A very tired and possibly hungover man I worked with early on as a Support Worker told me - "You're not a carer. You're paid to do this shit." A wise woman I worked for told me - "Don't eva call yaself a carer luv cos tha real ones'll rip ya a new one."
I get it. I was paid an hourly rate, with penalties, sick leave, holiday pay, even salary sacrifice in some cases. What I took home each week wasn't graded on the 'needs' of the clients I supported. If I sat with a man for three hours and got soundly beaten in game after game of backgammon I was paid for my time. If I was sent to 24hr shifts where sleep wasn't an option I was paid - well. I've provided personal care that may take ten minutes - may take three hours. It is accepted that to have support provided by an individual, the individual requires adequate recompense for their time and expertise.
As a carer - its a totally different story. You have to prove your worth and the value what it is you do to care for your loved one. There are Carer benefit schemes and allowances provided by government, but it is by no means an easy or guaranteed process. For many years, I was privileged to be invited into people's homes and trusted to care for their loved ones. It is something I never took lightly - more for the fact that no matter how hard and draining it may've been for me, I got to leave.
I approached Carers Queensland early on in the piece to gauge their interest in being involved in the creative development of Yielding. I had draft scenes, but felt the necessity to hear more from carers beyond the context of my observations as a support worker. I knew from experience that many carer's are reluctant to give up their time to a random stranger coming with yet another new idea to get 'their story told'. There were two ways I expected carers to react. I'd either be told to sod off "what business is it of yours?" or the flood gates would open and several hours would fly by on tales of doctors visits, respite traumas, hurtful things family have said and friendships that have slipped.
Carers Queensland facilitates support groups through out the state and allowed me - after seeking permission from it's members - to speak to several groups around the Brisbane greater area. I won't forget the experience in a hurry. In Capalaba, Westside - Kenmore and Brisbane South, I was astonished by the generosity and openness of every person. I had a series of questions and topics I wanted to cover but most of that went out the window. What I found most compelling was the self awareness of many in the meetings. Their ability to articulate what it means for them to care for a person - who in some cases is nothing like the person they loved - was remarkable.
"You can't explain it unless you've lived it"
"A front is put on. Behind closed doors - you either sink or swim."
"You can't live in grief everyday"
What I took away at the end of each meeting was that a carer's time is as precious as air. For each one of those people I met, talking to me cut into time they could've been spending on the thousand other tasks they needed to get done. I was beginning to understand the depth to which I would need to take Yielding. As a work, it would need to hover between the myriad of experiences of caring but retain a truth to which these people could see themselves reflected.
Oh, and after one of the meetings a carer approached me and said
"I knew you were a good egg as soon as you said you were a support worker, not a carer. "
So thank you tired, possibly hungover man and wise woman.