lifeAssist client
(Names have been changed to protect privacy)