As Mothers Day approaches I wanted to explain how the tough role of carer also inspired a new venture – into the world of fashion.
By Hannah Dunk
I was 19 years old when my mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. By the time I was 24 I was her full time carer. My life had changed completely, my dream of becoming an interior designer had gone out of the window.
I wanted to protect my mum’s dignity as much as possible. She has always been so glamourous that I thought it was unfair to expose the changes she had gone through. I wanted people to think she still had control over her life. This didn’t help me, but it was my job to help her.
Caring became my whole identity. I and everyone around me lost sight of who I was. I wanted to protect my mum’s dignity so I didn’t tell many people what I actually did for her; because of this people thought I didn’t have a job. Being on carers allowance is viewed as claiming benefits. People can’t see the 24-hour care you put so much work into. At the end of every week I felt no sense of achievement, had little money and no praise. It affected my mental health massively.
It was and still is very upsetting for me when I bump into people we know. No one asks how I am. Conversations always start with “Hi Hannah, how’s your mum?” I always reply with a huge smile on my face: “She’s fine, thank you” – but people look at me in shock, then ask more and more questions about her disability. I don’t think people realise how upsetting it is for me to talk about her illness; it saddens me – but she is still the same bubbly, glamourous person she has always been and that’s never going to change.
Things started to change for the better. My mum was allocated direct payments to pay for a caring agency to visit her at home four times a day. Mum had got so bad that she needed to be hoisted by two people, something I could no longer do. I don’t have children but I can imagine it’s how a mother feels leaving a child at school for the first day. It was hard for me to accept that other people were helping mum. How could they do the same job as me? They didn’t know her as well as I did. It took a long time to get a good balance of helping mum but letting the carers do as much as they could. This gave me time to work on ideas I had whilst I was caring for her.
I always found it hard to buy my mum clothes that were comfortable and fashionable. The fashion industry doesn’t cater for wheelchair users. It’s upsetting to see wheelchair users having skin exposed on their stomach as a carer pushes them. (The wheelchair user physically cannot move the material to protect their dignity.) I worked on designs and had prototypes made which my mum wore and tested. As my mum is hoisted I was thrilled to see my t-shirt design doesn’t rise to expose skin.
My mum is an absolute superstar! She is the strongest person I have ever met. My mum has the kindest heart and is happy to help me help other wheelchair users as well. My mum is only 55 and was diagnosed when she was 40. She has been through so much, as have my whole family. No matter what she still has a huge smile on her face and is happy for me to take photos and videos for my website. I’m very lucky to have her as my mum.