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Open letter campaign

"All she said was 'how are you, Janet' and I burst into tears."

Almost all of us have suffered loneliness from time to time, but these feelings can be amplified when caring.

As part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness’ spotlight on carers (14 August – 17 September), we urged carers to write anonymous open letters to the people who have made them feel less or more alone – perhaps without even realising it.

The anonymous letters could be aimed at anyone who has impacted on how lonely you feel: from a doctor who listened, to an unsupportive friend who didn’t.

The aim is to start a conversation about loneliness, grow understanding of how caring can be isolating and share experiences of what can help to break this isolation.


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A letter from Janet

Dear       ,

Although I see myself as a strong person I had been feeling very flat and low. I have cared for more than 30 years – for my sons who have autism and other behavioural issues and other family members, who may have taken ill for long or shorter periods of time. Most recently, I’ve cared for my mother-in-law who had a dementia diagnosis and couldn’t cope living on her own any longer.

I don’t know how I’ve coped for all that time; I do try to stay positive. Life can be so busy as a carer, I might not spend every day on my own, but I lose the sense of who I am and that makes me feel lonely.

I’d always enjoyed going to carers’ events in the past but I booked into one when I was feeling low and I was dreading going. I pushed myself to attend but I was quieter than usual. One carer noticed I seemed a bit reserved. All she said was, “how are you Janet?” and I burst into tears.

I told her how I was feeling and that I’d had enough. My life felt like the exact same day over and over again. Nothing was new, nothing was changing and I felt like a robot with no time for my real feelings to come to the surface. I cried throughout the whole conversation. It was the release I needed, but I never managed to tell her just how nice it was to have an opportunity to talk to another carer who understood.

It might have only been one short chat, but she made me feel much better for weeks.

With thanks to       ,

Janet


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A letter from P

Dear X,
A few years ago I was going through a terrible time. It was hard enough caring for my two children, both of whom have autism, but when their mother died of breast cancer it dramatically increased the feelings of stress and isolation. To say nothing of the grief that I felt at losing the love of my life. We had just moved to a new town and I knew barely anybody. I was exhausted, bewildered, anxious and struggling to cope from day to day.

And then came the worst moment, when my youngest son was involved in a car accident that almost cost him his foot. He was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery, and in the ambulance all I could think was that I had failed to be there for him when he ran out into the road.
That was when I reached out to you. I didn't know you that well, but I had an instinct that I could rely on you to say something calming. I was right.

The first thing you said was "breathe", and I stopped feeling like I was drowning.

You reassured me my son would recover and that I would look after him well. You restored my confidence and stopped the whirling in my head. Most of all you gave me the space to vent my deepest fears and worries, and gather the strength I needed to concentrate on helping my son recover. Putting my trust in you was one of the best decisions I ever made. Without that support I would have felt unbearably alone and helpless.

Now comes the hard part, because we are no longer in touch with each other. Months after the accident I sank into a dark place in my mind, which was still steeped in grief, and I said some things to you that were out of place. Loneliness makes you vulnerable, vulnerability makes you weak, and weakness can make you selfish and unreasonable. I know you should bury your regrets before they bury you, but this is one I'll carry for the rest of my days. By the time I was ready to say sorry it was too late.

Life is still hard at times, but I no longer feel that sense of deep despair. I date the start of my recovery to the day you replied to my cry for help from the back of an ambulance. You were neither the closest friend nor the best friend I ever had, but you were the friend who put out a hand when I was on the edge of a cliff and held it steady while I hauled myself back up. For that I will always be grateful.

Yours in friendship,

P


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A letter from Amanda

Dear          ,
Thank you seems so inappropriate, for your help and understanding.

You gave me the strength to face my fears of guilt, shame and the stigma of being a parent to a child with addiction.

For months I kept myself hidden, till the day I went to a carers meeting, I felt, I can do this.

I took to my feet to tell of my pain/anguish. I burst into tears. Not as strong as I thought, but you held my hand and said I done good.

Everyone there understood how I felt and the support has been ongoing ever since. What happened that day has given me the strength to talk, inform others and I have learned to cope with the feelings of guilt, shame and the stigma.

I owe you so much. 

Amanda,
Essex


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