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Being a carer at Uni - Carers UK Forum

Being a carer at Uni

For issues specific to caring for someone with mental ill health.
Hi, I'm quite new to this and I don't even know if I consider myself a carer, but the hospital described me as one so I guess I'm close enough.

I'm currently an undergraduate student living with 5 friends, one of which is my partner. We've not been together all that long, but we lived together last academic year too and we're pretty damn close. My partner suffers from ME/CFS, PTSD and an eating disorder. They require a lot of support generally, but at the end of November things became more serious as there was a period when I could not even leave them alone to go and shower without them attempting to hurt themself. There was a lot of distressing experiences around this time, including repeated suicide attempts, and it resulted in me taking my partner to a&e two days in a row before we started seeing people at the hospital every day or two.

Things have got a bit better but we're still kind of in a crisis and I live everyday in fear of coming home to find my partner dead. I missed a lot of university last term because of my own health problems and supporting my partner, this lead to me screwing up January exams and struggling to make it through the term. At the start of the new term I feel ok, but I'm just so worried that things are going to take over again and I won't be able to do my studies. It's super hard to concentrate because I'm so worried all the time, I've never had this much responsibility in my life (I turned 21 last week) and I feel way out of my depth. I get really frustrated as I don't feel like anyone else around me has to deal with the sorts of problems I have to deal with, and I feel like it's affecting my academic ability a substantial amount.

As much as this has been a massive rant, things have got a lot better and I think I can do this. I was just wanting to find other people who could relate really. Are there any other students here?
I studied for a degree part time, so know the work involved. It is totally unreasonable for you to be left to deal with all this by yourself. Your studies must take top priority or you'll regret it for the rest of your life. The parents, Uni, Social Services, Doctor, and hospital should all be taking action to support these fellow students.
Welcome to the forum.
How much does the uni know about your situation? If you haven't said anything already you need to open up to your personal tutor or programme/course leader. He/ she can then point you in the direction of the right uni support services. Fill in all the documents necessary to have extenuating circumstances applied to your assignments. You don't want to ruin your degree outcomes as your future depends on them, whether or not you are with your partner by then.
Is your partner also at the uni? If so he/she also needs to access uni support systems by opening up. You cannot handle this alone. Unis are used to supporting mental and physical health issues and have personnel to support - your fees don't just go on tuition and library access.
Good luck.
Thanks for the replies :)
Uni are aware of the situation and they have given me extensions on work and hopefully will be nice when it comes to exam results. My partner is also a student and also speaks to Uni, however uni have provided them next to no support. I see people through the University counselling service, but other than that there's not really a lot uni can do for us I don't think.
bowlingbun wrote:Your studies must take top priority or you'll regret it for the rest of your life.
See my studies were the top priority in my life, until I had to miss labs (which I wasn't allowed to miss) to take someone I care about to a&e. When it came to a life or death situation I realised I would fail my degree 10 times over and keep all the debt for the life of someone I love, and it's just unfortunate that I have to be prioritising these things. I know my degree is important and I take it very seriously, but if she kills herself and I didn't have her as my top priority, that is what I would regret for the rest of my life.
Yes, we have had members here who were students, one of them - who was also a Trustee of Carers UK, very tragically lost the love of his life last year due to a very serious terminal illness.
I can relate to what you are going through, and at the end of the day, 'Love conquers all'.
But when I was your age I also remember coming across some fellow students who were full of the drama of their own personal crisis to such an extent that they became unaware of others limited capacity for empathy, everything became centered on their own needs, their own tragedies, their own disastrous relationships with their parents, and so on. Ultimately many of these people ended up single: the pressure was simply impossible to sustain.
In the long run, however intense the feelings of protectiveness that you have for your partner, you must also learn how to stand back with some detachment, to avoid being sucked under, and that is the toughest job for every carer on this forum, one we have all faced, and one where we often fail. We want to care absolutely, but we all have limited capacity, and we are only any use if we are strong.
Scally wrote:In the long run, however intense the feelings of protectiveness that you have for your partner, you must also learn how to stand back with some detachment, to avoid being sucked under, and that is the toughest job for every carer on this forum, one we have all faced, and one where we often fail. We want to care absolutely, but we all have limited capacity, and we are only any use if we are strong.
Just read this in the library and nearly started crying right there and then. I think you hit the nail on the head with what I needed to hear there.
Robin Hi
I have just spoken to a family member who has achieved a first honours in counselling, qualified as a counsellor and is doing a PHd. I thought they might be aware of what to do in your situation. As others have said here, your tutors need to be aware and my relative did mention the 'Well Being Team' at Uni, who they said would help you as well as counselling. They said to ask for mitigating circumstances.
From your posts I guess you have already accessed most of this.
Robin, I remember being 21 at Uni. I remember being very much in love and how very, very important that person was. Can't quite remember their name now and certainly not what they looked like.
You have an extra reason. This person, you believe, really needs you and is likely to kill themselves if you aren't there for them full on. I'm not belittling your feelings, which I am sure are genuine, but in the next 10 years you will change as much as you have done in the last ten.
I'm going say something you will reject immediately, but please think about it.
This person needs help but YOU are not the one to provide it. This person threatens to kill themselves? How selfish.
How much do they care for you, knowing how devastated you would be in those circumstances? Too intent on their own 'drama' to consider you at all?
Take a step outside yourself. Imagine you are advising a sibling, a cousin, a good friend. What would you say regarding how, at this stage of University life, they are sacrificing themselves, their degree, their whole future to this person.
Would you not say, step away, point them towards the help they need but concentrate on your own life.
Do not get sucked into this emotional trap because of their need of a carer.
Stepping away won't make you a bad person. It doesn't mean you are selfish, uncaring or cruel. It means you are too inexperienced, too young in years and not yet secure and established enough to take on such an all consuming life time burden.
I wish you well
Hi Elaine
I appreciate your post and I can see what you're saying. I am very aware that in even 5 years time I could be completely over my partner, but that doesn't mean I should run away from this. If in this post I had been describing my partner as a close friend and housemate, I feel people would not be so ready to throw out the "they won't matter in the future" argument. Maybe they won't, but if any of my other friends needed me this much I would be there for them, my housemates are my family here, we are a team. We mostly have something wrong with us and have all had times we needed to lean on the others, it just happens to be more heavy one way. I do not care because I am romantically involved, I just care.
Elaine wrote:This person needs help but YOU are not the one to provide it.
The fact of the matter is that there is no one else to provide it. We discovered during this crisis that it's near impossible to get a high level of help from the local services, and even when you do, they can't be there all the time and they don't seem to help that much. My partner's family are not involved in the situation, and even if I thought it were a good idea to involve them, it's beyond my control. I am the only person my partner has a very high level of trust with, so whilst our other friends help a bit they simply cannot be as involved as I am.

