Why becoming a carer in my twenties made me realise we need more support

Words by Kate Oliver, founder of The Caring Collective.

I still don’t really think of myself as a carer. I’m not sure whether that’s because sometimes it doesn’t feel like I ‘do’ enough, or because my brain hasn’t really bought into the idea we’ve been sold of carers being someone different from us. It’s taken me a long time to process all of this and get to the point of setting up The Caring Collective.

My mum first became ill in 2017, and since then we’ve dealt with the lowest lows depression and anxiety have to offer. When my mum first became ill, I was 25, and had some big plans on the horizon, which I delayed until mum was back on her feet. Sitting down now to unearth some of those ideas again after five years, I’m struck by how much of a journey I’ve been on. A mostly painful one if I’m honest, but one that’s really made me think a lot about where we stand as carers and how I’d like to contribute to changing that.

The first time I really stopped to think about it and admit I might need some help to manage everything that was happening, I remember picking up my phone at 2am, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, and feeling slightly humiliated as I typed into Google ‘caring in your 20s’. I felt even worse when I saw that the first two pages of results were variations on how to find the right skincare routine, and how to take care of my ‘youthful figure’, and quickly diverted to Instagram to remind myself what I should be doing instead. It didn’t matter that I was exhausted, lost and terrified — I got the memo that these weren’t things I should be thinking about right now.

Being a ‘young adult carer’ (a term so bland I despair) is hard enough when you’re battling the narrative of ‘do it while you’re young’ and ‘make the most of this time to yourself’, without the extra guilt of trying to figure out whether you should even be talking about this stuff at all. Was there any wonder that in the five years I’ve been looking after mum, I’ve only met a handful of people in a similar situation. If 1 in 4 of us have a mental health illness in our lifetime, how come we haven’t heard from any of the people supporting them?

As I grew slightly more confident in recognising what my role in our situation really was (not just a good daughter, thanks guys), I then stumbled into the second barrier that carers, and especially those who are younger, encounter all the time. My identity was tied to another person, and in accepting I was a carer, I had to accept that my experience of this situation was deeply rooted in someone else’s reality. In reaching out for support and saying ‘hey, this is difficult’, was I undermining my mum’s own struggle, and even worse, was I betraying her trust by speaking up and asking for help?

One of the big things I wanted to deal with when I started writing about our experiences — my experiences — of what happened to mum was starting the messy task of separating what was happening to me, from what was happening to her. It felt impossible to try at first, and the self censoring was so real it had me reading back old diaries going ‘but, it probably wasn’t as bad I made out, maybe I was just being dramatic’, lest I accept that sometimes doing an inherently good thing, motivated by love, can feel totally, utterly hideous.

In the end, that was the realisation that made me believe there is a place for something like The Caring Collective.  

It’s not a place where I claim to have all the answers (or in fact any on some things) but it is a place where the mixed middle of being a carer is brought out of the shadows. These are complicated feelings, never ever made any easier by a vow of silence we’re expected to take for fear we might say something that doesn’t fit with what we’re told: caring for someone you love is the easiest thing in the world, they’re the only thing that matters, and ‘you shouldn’t be worrying about something like that at your age’. It took me too long to realise that there are no rules with this stuff, it’s messy — but hearing so can be hugely helpful.

When I think about the power that something like The Caring Collective could have for liberating us all from the idea that you can’t talk about things like this, I feel incredibly hopeful — and for someone with experience of managing complex mental health issues — that is no small thing. 

It’s likely that I will be caring for my mum in some capacity for a very long time, if we’re lucky. I don’t want that side of my life and everything I’ve learnt to be condemned to the pile of ‘not relevant’ just because it might not fit with what we’ve come to expect. Instead, I want everyone who sees themselves in some of what I describe to know it’s ok to want to share it. It’s ok to take up that space, and I’d actually really love it if you came and joined me.

Kate Oliver is a writer and charity professional, originally from Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Despite migrating south, she still spends a lot of time in the North supporting her mum, who is her inspiration for setting up ‘The Caring Collective’ and sharing her experiences of being a carer. When Kate isn’t in transit, she spends as much time as she can in cold water (but draws the line at the River Don).


