A Story of Resilience: You Can Do Anything
In 2019 I emigrated to London to be a performer. It was my dream, to be cast in theatre shows on the West End and at the Globe. Little did I know that, initially, I'd spend my time as a care worker. What follows is a deeply personal experience. I hope you get something from it. Some motivation. Some belief. Because, truly, you can do anything.
I arrived and threw myself into every single performing master class I could find. I networked as though my life depended on it. I was in dance classes, singing classes, acting classes, every single day. I learned songs and monologues. I put myself in front of other performers and casting directors to be looked at, judged, exposed. That’s how much I wanted this thing. How much I still want it.
Theatre was the love of my life. It was my alpha and omega. It made me feel whole. It was the sole reason for my existence. I left my family, my friends, my country, everything I knew and loved to pursue a career in the city where theatre is in the marrow of the buildings and the streets and the people who frequent them.
And then a pandemic happened.
I had just been cast in my very first UK production, Carousel. The work had paid off. The dream was happening. And poof. Gone. Finished. Canceled.
For everyone, though, right? It was a monumental moment...
I also lost the job I had. When you move to London from South Africa, and you bring over your hard-earned rands (one pound costs 22 rand), you know you don’t have the luxury of waiting for a theatre job to fall into your lap. So, I had been temping and working at a company as a quality controller for their surveys. So, at least I had money. Until 16 March 2020.
It all ended on that day. Literally. Everything ended on that day.
What happened after that was something I never expected in my wildest dreams. If you’d told me I’d be working as a care worker in London at the age of 38...well, no. Just...no.
I applied and was accepted. I went through all the training. I took the tests. I studied. I filled out the forms. I was a trained care worker.
Resilience is built
You can develop resilience. It is something that you can learn and grow in yourself. Promise. This article explains resilience better than I can.
I know for sure, after some pretty shit-tastic life experiences, that resilience is something you can nurture and develop inside yourself.
The definition of resilience is as follows: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
But real resilience, actual resilience, is far more complicated than that. It's more nuanced.
It can take many forms and shapes.
It can be quiet. It can be fierce. It can be peppered with moments of sobbing in the foetal position after your 13th zoom meeting of the day.
Resilient people seem to have a few things in common, though.
They're self-aware. They know who they are and what they want. They can put down boundaries. They know their limits.
Mindfulness. Be aware of what you're sensing and feeling in any given moment. It prevents you from shutting down or becoming overwhelmed.
They practice self-care. Enough said.
Positive relationships. This is HUGE. Look after your relationships. Have people around you whom you trust. People you can look to for advice. People who make you laugh.
They have a sense of purpose. They have a reason; a greater WHY.
What does being a care worker look like?
For nine months I visited people in their homes from 7am until 10pm. I was up at 5.30am every day. I lifted people. I helped them walk. I changed their nappies. I fed them. I clothed them. I bathed them. I cleaned their houses.
Some of them were incredible and funny and kind and wise and delightful. They were grateful and they were excited to see me. They told me about their time in the war. They told me about their deceased partners.
I did a crossword with one lady every Friday afternoon. A smart, funny, fantastically clever woman whose body was failing her, but whose mind was as sharp as ever.
I sat with a woman every Tuesday, who reminded me of my grandmother. She was alternately cranky and entitled, but also kind and warm and who only wanted to see her daughter and grandson, but couldn’t because of the pandemic.
I visited a woman three times a week, who I helped to bath and wash. She was alone for over a year because of the pandemic. She was also a chain smoker who believed she never ever got ill because the cigarettes killed the germs.
I visited another woman sometimes three times a day who had suffered several strokes and who was incandescent with rage because she had no power in her life. She swore at me and the other carers, and screamed at us, and threw things at us. She tried to kick us and bite us. I sat with her once and just asked her if she was okay. I asked her what she wanted. I asked her how I could help her. She told me she loved me. The next time she saw me, she told me to go back to South Africa, where I belonged. She was racist beyond measure. And then she’d say something funny and make me laugh, and I was so conflicted because I alternately disliked her, and wanted her to like me, at the same time. I put this down to my dysfunctional need to be adored by people in power.