Aside from all of that, I don't really think I can just 'step away'. I love this person, we live together, we have all the same friends, I can't just jump out of their life.
I respect your commitment and your decision. You present as having what we used to call an 'old head on young shoulders.' Your friends and partner are lucky to have you and you are lucky to have each other.
In the light of your declaration I will amend my sentence to say your partner needs help but you ALONE cannot provide it all.
So putting aside all queries as to whether you are hanging on in there because you feel you 'must' when perhaps you don't really want to, what 'help' do you actually need? Medical, practical, emotional, financial?
There are many people on this forum who deal with MH issues on a daily basis and could perhaps suggest something if they know what you need more exactly.

If you and all your friends have something 'amiss', have you gathered together and chosen to rent a house between you? A mutual support group? However has the group become isolated from mainstream Uni life and other peer support?

Have you tried the Well Being people at Uni? Your partner, if feeling suicidal, needs more than anti depressants. Perhaps professional help? At the very least decent counselling. Make sure you have explored all that the Uni can offer you. Can students union suggest anything? There's a charity called MIND. Look them up and see if there's any help there. I'm sorry to hear that there is no family support available. Your partner isn't hiding from parents to 'spare them' is she? As a Mum, I would not want to be protected from anything that was troubling my children and would far, far, rather know the worst and deal with it than find out later that I could have helped but didn't know.
Another web site to look up is Young carers or Young adult carers. Google that and find a number to ring or an address to e-mail. You could well find help and suggestions there.
All the best
I'm with the others on this - this is TOO MUCH for you to have to deal with!

What do your parents say about this? Do they know you are struggling with all of this?

People with MH issues - like your friend - are INCREDIBLY NEEDY! As others here are warning, they will not think 'Oh, I'm being very dificcult!' they will just 'collapse' all over you. Now yes, it may be desperation on their part, but they CANNOT AND MUST NOT 'use up' you for their own benefit.

You say you and your housemates are 'a team' - but what are they doing FOR YOU? Is it YOU doing all the 'looking after', and them doing all the 'accepting your help'??

To be honest, your partner (and personally I would challenge that description, because they aren't really a 'partner' - ie, shoulder to shoulder - at all, are they, they are a 'patient' with you as 'carer'.....) doesn't sound like they (she/he?) can cope with university life at all. If they really have tried to kill themselves twice, they need serious, serious help, medication, psychotherapy and possibly even hospitalisation and sectioning. You say their parents are not involved, but they SHOULD be. OK, so this person is over 18, but that does not mean their parents can just abandon or dump them. Does her/his parents know how ill their child is???

Again, I would say PLEASE talk to your own parents about this situation! My son is at uni, and if I thought he was going through what you are going through, I'd be horrified! And I'd be there like a shot, getting him re-housed and possibly even changing unis, just to get him away from this very dangerous and destructive relationship. (Or is that exactly why you are keeping your parents at arms length over this?)

If looking after this person is causing you the kind of interruptions to your studies that it is, then what on earth is it doing to them? Are they still functioning academically? Or are they not getting their assignments done and risking being sent down etc etc?

As for you, are you managing to keep up at all? What happened about having to miss labs? What about your own deadlines?

In terms of talking to other students, I'm assuming you've tried via your own student community/union etc etc. Is there anything useful going on in places like The Student Room online??? Or maybe directly on MH forums???

I know I've gone into 'Mum mode' (!) but everything you've said rings serious alarm bells with me!