Meet Sierra Flynn–O’Brien, a proud Wiradjuri woman. Bathurst born and bred, Sierra, like many young people her age, is a full-time university student and until recently also worked five nights a week saving up for her first car.
Unlike many young people her age, Sierra is the carer for her mother who has Dementia, a spinal injury which impacts her mobility, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression and Anxiety.
Last month we caught up with Sierra for a coffee and a yarn.
The Caring Journey
Sierra began her caring journey when she was just nine years old, initially sharing caring responsibilities with her older sister. At the time they were caring for both their mum and their younger brother, Liam, who has Autism.
“What they never tell you about being a carer is that there’s no flashing neon sign saying, ‘now you’re a carer’. You just find yourself doing more and more things…”
It was not until they were both in high school that they realised there was name for what they were doing.
“My sister came home from school and said she had been to a presentation that day about young carers. She said, ‘I had a talk with the presenter after – and we’re young carers!’ “
“I thought ‘no way! That can’t be it, we’re just helping mum out.’ But my sister said that ‘people our age don’t usually help their mum get dressed. They don’t have to go to their brothers Parent Teacher meeting at his primary school when they’re only just out of primary school themselves.’”
Sierra’s sister moved out four years ago, leaving Sierra as the sole carer.
“She wanted to live her life – I don’t blame her for feeling that way, but I do feel a little left behind…”
Last year, Liam, who is now seventeen, moved in with his father and Sierra now lives alone with her mum.
A Typical Day
“I get mum up, get her dressed and ready for the day, and then I go and make her breakfast…we’ll go to appointments, or if I have Uni, I’ll take mum with me. She stays at the Indigenous Learning Unit. They keep an eye on her, and I can pop by between classes to check she’s OK. Once I’ve finished my classes for the day we stay while I work on assignments or study. Then we head home. I get mum settled, get dinner cooked and after dinner I get her tucked away in bed…it’s not unusual for me to have to get up several times during the night to help her.”
It’s often at these times during the night that Sierra’s mother is most disorientated.
“She’s starting to forget where she is, and who I am.”
“I find it hard sometimes when she’s yelling at me …because she doesn’t understand what’s going on and she gets angry and frustrated…it really bothers me. But I just try and remember that she wouldn’t do it if she understood. The mother I had when I was little… is not this woman anymore.”
“I heard about Carer Gateway through a service provider. It took me a while to connect – I was concerned about how much I’d have to tell, and how frequently. Sometimes you tell your story over and over again, and there’s only so much energy you have in you to do that because… it’s incredibly depressing sometimes.”
“With Carer Gateway I only had to tell my story once – and never again.”
When Sierra contacted Carer Gateway, she was immediately connected to a Young Carer Support Planner who helped Sierra to unpack what was going on, and how Carer Gateway might be able to help.
“The Young Carer Support Planner helped me to source a laptop for Uni, which has made a huge difference. She’s also arranged for someone to come out and mow the lawns and helped me to find some rebates for our electricity bills.”
“I would definitely recommend Carer Gateway to other carers. Carer Gateway is about you [the carer] – it’s not about the person you care for.”
“You learn life skills that are useful when you are no longer a carer. I also think that being a carer also enables you to have a much closer relationship with your parent on a level standing –I get to know mum as a person.”
“Seeing her go downhill and having the knowledge that you can’t do anything to stop it.”
What Keeps you Going
“The knowledge that no one else will.”
Hopes and Dreams
“Finish my nursing degree.”
“I have a few study options after that – I’m really interested in doing the Doctor of Medicine Program over in Orange. It would be five years of study – but at the end I would come out a GP. I’d be a female indigenous doctor. You know I’ve never met an indigenous doctor – and I’ve definitely never met a female indigenous doctor.”
“And I do want to get married one day and have kids. I love kids. I adore visiting my God Children. I’m so blissed out looking after them.”
“Look after yourself first because you can’t look after someone else if you’re not well. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not saying you’re failing; it’s not saying that you can’t do it. It’s saying that you deserve help.”
“We need to learn that it’s OK, and we can ask for help and it doesn’t make us any less of a person, and less of a carer. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It means you’re a human being who needs support.”