Mindful tips for managing work and life during the pandemic

Words: Heather Howard-Thompson

Heather Howard-Thompson is a Cognitive Behaviorioural Pyschotherapist and Director of Yorkshire Psychotherapy Limited, living in sunny Yorkshire.

What a year this has been! We’re all trying to juggle the normal life struggles with the added pressures of working from home, financial pressures, isolation,  home schooling and continuing uncertainty. These all add up to overthinking,  anxiety, stress, overwhelm and ultimately can make us pretty miserable. While there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, it can help to learn techniques to manage how you’re feeling until life can start to get back to some sense of normality. That’s where mindfulness can help. You might have heard of it; it’s been a bit of a buzzword for the last few years. 

So, what is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally (Kabot-Zinn, 2012). It is a trainable skill of being more present and aware of our thoughts and feelings so that we are better able to manage them. Mindfulness is often taught to children and adults as part of treatment for common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it. Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions.

Research in Neuroscience has discovered that the brain can change its structure and activity. It is called Neuroplasticity. Kabot-Zinn* found that people who regularly practiced mindfulness showed more left-sided brain activity than right in important areas concerning emotional regulation. This suggests an increased ability to deal with situations in a more positive and balanced way. You might be thinking, sounds great, but I haven’t got time for it. The great thing about mindfulness is that you can integrate into your day-to-day activities! 

5 Top tips for Informal Mindfulness Practices

1. Mindfulness in your normal routine

Pick an activity that constitutes part of your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth, shaving, making the bed, or taking a shower. When you do it, totally focus attention on what you’re doing: how your body feels, what you can taste, touch, smell, what you can see, hear, and so on, use your senses. Notice what’s happening with an attitude of curiosity. 

For example, when you’re in the shower, notice the sounds of the water, notice the temperature of the water, and the feel of it in your hair, and on your body. Notice the smell of the soap and shampoo, and the feel of them against your skin. Notice the sight of the water on the walls or shower curtain, the water dripping down your body and the steam rising upward. Notice the movements of your arms as you wash. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, and let them come and go like clouds passing in the sky. As soon as you realise that your mind has wandered, gently acknowledge it, note what the thought was that distracted you, and bring your attention back to the shower. 

2. Mindfulness of domestic chores 

Pick an activity such as ironing clothes, washing up, dusting—something mundane that you have to do (what I call boring jobs!) – and do it mindfully. For example, when ironing clothes, notice the colour and shape of the clothes, the sound of the steam, the creak of the ironing board, the faint sound of the iron moving over the material. Notice the grip of your hand on the iron, and the movement of your arm and your shoulder. 

If boredom or frustration arises, simply acknowledge it, and bring your attention back to the task at hand. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them be, and bring your attention back to what you’re doing.

3. Mindfulness of pleasant activities 

Pick an activity you enjoy such as cuddling with a loved one, stroking the cat, playing with the dog, walking in the park, listening to music, gardening, taking a bath, and so on. 

Do this activity mindfully: engage in it fully, using all five of your senses, and savour every moment. If and when your attention wanders, as soon as you realise it, note what distracted you, and re-engage in whatever you’re doing. 

4. Mindful walking

When you’re out on a walk, take time to pay attention to the feeling of your feet on the floor, the sensation of your arms as they swing back and forwards. Notice the temperature, what you can see, hear, how your body feels. Again, if your mind wanders (which it will!) try and bring it back to noticing while you walk, without judging yourself. 

5. Mindful eating (my favourite!)

We often eat mindlessly, without paying much attention. Try eating a meal mindfully. Eat slowly, savouring every mouthful. Notice the smells, the sensation of your mouth watering at the thought of food, your stomach rumbling. Chew each mouthful slowly and purposefully and you’ll see how much more flavourful your food tastes! 

I hope you find the exercises helpful, remember to keep practicing, they get easier the more you try. 

You can follow me on Facebook where I have quite a few mindfulness exercise videos and on Instagram @yorkshirepsychotherapy. On our website we have some helpful blog posts about managing through the current pandemic and more information about the services we offer.