I briefly visited a gentleman with Alzheimer's who did not want me there and threatened to throw me out the window. I left and never went back.
I went to a man every morning at 7am for almost the full nine months. I would wake him up, wash him and dress him. He was as deaf as a doornail so I'd spend 90 minutes every morning just yelling my head off. I made him breakfast and made sure he took his pills. I cleaned his dishes and made him tea. He always smiled. He always smiled. No matter what. Even after he was in hospital and no one exercised him for three weeks and he came home and he couldn’t walk. Even when he fell and I caught him and sat with him on the floor waiting for the ambulance. He smiled. When he could barely move and he could barely breathe, he smiled. He was my most regular customer. I loved him. He died just before I resigned.
I went to a woman three times a day who had vascular dementia. I woke her up every morning and put her on her Sara Stedy (a contraption with wheels for people who are immobile) and moved her to her commode. I provided her personal care. I washed her whole body, covering her up as I went because she didn’t want to be exposed. She had dementia, but she knew who I was. She called me ‘darling.’ She made me laugh. I made her laugh. I sang to her. She had dementia, but she was more present and real and full of life than most people I’ve met. I loved her. Resigning was incredibly hard because of her. Because she didn’t want anyone else washing her. I was her carer.
Those nine months were some of the hardest and most beautiful of my life. I knew that it was temporary. I knew that this wasn’t my calling. I started my copywriting business at the same time. I was writing in my car, between my shifts. I’d go and park in the parking lot of a park (that's a lot of 'parks'), and keep the engine running in the freezing cold British winter, and I’d write for my very first clients. I was EXHAUSTED.
It was a radical time. And I learned some things about myself, and humans, that I didn’t know:
I have a very strong stomach. I was urinated on and defecated on more times than I can count. I cleaned toilets and sheets and body parts that we don’t talk about in society. It was rough. I survived. So can you.
I am physically stronger than I realised. I am not a big person. I’m 5’5” and I weigh 52kgs. I moved grown people all over their homes on walkers, wheelchairs, Sara Stedys, and with my own weight. I am a rock star. So are you.
I get too emotionally involved. This was one of the reasons I had to stop. I saw some things that made me very angry and made me feel very helpless. People who were being neglected and ignored. Ultimately, it wasn’t something I could continue to be part of.
This job put me under physical, emotional, and psychological strain. It challenged me to my limit. So...starting a business? Piece of cake, motherfathers.
In fact, I wrote a blog about starting a business. It's like getting a puppy. Looooooads if toilet training needed. Looooooads of poo headed your way (this is a theme in my life. Can you tell?).
What can you learn from this?
When you serve, you get stronger. You learn. You grow. Don’t underestimate that.
Treat old people with kindness. Visit your elderly relatives. Treat them well. They are alive and vital and funny and experienced. They have incredible stories to tell. They are lonely. They love you. Love them back. To not do that is inhumane. It is cruel. We owe them more than what they’re currently getting.
The systems in place for the elderly and infirm are failing them. When they go into hospital, they get weaker, not stronger. When the nurses visit, they need to be followed up with. Care homes cost upward of 1500GBP per week. Put a system in place for yourself now. No matter your age. Trust me. This is more important than I can possibly put into words.
Treat your body well. That stuff you’re doing to it now...it’s gonna catch up. Treat it well.
If you are fortunate enough to have someone in your house who does your cleaning and cooking, who cleans your toilet, who looks after your house, treat them with respect. Show gratitude. Housework is hard. And it can be demeaning. Don’t be a doos (I’m looking at you, my fellow Saffers).
If you see a care worker in the shops or on a train, say thank you. Let them in ahead of you in the queue. They're tired, yo. They're tired in a way that's inconceivable, particularly during this time.
You’re stronger than you know. Truly. You think you’re not cut out for that thing. Try it first. You’ll be surprised. You can do anything.
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