My Adult Life
Purpose of This Chapter
It may seem strange that a book on being a young carer contains a chapter called ‘My Adult Life’. The main reason I have included this chapter is I want to excite and inspire young carers about what their lives could be. Many young carers feel they are carrying the world on their shoulders and consequently find it difficult to dream about the future. However, I believe it is very important to think about the future.
I want to show young carers that they can fulfil their ambitions. I have been able to achieve my goals whilst continuing to provide some care for my mother. These are some of my achievements:
- Going to university and getting a degree
- Working abroad in Canada and Israel when I was a student.
- Joining the army, getting promoted and leading teams of soldiers.
- Returning to university and getting a Master’s degree in Business.
- Working as a Ceasefire Monitor in dangerous areas of Sudan and Georgia.
- Becoming the security manager of an international company and working in the UK, US and Europe.
- Starting a successful business.
I also want to show that my successes have taken hard work over a long time, and have often required lots of small steps. I have set myself small challenges, kept working hard, adapted to changing situations, dealt with setbacks, and eventually big improvements have happened in my life.
In terms of providing care, I want to explain the problems and successes I have encountered as an adult carer. Many of these have lessons for young carers. Finally, I want to demonstrate that young carers need support in providing care. If young carers try to provide all the care by themselves, it is likely to have a negative effect on their lives.
Attending University, 1991-94
In 1991, just before my 18th birthday, I started a degree at Dundee University. This was the first time in the life that I felt able to enjoy myself without having to worry about Mum. My first year was a massive pressure release which included drunken parties and not much studying.
In my second and third years I partied less and studied more. Twice I went abroad by myself on working holidays. One summer I went to Toronto in Canada and worked as a removal man, and another summer I went to Israel to work on farms called kibbutzim. The flight to Canada was my first flight overseas and only my second time abroad. For me it felt normal to be alone, in an unusual situation and simply having to cope.
At university I often felt confused and frustrated, but I portrayed a different image. I still had a lot of pent-up anger, combined with a lack of experience in emotional relationships. I wanted a girlfriend but was either too shy, inexperienced or drunk to speak to girls. I was disappointed when I encountered people who never tried to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Sometimes my frustration erupted as an angry outburst, but whatever my point, it was lost as the focus was on my outburst.
Whenever I returned home during holidays there were problems with Mum such as loss of weight due to not eating properly (on one occasion her weight decreased to approximately six stone), not washing herself properly, wearing dirty clothes and neglect of financial affairs. It was in the early 1990s that she started drinking alcohol.
Serving in The Army, 1995-2000
I joined the army in 1995 and served for five years. I completed a year of officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, after which I joined The King’s Regiment, which was the infantry regiment for Liverpool and Manchester. They have since been amalgamated and are now The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
I was initially posted to Cyprus, during which time I did training exercises in Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait. I then did six months in Northern Ireland attached to the The Royal Irish Regiment. After that I returned to the King’s Regiment in the UK, when I did several short deployments to Northern Ireland and a training exercise in Belize.
Mum's Illness When I Was In The Army
During my five years in the army I phoned home weekly and often knew that Mum was unwell. My grandfather visited her weekly, but provided no actual care or support. Whenever I returned home on leave I always had to manage Mum’s finances, clean her house, perform any necessary repairs and stock her cupboards with food.
In 1997 and 1998 some local scumbags noticed that Mum was unwell and burgled her house, stealing some of her and my belongings. I had all the windows replaced to improve security. On another occasion I was on leave and Mum and I were out of the house, but when we came back I found the back door had been broken down. As I went in the back door a burglar ran out of the front door, so I chased him down the street. Fortunately, some workmen were nearby and they jumped on him. I held the burglar until the police arrived, during which time I politely informed him that I was in the army. He did not reply. He was arrested and charged with burglary. These events really upset Mum and were a serious concern for me because it highlighted how vulnerable she was.