We have a great team of experienced mental health professionals who offer a range of evidence-based therapies for mental health issues. All our therapies can be accessed via online platforms (Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp) and you don’t have to live in Yorkshire to access us!

*Kabut-Zinn J (2013) Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Piatkus 

The Edit: In Conversation with L’Oréal Blackett, Journalist and Broadcaster

What does it mean to be influential in today’s digital world? Is success only measured by how you’re perceived online? And if you have influence, how do you use it for good?

In the midst of lockdown and eager to find out the answers to these questions, journalist and broadcaster L’Oréal Blackett, created her own podcast, The Edit, which delves into the world of influencer culture. Unpacking the truth behind the likes, shares and hashtags, L’Oréal is using her voice to find out what it’s really like to have a personal brand, exploring the impact of having a popular presence online and how this has affected the individuals and brands dominating our social media feeds. 

Having worked for the likes of the BBC, Bustle and Body Confidential, in a variety of reporting and broadcasting roles, alongside a number of gigs as an ambassador and presenter for businesses including Bumble, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, L’Oréal is by some people’s definition an “influencer”.  However, like many women in journalism, she sometimes struggles with the idea of curating her own brand. Hence the creation of The Edit, a way to better understand the realities and expectations of influencer culture and the role that we all play in this shifting digital narrative. 

Born and bred in Manchester, L’Oréal knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the media, “I was just set on it, it was either that or be a dancer”, she tells me over zoom, seemingly the most popular medium for conducting interviews, podcasts and webinars under lockdown. Taking a traditional route into the industry, she studied Broadcast Journalism at the University of Leeds before landing a placement aged 21 at MediaCity, the BBC’s Salfordian home, and as they say, the rest is history.

Well not quite, because to gloss over L’Oréal’s various career achievements, which include an editorship at Body Confidential, would diminish the hard work and determination that she, and many other women working in journalism – an industry dominated by white males – have put in over the years.

According to a report written for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism by Suzanne Franks, a professor of Journalism at City University London, women substantially outnumber men in media training but very few secure senior jobs and the pay gap between female and male journalists remains considerable. In another study by Reuters, released in 2016, it was reported that journalists were 94% white. Whilst publications such as gal-dem, Black Ballad, FEM Zine and Yellowzine have sought to make media and its reporting more diverse, recent events show just how much work still needs to be done in order to create a more representative media landscape. 

For L’Oréal, a regular contributor to online platform Bustle, the roadblocks to success were apparent very early on. “It took me a while to really understand that media is a business before anything else,” she says. “From the SEO, to the clicks and links and everything like that, as much as some media organisations want to show themselves as quite radical, or tell the kind of taboo stories, you know the reality is they’re quite scared – scared of offending their core audience.”

Just a few weeks earlier, L’Oréal had written a piece for Bustle, who she credits as one of a number of platforms giving writers such as herself, a space to write about her own experiences and those of other women of colour, about the lack of mental health provision for black women and why it is imperative that this is put on the agenda. Exploring the narrative that Black women are stronger than others, L’Oréal sought to show that this doesn’t tell the whole story and that provision, access and representation with regards to mental health services is simply not where it needs to be to positively help and support women of colour. 

 L’Oréal explains that she feels now is the time to delve deeper into these subjects, which, in the past, she didn’t feel she could because the conversation wasn’t yet open enough. “Obviously the industry has changed. I would still write about mental health but in a broad way, but as a  journalist it now feels like the right time to talk about something that does resonate with me but also with a lot of people,” she explains. “It’s great when I’m working with Bustle or other womens’ magazines, they’re open to sharing a wealth of stories, so I feel empowered by that. I feel comfortable writing about those things.  I’m pleased to be able to speak about something that can be quite difficult in the black community.”

Part of the reason L’Oréal remains hopeful – in spite of both the racism and sexism she has faced in the industry – is because of her strong relationship with her family, who have always supported her dream to be journalist or fashion editor. “Maybe it’s a weird naivety in me but sometimes I feel I will always succeed, it’s been drummed into my head from my parents,” she says with a smile. “I never thought I couldn’t do something, but I did realize soon enough that it might be slightly more difficult. I wouldn’t say I’m thick skinned but I am so determined.” This dedication to her craft is supported wholeheartedly by her family who she credits for always inspiring and uplifting her, especially during the earlier phases of lockdown – a time that gave her the chance to press pause and consider her next steps.

