As part of Carers Rights Day 2016, Donna shares her experience of caring for her partner, who has a diagnosis of bipolar.

Carers Rights Day - 25 November 2016

Tell us about yourself

I work full-time as a manager of a homeless hostel for men and women with all sorts of complex needs, including mental health. I've been with my partner for 11 years. During 2011 he was hospitalised and diagnosed with bipolar. This was a horrendous time because I was working and living with people with the condition and I had nowhere to turn.

During a trip to the Institute of Welfare, I came across two members of Bipolar UK and realised they were from Maidstone. I've been an active member of this group ever since and still support my partner who attends. I can relate to the issues individuals with bipolar have and - as we're a diverse bunch - we get along great.

What issues or challenges have you faced as a carer?

My partner and I have very stressful jobs. He's registered blind, which is also a difficulty. As a carer, I'm always on alert and watching out for my partner. As well as having bipolar and being blind, he now has a knee injury through many accidents caused by his lack of sight.

I'm on the go from 6am until 9pm when I know he's taken his medication. I also listen out for him during the night in case he gets up and has a fall, so sleep is not my priority.

As a carer, the challenges include accessing free time for myself and money to take time out to do other things with family members or just for me. There's a lack of support for people who work in the evenings and when a mental health crisis hits, it's hard to get the help we need without going to the A&E unit.

My constant challenges are keeping on top of the housework, DIY, taking time out for me, and holding down a full-time job.

As a carer/supporter, is there anything significant that you felt was helpful to your loved one?

I was always there for him to offload to due to us both not having family who we can talk to.

How do you look after your own health and wellbeing?

I stay active, walking and watching my diet. As for my own mental health, sometimes I have meltdowns when things are tough. My family members see me as resilient and, most of the time, I have to be. I've recently contacted my local carers' organisation for support when things are not going to plan and we meet up for a coffee to offload. I don't sleep very well but I think that comes with my role as a carer for someone with complex needs and who is high-maintenance.

What advice would you give to other family members/carers?

I would advise family members to find a local carers' organisation for support. Look after yourself by taking regular fresh air and exercise, even if it's for 20 minutes a day. Keep an eye on your diet by not taking too much sugar. Try and have some time for yourself, however small.

If you're a carer and need information or support, take a look at our services here.