In 1999 Mum was sectioned under The Mental Health Act, which means a doctor decided to detain Mum in a psychiatric care unit (a hospital for people suffering with mental illness) for her own good. This was the result of one night when she had left her house in the early hours of the morning wearing her nightclothes and dressing gown, walked three miles to a motorway and lain down on a roundabout. A motorist had phoned the police, who picked her up, after which she saw a doctor and was sectioned. I was stationed in Northern Ireland when this happened and did not mention it to anyone. I was used to coping alone and, besides, I didn’t want my work colleagues to know about Mum’s mental illness.
Leaving the Army
I enjoyed my time in the army but left in 2000 because I did not want a long-term career. I had been promoted a couple of times and left at the rank of Captain. I met some great people who I will stay friends with for the rest of my life.
I was surprised and disappointed with some people in the army who treated their team members really badly. Sometimes this was done so a particular person could look good at the expense of someone else. Sometimes poor treatment was given out simply because someone was a bully. Interestingly, I met good and bad people across all ranks; there was no consistency in people of higher rank being better or more capable. Overall, though, I remember laughing a lot, and doing silly things with some great friends
Attending Business School, 2000-02
In late 2000 I started a full-time Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Manchester Business School, during which time I lived in Manchester.
I regularly visited Mum, and when I did not visit I phoned home weekly. She was often unwell and regularly got drunk and didn’t eat properly. When I did visit her I had to manage her finances, ensure all the bills were paid and take care of her house. I was still providing some elements of care whilst studying a very demanding university course.
After Mum was sectioned in 1999, social services started to visit her to monitor her mental health. Some of the social workers were useless, whilst others were good. Several times between 2000 and 2002 Mum was admitted to the psychiatric care unit and these admissions varied from a couple of weeks to approximately two months. When she was there I was told that she was physically and verbally aggressive to staff, as well as demonstrating some very serious mentally ill behaviour. I did not know the full extent of this until I accessed Mum’s medical notes years later.
Working for The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2003-05
Keeping the Peace in Sudan
In 2003 I became a contractor with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was employed as a ceasefire monitor. My first contract was in the Nuba mountains area of central Sudan. I was part of an international team that was trying to maintain a ceasefire between the Sudanese government army and a rebel army. In addition, there were other armed groups in the area and sometimes these clashed with the government and rebel armies. I worked as the intelligence officer, a field monitor, a base commander and a liaison officer.
My experiences are too many for this book, but include:
- Working alongside organisations including the UN, Red Cross, Médicins Sans Frontières and various private contractors.
- Spending some time in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
- Spending three months in Northern Kenya liaising with charities and private contractors.
- Catching malaria and losing a lot of weight!
My boss on this assignment was a Norwegian General called Jan-Erik Wilhelmsen. He was focused, professional, realistic, inspirational and brilliant at managing teams. He had the ability to understand each of his team members and get the most out of each of them. To this day, he is the best leader I have ever worked for.
Monitoring a Border in Georgia
At the start of 2004 I left my contract in Sudan, and accepted a contract in Georgia, a country that had been part of Russia. I was employed as an international observer and was involved with monitoring the border between Georgia and an area called Chechnya.
One time when I came home on leave I went to visit my mother in Widnes. As I opened the door I heard her shouting for help and I found here face down in the hall, unable to move and very dehydrated. She said she had been there for two days. I gave some immediate first aid and then phoned for an ambulance. She had had a stroke, which means that part of the brain does not work properly. This badly affected the movement of the right side of her body. She spent several weeks in hospital and upon discharge had a very weak right arm and leg, but refused all offers of care packages. She refused to accept that she would struggle at home and often wouldn’t talk to me about how she thought she would cope.
I briefly went back to Georgia, but then resigned because Mum was not coping at home. Whilst I was abroad she had several falls which resulted in hospital admissions because she repeatedly injured her head. I did not get a clear picture about what had happened, but neighbours told me she had often been drunk. I repeatedly tried to persuade her to move into sheltered accommodation but she refused, so I arranged for an emergency alarm system to be installed in her house so she could call for help if she had a problem.