Despite her year not getting off to the start that she had planned, the arrival of lockdown set off something inside of L’Oréal, who after taking some time out to focus on her health and wellbeing, through running and outdoor workouts, began to consider new ways to channel her media skills, which eventually resulted in the creation of The Edit podcast. 

“Not to diminish what the virus is at all, but lockdown has grounded me and made me think about what I do. I think of ideas all the time and I don’t know where to put it sometimes,” she says taking a sip of her freshly brewed coffee. “You like talking so just do the podcast. I started there and just focused on one project. I centered in on the things I want to do and the podcast has been a natural fit and also a great distraction; what a time to explore another facet of yourself that you’ve never had time to do.”

Applying what she had learnt from her time in broadcasting, L’Oréal began to ask, what does it mean to have an influence in today’s digital world, speaking to guests such as Haçienda legend DJ Paulette, designer of positive vibes Zara Khalique and tech entrepreneur Melissa Snover about their experiences of influence, the sacrifices they have taken to keep up appearances and what it means to have a voice in today’s society. The podcast has also led the esteemed journalist to examine her own online presence and the side effects of time spent online.

“Instagram is a minefield, especially when it’s so image-led. I struggle with that. I love fashion, music, all of it, but I love to write and read, but I don’t always know how to marry it,” explains L’Oréal. “With the podcast, that’s me being me, you have to be yourself. That’s what a personal brand should be.”

Having seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of social media it seems like L’Oréal is already understanding what it means to have a significant degree of influence and has made sure to use it to challenge stereotypes and ask the difficult questions that need to be answered in these particularly polarized times. Meanwhile, she advises those looking to pursue a career in media to use Instagram and other platforms on their own terms. “There’s so many more opportunities for journalists now thanks to social media. Go get more than you ever could, whether it’s talking on panels, speaking, doing courses – you can supplement your income using it,” she concludes. “So don’t be afraid, don’t be controlled by how everyone else is using it, don’t let it be a negative thing, because it doesn’t have to be.”

You can read more of L’Oréal’s articles here and listen to the latest episode of The Edit here.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Images: Courtesy of L’Oréal Blackett

Getting to Know Jessicarr Moorhouse: Doctor, Physiotherapist and Personal Trainer

Whether you’ve brought your trainers out of retirement, purchased a new mountain bike or woken up to the sound of PE with Joe Wicks over the past few weeks, chances are your attitude towards exercise has been affected by the Coronavirus crisis. 

Life under lockdown has brought even greater attention to the benefits of movement and physical activity and many of us have turned to cycling, walking and running to keep active outdoors. According to Sport England across the first six weeks of lockdown, 63% of people  found exercise to be pivotal to their mental wellbeing and many have turned to new health and wellness rituals to keep active whilst staying at home.

Not surprisingly, the fitness industry was one of the quickest to adapt to the UK’s quarantine measures and within a matter of days a swathe of home workouts, led by some of the country’s top personal trainers and fitness brands, were made readily available for people across the nation to get stuck into. From Instagram live HIIT classes, to Youtube yoga tutorials and virtual PE lessons, resources for at-home exercise have never been easier to access. 

Cue Jessicarr Moorhouse, a Manchester-based Doctor, Physiotherapist, Personal Trainer and Founder of TRIBE.MCR– an innovative health and wellness initiative specialising in group workouts, personal training sessions and specially curated corporate wellness programmes – who has been keeping her clients motivated throughout the crisis with her weekly workouts and impromptu fitness raves. 

Image: © Madeleine Penfold

Jessicarr established TRIBE.MCR in 2018 after deciding to take a step back from full-time medicine and pursue other career opportunities in the field of movement and exercise – two things that she has always been extremely passionate about. Building upon her extensive knowledge and time spent in hospitals learning about physiology, exercise prescription, gait analysis and postural assessment, Jess ventured into the fitness industry and gained her personal training accreditation, which then led her to create TRIBE.MCR. 

