Being the young 'superglue' of the family

Ms Nur Hidayah Abidin, 22, says caring for one's loved ones should never come at the expense of one's own well-being.
Ms Nur Hidayah Abidin, 22, says caring for one's loved ones should never come at the expense of one's own well-being.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

When she became the primary caregiver to her brother with bipolar disorder two years ago, part-time telemarketer Nur Hidayah Abidin was not prepared for the amount of emotional burden she had to bear.

"Sometimes when conflict happens at home, it feels as if I'm doing this all by myself and it's emotionally exhausting to be the superglue of the family," said Ms Hidayah, 22, who is doing a part-time degree in sociology and communications at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

She was five when her older brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in Primary 2.

Her mother was his primary caregiver, but Ms Hidayah started helping by taking him to his doctor's appointments two years ago after finishing school.

"I felt I should help my mother after I finished polytechnic, because there were many times she went to see the doctor on her own, but couldn't articulate what was happening to my brother," she said.

Her brother's condition worsened to bipolar disorder in his teenage years when he was at the Association for Persons with Special Needs Tanglin School. That was when he often had disagreements with his father over his breakdancing hobby.

With support from his doctor and family, her brother saw his condition improve. Now 25, he works as a kitchen crew member at a fast-food chain. Ms Hidayah accompanies him on his visits to the rehabilitation centre twice a week.

Helping to care for him left her feeling like she did not have enough leisure time. "I felt that my time as a young adult was shortened, because I had to catapult from a young to a fully grown adult, and didn't have time to explore (being) my own person and take life slowly," she said.

 
 

"I'm always planning - who's going to care for my brother, what will be in store for him in the long run, and what will be the backup plan if his condition deteriorates."

The aspiring writer and support leader at Caregivers Alliance (CAL) recently quit her full-time job as an administration executive in an insurance agency to be a part-time telemarketer, to commit more time to herself, her mother and her studies, and to look for more community resources to support her brother.

She became a volunteer trainer at CAL this year, after joining the organisation in 2015.

"While our loved ones will always be the focal point of our lives, it should never be at the expense of our own well-being and social life," she said.

Lim Min Zhang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2017, with the headline 'Being the young 'superglue' of the family'. Print Edition | Subscribe