Back to Sudan
In 2005 I spent seven months on a ceasefire monitoring mission in South Sudan, which in many ways was more difficult than my first time in Sudan. There was more conflict between the armed groups, with a lot of violence being committed by a government militia force that often targeted civilians. We dealt with some difficult situations, including shootings, sexual attacks and children being forcibly recruited as soldiers. I spent the majority of my time in a tented camp in South Sudan that we could only reach via a two-hour journey in a small plane from Northern Kenya.
Mum Being Targeted
When I was in Sudan in 2005 I was emailed by Trading Standards to say that Mum had been targeted by rogue builders who forcibly told her she needed a new roof. They had demanded that she pay them £4,000, which they had taken over two payments, one of £1,000 and one of £3,000. During this incident she had allowed these three men she didn’t know into her house and also got into a van with them and allowed them to drive her to the bank.
By sheer luck I was coming home on leave, so I managed to get home before she gave them any more money. The scumbags phoned Mum the evening I got home to say they would need more money, and they would come to collect it the next day. I told the police what time they were coming, but the police said they couldn’t have an officer in our house and that I would have to phone 999 when they arrived. I knew this wouldn’t work, so I asked for help from two close friends from the army. One arrived that night and the other the following morning. Unfortunately, only one of these so-called builders came to the door because the others had apparently parked nearby. We easily detained him until the police arrived and he was arrested. When Mum realised that she had been conned she became very upset and depressed. I felt extremely angry that some people would sink so low as to exploit an obviously vulnerable elderly lady.
I had to return to Sudan, but the mission was due to close because the Sudanese peace deal was about to be signed. I decided to resign because I was concerned about leaving Mum. I had really enjoyed this contract and would have liked to stay until the mission closed, but I was worried that the rogue builders might come back.
Mum's Move to Sheltered Accommodation
When I got home I repeatedly suggested to Mum that she move into sheltered accommodation. Initially she refused, but after a lot of encouragement she finally reluctantly agreed. There was a new development being built in Widnes and we were able to get a one-bedroom flat. I delayed looking for a job so I could manage all aspects of the move, get her settled in her new flat, empty her old house and advertise it for sale. The new flat was part of a complex that had a warden and CCTV cameras on all entrances, so finally I had got Mum to a place where she was much safer.
Saudi Arabia and London, 2006
Mum settled into her sheltered accommodation flat and was finally safe. I was unemployed, keen to get a job and sending out numerous job applications. My mother’s house was up for sale.
I was offered, and accepted, a short contract as a Security Consultant with an oil company in Saudi Arabia. When I was in Saudi Arabia I was phoned by the estate agent and told that someone had made an offer to buy the house, but the next week some idiots vandalised part of it and the potential buyer withdrew the offer. Unfortunately, I could not leave Saudi Arabia early. When I returned home I found that these idiots had trashed the garage. I could not believe that whilst I was taking time out of my life to try to help my mother, some fools were having mindless fun that was causing me massive problems.
Shortly afterwards I received job offers from the security company I had worked for in Saudi Arabia, the United Nations De-Mining department, and a logistics company based in the Middle East. I turned them down because I felt I could not work abroad again until I sold Mum’s house. I then got a short project as a Security Consultant with a charity in London.
Later that year I finally sold the house at auction for less than it was worth. I had spent a lot of savings from my time working abroad because I had taken so much time off work. I had also turned down three jobs I would have enjoyed. Again I was sacrificing elements of my life to protect Mum.
Working in the Nuclear Fuel Industry, 2007-08
In 2007 I got a job as Head of Security for a company in the nuclear fuel industry, which involved managing security across sites in the UK, USA, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The company designed and made high-tech equipment called centrifuges that were used to make electricity, but could have been used to make bombs. Therefore, the company was inspected by the governments of all the countries we operated in, and my job involved working with these governmental inspectors. I regularly travelled to the company sites in all five countries, as well as attending meetings with governmental officials in London, Washington, Paris, Bonn and The Hague. One of the highlights was giving a presentation at MI5 Headquarters regarding our security plans.