Image: © Madeleine Penfold

“It was about establishing a tool for helping people to feel good mentally and to be able to do that with meaning in an environment that felt inclusive,” explains Jessicarr. Rather than focus too much on the aesthetic outcomes of a fitness routine, the doctor-turned-personal trainer has an honest and holistic approach and is one the city’s biggest advocates of exercise that boosts people’s wellbeing and social connection to others.

Prior to lockdown, Jessicarr hosted weekly outdoor workout sessions in Manchester’s Sadler’s Yard situated near to Victoria train station, as well as weekend classes in the picturesque Marie Louise Gardens located the suburb of West Didsbury, and through hard work and a positive attitude, she has been able to establish a friendly and welcoming offering for anyone wanting to keep fit and look after their mental and physical wellbeing. 

Image: © Madeleine Penfold

Rather than an exclusive club for fitness fanatics and cardio converts, Jessicarr created TRIBE.MCR to show people how movement can be a medicine rather than just a way to lose weight or reach a new personal best. 

Over the past two years she has collaborated with a number of like-minded individuals to spread this message even further working with the likes of Sacha Lord, Manchester’s Night-Time Economy Advisor to offer free monthly group training sessions for those in sector; Photographer and Yoga Teacher Madeleine Penfold and Creative Strategist and DJ Alice Woods to curate Shake Your Soul, an event combining feel good moves, yoga flow and live music; and healthcare providers and charities such as Greater Manchester Moving and Manchester Cares, to engage with people of all abilities and ages. 

Like many others, Jessicarr has adapted her offering for the digital realm during lockdown, pivoting toward zoom workouts and sharing her own fitness routine via Instagram. She has also continued to work for the NHS, fitting locum shifts around her PT work, which has helped keep her busy and active amidst the ongoing crisis. 

TRIBE.MCR captured by Madeleine Penfold

“I personally find the public support fantastic, however the news and narrative around the pandemic is constant and can be stressful, there’s no respite, she explains.” And yet despite the current circumstances, Jessicarr is grateful to still be teaching and connecting with her clients and even thinks she could utilise these online platforms post-lockdown. With less commuting and rushing between appointments Jessicarr has also found time to establish some better eating habits, doing a weekly shop rather than eating on-the-go and grabbing takeaway coffees (though Greater Manchester does have some brilliant independent coffee shops, so we can’t blame her). 

Driven by her passion for movement and desire to make people feel good, Jessicarr also shared some of her wisdom for keeping mentally and physically active during lockdown. From embracing the warmer weather and getting outside, to making sure to always do a warm-up and warm-down when doing more vigorous exercise, she believes that now could be the perfect time to adopt a new exercise habit, as you can do as little or as much as you like.

Despite these uncertain times, Jessicarr continues to be a positive influence for her existing clients and those just starting out on their fitness journeys. A champion of movement as medicine and exercising for feel good vibes, we’re sure that she will continue to be force for good in Manchester’s wellness community during and post lockdown. 

To find out more about TRIBE.MCR and Jessicarr’s weekly workouts and one-to-one session visit the website here.

To book a session with Jessicarr visit her booking page here.

Words: Jenna Campbell

My Oxymoronic Identity: A Domestic Abuse victim as a Domestic Abuse Support Worker

Evie Muir, Sociologist, Intersectional Feminist and Domestic Abuse Specialist who works with BAMER victims, shares a personal account of the abuse she suffered and her work as a Domestic Abuse Support Worker

Words: Evie Muir

In all likelihood, the next time I receive support from a practitioner will be whenever I have my next breakdown. I say when, not if, because through the fog of mental health issues, the reality is that without professional intervention a breakdown is probable. This defeatist outlook derives from being informed on precisely how underfunded, understaffed and undervalued the social sector specifically, the domestic abuse sector, is.

I am a domestic abuse support worker. My role is to emotionally and practically support victims. Imperatively, I am the person that believes them, who is on their side. However, on a daily basis I witness how a sector designed to uphold the wellbeing of vulnerable people, regularly fails victims of abuse. Legislation may be in place, services may be available, but prosecution rates are abysmal and waiting list times are deplorable.  

