Bridging Distances in Caregiving
Bridging Distances in Caregiving
An educator turned non-profit project manager, Angela is an advocate of community-driven and capacity-building approaches to creating social impact. But deep down, she believes that animals and good food are the keys to a better world – at least, they work for her.
Having missed out on the first mental health community event held by Our Better World last year (tickets ran out faster than toilet paper in a pandemic), I was full of anticipation for this second edition. I had heard so many amazing things about last year’s event – how honest the sharing was, how freely emotions flowed, how connected everyone felt, and how nobody wanted the evening to end. Now that the “STORYTALK: Caring for the Caregiver” event was virtual, I – along with participants from India, Indonesia, Singapore, and other parts of the world – could finally attend!
But now that it was virtual, would it be the same? Would we be able to relate to each other despite the physical distance? Would we experience the same intensity of emotion? Would our conversations be as uninhibited?
Turns out this would be the least of my worries. If anything, the mediated nature of our interactions seemed to only enhance the desire to connect and support as the panellists – Meena Mutha from Manav Foundation, Bagus Utomo from KPSI, and Tim Lee from Caregivers Alliance Limited – shared their personal stories and experiences with audience members.
As videos of the three featured organisations were screened, everyone was invited to reflect via interactive activities and there was hardly a moment when the chat box was not buzzing with encouraging comments. During the panel discussion that followed, questions on self-care, caregiver support, mental health during COVID-19, stigma surrounding mental illness, and so on, poured in from the floor. Familiar refrains we heard that evening included the intense love that motivates caregivers and the profound need for caregivers to take care of themselves – the latter of which is a cause that all three organisations have dedicated themselves to, in addition to supporting those with mental illness themselves.
“So grateful for this session! My mom is a part-time caregiver to my uncle, so this hits home.”
“Such a great session <3, hang on while I cry.”
“My father was a caregiver to a few family members, but I didn’t understand how tough it was for him until I was much older.”
The safe space created by the virtual event extended into the real world, as friends who had attended started texting me about their own caregiving journeys or about those of people in their lives. While I have not had to shoulder any major caregiving responsibilities, I felt able to, in turn, open up about watching my dad care for my mom who had a neurodegenerative disease when I was growing up.
Therein lies the power of bringing community together – whether onsite or online. We are more connected than ever, and stronger together, because of all we have individually and collectively gone through. You realise you’re not alone, listening to others gives you the courage to open up, and having more conversations transforms the narrative from being unspoken and taboo to one that acknowledges the staggering commonality of mental health issues and embraces a collaborative approach to managing it. At the same time, these conversations are opportunities to reinforce facts and debunk stereotypes which all push the needle towards the important goal of destigmatisation over time.
For me, what resonated the most about Meena, Bagus and Tim’s stories was how painful caregiving experiences in the past led them to supporting other caregivers now, in the hopes that others will not have to go through the same struggles and confusion as they did. As a “caregiver-to-be”, as we all are in Tim’s words, this encourages me to make the most out of the resources and networks that they and other caregiving advocates have created so that their efforts would not have been in vain. I hope you will too.
The event STORYTALK: Caring for the Caregiver is part of Our Better World’s Mental Health Series Silent No More: Giving Voice to Mental Illness. To find information, ask questions or provide answers on mental health matters, join the conversations in our forum page.