I used to visit Mum every two weeks to bring her shopping and manage her finances. She would do some shopping herself, but she would only buy bread, ham, and cheese. I used to buy her various ready meals and snacks, because she wouldn’t cook a proper meal. I repeatedly suggested that I arrange a meals delivery service but she always refused. I did not know this at the time, but Mum was drinking excessively every day. Getting drunk would block out the voice she hears in her head.
In mid-2008 I met a young lady called Helen and we started dating. Little did I know that she would later become my wife and the mother to our daughter!
Bidding for Contracts and Getting Married, 2009-12
In late 2008 I joined a consultancy company that provided advice on certain topics to other companies. I was given a project management role with a construction company, specifically helping them bid for contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds to build new schools. I learned a huge amount about bidding for contracts. The best experience I had in this job was participating in negotiations that lasted several weeks, at the end of a massive bid for a contract worth £1.4 billion.
In late 2010 and early 2011 I did a nine-month assignment with a small company based in Liverpool. The company provided bid-writing services to other, mainly smaller, companies. The highlight of my time with this company was travelling to Latvia and giving a presentation on ‘Bidding for Contracts’ at an international business fair.
The personal highlight of 2011 was getting married to Helen! It was great to see so many friends in one place and I made a point of thanking people who had helped me throughout my life.
In late 2011 and early 2012, a friend and I ran a business supporting companies which were bidding for contracts. This was enjoyable, but unfortunately we made very little money. We decided to go our separate ways, and whilst it was shame things did not work out, I learned a huge amount about running a business.
Problems With Mum
I was still regularly visiting Mum to take her food and manage her finances, and Helen also kindly started to help. However, when we were not there all sorts of problems occurred.
One night in 2009 Mum was found in her night clothes lost outside the sheltered accommodation. She was found by two carers visiting another resident and they alerted the warden, who phoned me. I had to immediately stop what I was doing and drive to Mum’s to persuade her to stay inside her flat.
Several times over the next few months she collapsed outside her flat and had to be helped home by strangers. I believe sometimes this was because she had been drinking too much alcohol.
In late 2009 she was admitted to hospital because the warden entered her flat one morning and found her collapsed when drunk. During routine checks in hospital an aneurism was found in her brain, which is a small blood clot that could dislodge at any time. If this small clot did dislodge it could kill Mum, but it was too risky to try to operate, so the aneurism was left.
In December 2009 Mum had another fall and was admitted to hospital. When she was due for discharge I raised concerns about her ability to care for herself. The doctor refused to admit her into any form of care unit and simply said that I would have to take her home with me. She was discharged on Christmas Eve and spent the next three nights with me in my flat. During this time she needed help to walk, help to take medication, and encouragement to eat, wash and to wear clean clothes.
After Christmas Helen and I took Mum to an NHS walk-in centre. The doctor initially tried to say it was my responsibility and I should take Mum home again. After a long, difficult discussion, the doctor eventually agreed to admitting Mum to a temporary care unit. During two weeks of proper care and medical supervision she put on weight, was steadier on her feet and said she was comfortable staying there. I said my mother needed to go into care, but her social worker refused.
Mum’s situation worsened in January 2010, so social services arranged for four brief visits each day by carers. The carers helped by supervising her medication, but she refused any other help from them. Sometimes she would not give carers access to her flat.
In 2010 we noticed that Mum was wearing clothes covered in wee and poo. When I asked her about her soiled clothes she denied she had a problem, and said the clothes didn’t need to be washed. Instead she had just hung items back in her wardrobe after wearing them. We also discovered that she had been incontinent in her bed, but was not changing the sheets and was sleeping in the wet and dirty bedding. Clearly, she was suffering with incontinence, so we bought some pads for her to wear. She initially refused to wear them because she said the voice in her head told her not to, but after a lot of encouragement she started wearing these pads. We also took responsibility for her laundry, including the items that were covered in wee and poo.
