Back in 2012, I embarked on my first carer journey without fully realizing what was going on nor did I identify myself as a carer. Nevertheless, I was caring for an individual with alcohol and mental health issues. As a result, they were unable to work which placed immense pressure on me to provide mental, emotional, physical, and financial support.
I had been offered a fabulous big new job which came with a big salary increase – so naturally I snapped it up! I knew the job was going to be demanding with a lot of travel and with challenging situations to navigate and provide solutions for. It was a Senior Management position in an organization that was going through a lot of structural changes and thus required a lot of my attention.
However, despite promises of support, the behavioural issues with the individual I was caring for escalated. Whilst that was happening my support network, which included my mum and my best friend, diminished. My mum had a stroke. Luckily, she recovered well but naturally added to my worries and my determination not to tell her what was happening. My best friend immigrated to the United States to marry her now-husband, so she was not around for a while either, and I had no intention of putting a downer in her new life or worrying her.
Not having my support network, placed me under huge pressure and I started developing anxiety.
The anxiety preceded a serious health breakdown. After a lot of tests and a cancer scare, I was finally diagnosed with an immune disorder. I was given immune suppressants as treatment however whilst my immune system was compromised, I contracted a virus. The immune suppressant meant that my body could not naturally fight off the virus. The situation became critical and I was hospitalized, the visit was expected to be a few days, but complications meant I was in there for a few of weeks instead!
I have since recovered and am in a much better place – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
But had I known and identified myself as a carer and understood how caring for someone could affect me, I would have taken strategic steps and considered a whole lot of factors before taking on that fabulous big new job!
Are you in a similar position?
You might, for example, be caring for a loved one, gotten a divorce, had a car accident and a minor injury as a result. All these events in your life creates huge amounts of stress that could lead to a health breakdown. No amount of life events should be considered to be too little as each event in and of itself can be incredibly tough.
But how do you know if you are ready to take on a new job?
When is the best time for you to be applying?
Well, the first thing to do is to take the stress test.
In 1967, psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe decided to study whether or not stress contributes to illness. They surveyed more than 5,000 medical patients and asked them to say whether they had experienced any of a series of life events in the past two years. Each life event contributes to a different weighting to measure stress. The life events a person experiences contributes to a higher stress rating which then heightens the likelihood of that person falling ill.
Scores equal to or above 300 are considered high risk with 80% chances.
Scores between 150 and 299 are moderate risk with 50% chances.
Scores below 150 are considered low risk.
Doing the test in hindsight revealed a score of 481 so it’s no surprise that I became so distressed then ill!
The stress test is very easy to use. You simply select yes or no for each event in the statements column that have happened to you in the last year or so. Then you click Calculate My Total.
Voila – it does everything for you!
The calculated score will tell you if you are of a high or low risk of illness or chances of a major health breakdown in the next two years.
This is not a definitive answer, nor does it define you. It is an indicator, and an indicator worth considering.
If you score 300 or above then it is likely that you will fall ill and it is perhaps not a good time to be taking on a new job and putting more pressure on yourself. The stress test gives you an indication of where you are currently and allows you time to reconsider your situation. It gives you permission to have a break. To take that well-deserved guilt free time off to look after you!
If I had known about the stress test beforehand, I would not have taken on another job at that particular moment in my life.
In addition, the stress test allows you to reorientate your life so that you get the support you need, be it from close friends and family, or your mentor or GP. That support will eventually allow you and get you to a space where you are able to enter the job market.
It allows you to take a step back – be kind to yourself – and ask for help.
Everyone is doing the best they can under their unique circumstance but do not underestimate the effect that stressful life events can have on your health.