‘You’re doing the job of four people’ – Kilkenny mother of special needs kids reveals struggle in RTÉ interview
By SINÉAD CONNOLLY
A KILKENNY special needs activist and mother-of-four bravely spoke of the challenges she faces as a carer and of a parents of children with special needs in a moving interview on national radio today.
Linda Comerford spoke to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke following the publication of a new report by Carers Ireland titled Paying the Price, which looks at the impact caring has on carers’ mental and psychological health.
Linda, who is also a tireless campaigner and spokesperson for the ‘Enough is Enough – Every Voice Counts’ group, said: “From the time you have a child with additional needs you gave to hit the ground running, you have to become a researcher, you have to become an advocate, a lobbyist, a campaigner because you have to fight for services to ensure your child reaches their best potential.”
After she had her two younger children, their family life become even more hectic.
Appointments were multiplied and she and her husband were looking the children’s individual needs all by themselves. “You are doing the job of four people, because you have four kids and they all have such different needs and I just crashed,” Linda explained.
The moment she realised she needed help was when she started panicking about going into a shopping centre on a family day out. “I found I actually couldn’t go into a shop, and when I forced myself into a shop, I got claustrophobic, I panicked, my chest got tight, I had to leave.”
Feeling scared, she made an excuse to her husband that they should get lunch just so that she could get out of the shopping centre. For no reason, Linda then found herself using baby wipes to take her makeup off on the street, while part of her was asking herself what was she doing. Looking back, she feels she had no control over her emotions or what she was doing.
Linda was worried that if she reached out and asked the state for additional support because she was struggling, that her kids would be put into foster care as a result. “I had a real fear that they would deem me to be unable to parent and take my kids away from me.”
Linda turned to Family Carers Ireland and asked for advice. They helped her to advocate for and get home support hours. She availed of counselling with Family Carers Ireland and at their urging she went to her GP and confided how she was struggling. “I really can’t put into words exactly what they have done for me and what they continue to do for me today,” Linda explains.
The report by Family Carers Ireland found that resources or supports for carers have not improved in the last 10 years.
Catherine Cox, Head of Communications and Carer Engagement, with Family Carers Ireland, said: “Of the carers surveyed, 71% of those carers have no access to respite, despite the fact that most of them are caring 50 hours a week plus, and in some cases 100 hours a week plus.”
The impact of being a long-time carer without necessary and vital support means carers themselves are suffering. “Of the carers surveyed, 48% themselves have been diagnosed with mental health illness, the biggest one being depression. And 67% have been diagnosed with physical illness, like back pains and stress related illnesses,” Catherine added
“If carers, like Linda, got the supports that they needed, if they got regular respite, if they got emergency respite when they needed it, if they got someone to come into their home when they needed it, then those pressures would not be so great. And they would be able to care safely and quite happily, because people want to care for their loved ones, as Linda said. They cannot do it alone, it has to be a shared responsibility.”
Linda said that even though she now gets home support hours, she is not allowed to leave the house because of the loco-parentis rule. So while she is getting back-up she is not able to leave the house for a break or to do errands.
“I love my children, I love caring for them. Sometimes I do get resentful that my life has changed so drastically. I can’t leave my home to even get a carton of milk,” Linda said.
PHOTO: Linda Comerford with her family