Caring for a Living
'Write an article'.
'Ah no, Simon.
I'm far too bored to write an article'.
about your boredom', his next email commands. There's a thought. I
could write a bloody book about my boredom. It's no ordinary boredom
this. Working as a 24-7, live in carer for the elderly, I've visited
the kind of scary depths of boredom most people don't realise exist.
Mostly it just feels like being a mixture of slave and prisoner in
solitary confinement, which is fine; I can handle that. However, on
about the sixteenth day of a month-long job, which is when I usually
start to wonder how long it would take me to chew off my own arm,
I begin my slippery descent into boredom-induced madness and it physically
starts off ok: I arrive all fresh-faced and eager, the client is invariably
senile but sweet and we become firm friends as I make her cups of
tea and shepherd's pie for supper. Old people don't do very much,
especially if they're house-bound. When it takes 20 minutes to stand
up, the day runs in slow motion ('now where did I put my specs?').
At first I enjoy the peace and quiet of old lady world and the slower
pace relaxes me so that I achieve the kind of calm and serenity only
drugs and meditation usually provide. I enjoy all the time to myself
and take slow, leisurely meals and write letters to all my friends.
I've been known to marvel during the blissful, initial stage that
I'm paid for this. 'Doesn't seem like work at all', I cheerfully write
in my letters.
about 2 weeks of life in the slow lane and repeating forgotten, dull
conversations about crime and pakis, things start to go downhill.
Slowly the madness creeps in and catches me unawares. I start to feel
restless. I stand in the kitchen and looking around, see that everything
is in order, every pill administered, every cardigan washed. I've
read the newspaper through and the meals are planned for the next
will I do? I eye the sherry, tempted, but not that desperate (yet).
In this state of restless unease, I've planned my whole life out several
times. Daydreaming is of course the perfect escape. There's nothing
like dwelling on the past or fantasising about the future to help
you forget your miserable present. This morning I was just about to
get on a train for Sao Paulo when the phone rang.
daydreaming starts to look a bit dangerous, I usually take up reading.
Books are wonderful: a whole other world of ideas and inspiration
and all you have to do is read. Sometimes I mix my books for added
pleasure. A memorable cocktail of Thomas More's 'Utopia'
the fear and do it anyway' provided much needed entertainment:
I felt like Fidel Castro on cocaine. My main problem with reading
is that it requires a certain amount of brain activity, which definitely
gets a bit hit and miss after 2 weeks in old lady world. Old age is
certainly catching. My brain turns to mush and the slowness that was,
at first, calming topples over into worrying inactivity. I become
almost monosyllabic and concentrating on anything more challenging
than 'Eastenders' is impossible.
me onto the subject of television. Telly is both the saviour and the
killer of the live in carer. It becomes a catch 22 situation: does
'Countdown' steal my will to live or am I watching it because I've
already lost it? This is the kind of intellectual quandary in which
I find myself daily.
I find myself getting emotionally involved in telly programmes that
I really miss normal social interaction. I start to watch out for
the milkman of a morning just so as I can engage him in a chat about
the weather. Sometimes an old lady's family member or neighbour will
pop by and I'll drag them into the kitchen to talk to me. However
ten minutes of conversation per week just isn't enough so I start
to get rusty and forget how to string sentences together. With the
result that I appear weird as well as over eager and scare off my
only chance for socialising.
can't decide if it's better to be in town or the countryside
while going through this torture. In the country, I can go for great,
bracing walks, all the better to chat up local farmer types. But there's
nothing to equal a bit of retail therapy when you're suffering from
terminal boredom. I have while caring, bought the most hideous clothes
and ridiculous books, but the make up and beauty products purchased
have always been A1; I assume that would be because of all the glossy
magazines I've been reading.
plus to being in town is being near to email facilities. I've been
known to check my hotmail account three times in one day. Who did
I think would mail me? How important could it be? This super boredom
has no connection with my rational side. That's the thing about gigantic,
black hole boredom: nothing remains sane and rational. All efforts
to relieve it become obsessive, desperate attempts to regain a kind
of normality (if I can
remember what that is).
I finish a job, once I've heaved a huge sigh of relief and mentally
embraced the outside world again, I think to myself
'right then, that's the last caring job for me. High time I
got myself a proper career'. But then I go off and blow my savings
on a three-month holiday and just when I'm about to run out of whiskey
money and the memories of the last job are beginning to fade, I find
myself frantically calling up the agency to book another month's work.
I suspect there is a connection between that awful boredom and my
complete career inertia. I have horrible feelings of being stuck,
but as long as they keep paying me £400 per week I might just do this
until I die of old age myself. There it is, I'm a wage slave and work
always was the curse of the drinking classes.
Laura Mackey cares.Discuss This Article