Jane Adams is a carer to her husband, but this doesn't mean that she isn't also an adventurer. Here she argues that our assumptions about who goes on adventures must change.
My finger hovers over a green button on my phone that says, ‘Confirm your order’. I’m nervous. It’s not a new feeling. Over the years I’ve hovered over many big green, blue, red, even pink confirmation buttons, wondering if what I’m about to do is the right thing. This time, before the devil climbs on my shoulder and starts whispering in my ear, I click the button. Initial relief, excitement and happiness soon turns to guilt and fear, then back to excitement again; booking anything to do with an adventure sparks a rollercoaster of emotions. But hell, at least I’m now booked onto a two-day kayak forage and wild camping adventure.
I’ve no idea if I’m a typical ‘carer’. I’m not even sure what a typical carer is - if, indeed, one exists. I hate the label. In my mind it conjures up pictures of ‘the carers’ who used to pop in three times a day to check on Vicky, my elderly aunt. Nothing wrong with that, they were amazing ladies, but my aunt hated her carers.
For years I’ve been helping my partner (who’s had cancer five times) to do things at home that he’s started to find tricky. You know, climbing a ladder to change a light bulb, jogging his memory to take his medications, mowing the lawn, cooking meals, making phone calls, driving him to hospital appointments ... I already work full time from home, so I guess I just took on the extra role of ‘helper’. Then, one Sunday afternoon, as we worked our way through the seemingly endless pages of a Personal Independence Payment claim form, question after question asked ‘do you need help with …?’ Again and again my partner had to answer, ‘yes’. It had sneaked up on us. I was his ‘carer’.
'I’ve no idea if I’m a typical ‘carer’. I’m not even sure what a typical carer is - if, indeed, one exists. I hate the label.'
I had an adventurous streak when I was young. Aged seven, I learnt to ride. An unusual hobby for a kid from north London, but I would throw myself onto the bare back of my favourite pony as it cantered round the field behind Trent Park Riding Stables, yelping with excitement. In my imagination I was a Native American squaw from my favourite TV show, a fearless adventurer of the Wild West.
By my twenties, as friends married and settled down, I bought a rucksack and an open-ended air ticket, and travelled round the world kayaking alongside hippos, swimming with dolphins, wild camping in deserts and sailing the Great Barrier Reef. After more than a year my visas and money ran out, and it was suggested by a fierce-looking immigration official in Australia that I ‘return to the UK’. I reluctantly did as I was told.
It wasn’t until twenty years later, after my partner had endured a long operation to remove yet another cancerous tumour, and I was looking after him at home, that I even started thinking about adventure again. The first few weeks after that operation were a blur. Ironically, my partner noticed my exhaustion before I did, and made the suggestion that I go for a walk each evening. “Time to recharge,” he called it. Initially I argued against it. I “need to be here with you, all the time,” I told him. I didn’t, and gradually I came to see those evening walks as precious. Especially when they morphed into mini-adventures.
We lived near the countryside, and, as part of my walk I would search the local woods for badgers, or sit in overgrown fields of purple knapweed as roe deer cautiously approached, stamping their feet, their tongues licking the air for my scent. Later, walking home in the dark, the wings of tiny pipistrelle bats would brush my face as they flew circles around my head catching unseen moths.
What is an ‘adventure’? These encounters made my heart beat faster. Made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Being out in the dark, alone, with all my senses on full alert, felt thrilling and acted as a reminder that I was still, well, me.
'What is an ‘adventure’? These encounters made my heart beat faster. Made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Being out in the dark, alone, with all my senses on full alert, felt thrilling and acted as a reminder that I was still, well, me.'
Fifteen years later, and hurtling towards sixty, I feel like I’m just starting to master the art of the carer’s adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I still love looking after my partner - I wouldn't have it any other way - but doing things I’ve never done before, experiencing the magic and excitement of the world around me, every single day, is now one of the most important aspects of my life.
Guilt and fear still remain. Guilt that my partner can’t enjoy these adventures with me and that I’m not there every minute of the day to help him, and constant fear that he’s okay while I’m away. I know how my partner likes things done, the food he can eat, what to do when he chokes, the look on his face when he’s in pain (even though others might miss it). And even though on the rare occasions I’m away overnight neighbours pop in to check on him, I still dread anything bad happening. Could I ever forgive myself if something did?
'What does the word ‘care’ mean? To some it's the polar opposite of ‘adventure’, but not for me.'
What does the word ‘care’ mean? To some it's the polar opposite of ‘adventure’, but not for me. Being able to experience an ‘adventure’, even something small that might seem insignificant to others, helps me take ‘care’ of my own mental and physical health, and gives me the strength to look after my partner. Adventure and care can go hand-in-hand.
I’ve just returned from my two-day kayak forage and wild camping adventure. I loved every second of the eighteen hours I was away from home, from the thirty kilometres of kayaking on flat calm seas to watching shooting stars from my bivvy bag. I’m tired, physically rather than mentally, and it feels amazing.
It’s about time our assumptions about who goes on adventures, and what an adventure is, are changed. Everyone, regardless of who they are or their personal situation, should be able to experience adventure in a way that meets their needs.
If your finger is hovering over a big green button, do yourself a favour: click it.
'It’s about time our assumptions about who goes on adventures, and what an adventure is, are changed. Everyone, regardless of who they are or their personal situation, should be able to experience adventure in a way that meets their needs.'