When unsupervised, Mum did not wash and often smelt of body odour. When I told her she needed to wash properly she initially said the voice in her head told her not to wash, so when we visited, Helen often helped her to have a shower.
Twice in 2011 Mum was admitted to hospital with breathlessness and difficulty with walking. Once she was discharged without my knowledge, but fortunately the warden at her sheltered accommodation informed me she had returned home, so I had to phone the care agency and arrange for the care visits to resume.
Twice in 2012 Mum was admitted to hospital with chest infections. Both times she had done nothing about her illness, and actions were only taken when Helen and I visited her. On both occasions Mum tried to refuse to go into hospital, but I insisted that she did. On one occasion she was again discharged without anyone telling me or the carers.
Starting My Own Business, 2012
In mid-2012 I decided to start my own business providing bid management and bid writing services. I bought a domain name and worked with a website designer to create a company website. Shortly after starting the business I got a big contract. It felt great to be completely in control of my work situation.
We were still visiting Mum at least every two weeks to provide various care, including taking her food, managing her finances, doing her laundry and helping her wash. The carer visits were ongoing but the carers were increasingly raising concerns about Mum’s health. We could see that it was getting worse.
She was admitted to hospital once in 2012, following a fall when she was drunk. She was assessed in A&E and discharged the same day, all without my knowledge. Fortunately, one of her neighbours phoned and told me what had happened. I was working away from home, so Helen visited Mum and found her to be confused, still in the blood-stained clothes she had fallen in, and unable to eat or drink because her mouth was bleeding. Helen phoned the hospital and discovered that Mum had been given drugs to detox her system of alcohol and then sent home, but the hospital had not thought to tell anyone. Helen complained this was an unsafe discharge so Mum was readmitted to hospital immediately.
Mum's Admission Into Care, 2013
One freezing cold night in early January 2013 Mum collapsed into a bush near the entrance of her sheltered accommodation flat and was unable to get up for an hour. Fortunately, the warden returned at 10pm and found her. If the warden had not returned that evening, my mother would have frozen to death in the extremely cold weather.
During this fall she cut the inside of her right foot, so a District Nurse visited Mum to look at her foot. Helen and I visited her after the nurse’s visit and saw her foot was badly infected and had not been dressed. The District Nurse had only placed a small plaster across the open, infected wound. We took her to a NHS Walk-In Centre and saw a nurse who said that the injury was now an ulcer which required a change of dressing every two days.
At the walk-in centre, for the first time ever, my mother admitted that she was not coping. Helen insisted on an emergency referral for respite care. After liaison with social services the decision was made that Mum would be placed into a care home for an emergency stay. When she saw her room in the care home, she smiled, stated that she liked it and felt like she was on holiday! We visited regularly during her emergency stay and she always said she was happy, was enjoying the food and the staff were very nice.
I was contacted by a really nice social worker about future care for Mum. I wrote a detailed explanation of everything that had happened, including how difficult things had been for me. Finally the decision was made that Mum would stay in the care home.
Life After Mum Went Into Care, 2013 Onwards
After Mum went into care, both her life and mine were better. Mum was very happy and I felt a massive sense of release. Her admission into care meant that for the first time since I was twelve years old, someone else was caring for her. Twenty six years of me having to provide care had finally come to an end.
In 2014 I followed Helen’s recommendation to undertake counselling regarding my father’s suicide and my traumatic childhood. This was initially uncomfortable because I regard myself as a robust, self-sufficient individual. However the counselling sessions fortunately did not involve hugging trees, drawing pictures or getting in touch with my feminine side. They did, however, open up all sorts of stuff, encompassing many aspects of my childhood. My counsellor, Sharon, guided me through a journey of reflection, questioning pre-formed ideas and linking together various experiences.
The counselling has been a very beneficial experience, though at my core, I still remain a bit of a wierdo. I think I will always prefer the company of dogs to people!
Becoming A Father, 2015
On 13th July 2015, Helen gave birth to our daughter Beth. I was overjoyed at becoming a father!