As a domestic abuse victim, I feel the weight of this patriarchal structure on a personal level. I was failed at 16 when I went to the doctors, yearning for some magical cure to the mental health repercussions of an abusive relationship. Instead, I was hurriedly dismissed by a GP who said: “everyone your age goes through breakups”, the immensely damaging effect of unhealthy relationships during adolescence both ignored and left to fester. I was failed by a psychiatrist in a mental health ward, whereby I was sectioned for 2 weeks whilst my abuser walked free.

Image: Evie Muir

This abuse is termed gaslighting and it is defined as “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”. I was failed by my mental health practitioner, who after a couple of months of relatively ineffective CBT discharged me with the advice to self-refer to a specialist DV service, neglectfully leaving the responsibility of a monumentally overwhelming task to someone who had deferred her Master’s degree, quit her job and spent most of her time in bed. Months went by before I felt capable of seeking organisations, only to find that all but one free counselling service had closed waiting lists: as of January, I am on a 12 month waiting list, it’s unjustifiable.

I was also failed by the police. When leaving the relationship escalated the abuse; he lost control, he was triggered and he proceeded to stalk and harass me incessantly. One weekend, following days of harassment, he escalated to waiting outside my mum’s house in his van – a van he later locked me in when I resolved that it was safer for me to go to him, than for him to break into the house. The police took 11 hours to arrive, by which time he’d left moments earlier; the police said they didn’t need his contact details and wouldn’t be speaking to him at this time.

Within those 11 hours, he brought the girl he cheated on me with into the van, sneering up at the window, relishing in the pain he was inflicting on me. When you measure abuse as the impact an act has on a person, cheating – particularly cheating with over 50 people – is one of the most abusive acts imaginable. His cheating was unprecedented, yet he manipulated this by using my ‘unfounded’ paranoia as his defence; making me doubt my sanity, rationality and reason until I distrusted my reality. He’d use the threat of cheating as a means of control, warning me that “if I didn’t come home immediately he’d get someone else to” and if I dared resist, I was locked out and only allowed back in if I stripped at the door, which he watched through the peep hole. This is coercive control.

After the police’s negligence, every incident of harassment that I’d have been in my right to report (including him breaking into my car and stealing the one item which identifies my whereabouts: my diary), along with all professional judgement, was overshadowed by the stigma in being made to feel like a nuisance by the police. When I next reported him, he’d managed to harass me from the confinements of a jail cell – this the police took seriously. Nevertheless, when I made a statement, I was informed that before a stalking and harassment charge could be made against someone, they must first receive a warning, in assumption that the perpetrator ‘doesn’t know’ that their actions are causing harm). This means that if the police officer had given that warning after the van-outside-the-house incident, I’d have legal protection by now. Let that sink in.  

Image: Jimmy Marble

“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” when applied to domestic abuse is synonymous with victim blaming. After a physically violent first relationship whereby a jealous and insecure boy obliterated my self-esteem as a means of control, I was an easy target for someone even more manipulative and sadistic than the first. Like most victims, who have underlying trauma, I became trapped in The Cycle of Abuse. I associated love with pain. After a turbulent, abusive, unhealthy relationship with a mentally ill, financially unstable misogynist, who needed mothering by his girlfriend, had a drug and alcohol dependency, a criminal history, and a propensity towards 16 year old girls, it finally ended last year, but the trauma still consumes me.

Managing my ongoing experiences of abuse, and the deep-rooted trauma, which presents itself in panic attacks, insomnia, oppressive distrust, constant fear and obsessively checking registrations of vans (no matter where in the country) whilst also working in an emotionally labour-intensive role, requires energy and resilience I often can’t utilise. In a professional setting, I am confident that my experiences afford me higher echelons of empathy, dedication and expertise, but often, it is simply too close to home. Identifying with cases resurfaces suppressed memories and the relief of momentarily forgetting that you too are a victim is not a familiar luxury. Nevertheless, this job has facilitated my realisation that I myself need help, and hopefully I, like the women I support, will finally receive the help that I’ve needed for almost a decade.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.