In this blog, our Communications Officer, Lynsey Hadden, speaks to 57 year old Alison Mallett, a single mother caring full-time for her 23-year-old son, Aodán, who has complex and life-long disabilities. Read Alison’s story and how National Lottery funded Carers UK‘s Scotland branch is helping her rediscover who she is.
When I met Alison, her bubbly nature shone through and with an infectious laugh she talked about her life growing up.
She was a minister’s daughter, who went on to study fashion design before getting her dream job as a costumer for musicals including Phantom of the Opera.
She tells me, “For a short time between caring for my parents who became ill, and then caring for my children I actually had my own life for a while – and I definitely made the most of it!”
Growing up, Alison helped her dad, who was the Presbyterian minister with the charity, Variety Club, for the disabled, and also worked as a teaching assistant for children with additional support needs.
As a teenager she diagnosed with a rare, progressive brain disease called Periventricular Nodular Heterotopia, meaning she had to take several medications daily.
Alison had 6 miscarriages before having her son Aodán and daughter Alix. It was only later she was told that her medication was the reason for her miscarriages and had affected both of her children’s development in the womb.
Alison and Aodán
Scottish-born but raised in Canada, Alison now resides in Aberdeen with her two children. She is a full-time unpaid carer for her son, 23-year-old Aodán, who has Foetal Valproate Spectrum Syndrome, Autism, Scoliosis, and other disabilities which means he needs around-the-clock support.
“Aodán used to attend a development programme after school but any progress he made was tarnished by the pandemic, he completely regressed. He got to a point where he couldn’t even spell his own name anymore.
“Over time, his anxiety got worse, and the number of meltdowns increased because we were sheltering, unable to go about our daily routine.”
Alison tells me that she now only gets four hours a week to herself, when Aodán attends Personal Training Sessions which are provided by her local council.
“They say that he can stay for longer and go to the café if I wanted more time to myself, but we can’t afford to eat out, so he’s collected straight after his sessions.”
Alison’s limited time to herself and her difficult experiences have had a huge impact on her mental wellbeing. After being diagnosed with long COVID, Alison told me the gruelling anxiety she faces over her deepest fear.
“Due to my illness, I have a compromised immune system, I worry in case I get sick again. If something were to happen to me, my kids wouldn’t have anyone, and I hate to think what would happen to them. My anxiety means I tend to stay at home, and it takes a lot for me to even step into my garden.
“I know that’s not good for my mental health which is why I am so grateful for the support I get from Carer’s Scotland and other carers going through a similar experience.”
Discovering Carers Scotland
Through Carer’s Scotland online sessions, Alison was able to make a connection with people outside her immediate family.
Funded with a National Lottery award of £9,787, ‘Care for a Cuppa’ provides a weekly space for unpaid carers to chat about their lives and exchange information. Now held on Zoom, it gives full-time carers respite with a chance to laugh, talk and make long-lasting friendships.
Alison beamed as she explained to me how the charity has helped change her life: “When I discovered Carers Scotland, it was just amazing, I felt like I was becoming a person again, they have helped me so much. If there’s something I don’t know, they’ll tell me, and they are just filled with a plethora of information.
“I’m learning how to be me again. I’ve been a carer for so long that I don’t know who I am anymore.“
“Carers Scotland have made me feel less lonely, they reassure me when I’m feeling anxious, they make me feel like I’ve got a purpose and that I’m a person outside of being a mum and carer. I look forward to the meetings. I really don’t know what I’d do without them.”
To find out more about what support is available for unpaid carers, you can visit the Carers UK website: https://www.carersuk.org/