The phrase ‘everyone has the same 24 hours’ infuriates me. The idea that, if you’re not where you want to be, you’re not working hard enough, because we all have the same amount of time in our lives, is quite frankly a load of shit. If you find yourself inclined to agree with that statement, I ask that you read on with an open mind. Many, many people, for a multitude of reasons, do not have ‘the same 24 hours’ which can be put into work, or studying, or whatever else they so desire. Some people will undoubtedly have a very different, and a much more difficult 24 hours than myself. But after an uproar, and people sharing their own personal accounts of why their 24 hours are not the same as everybody else’s, I felt inclined to share my own experiences after reading an Instagram post which really resonated with me, in the hopes that it might make somebody else feel heard.

A young carer is somebody aged 25 and under who cares for a friend or family member with an illness, disability, or mental health problem. I don’t often think about my life as a young carer – it’s just, you know, my life. But particularly after the recent Christmas vacation, I’ve thought a lot about how it affects my identity, and indeed my daily life, and realised it has a much bigger effect than I originally thought. Being optimistic, I wanted to get ahead on my vac work (in other words, I wanted to not leave everything until three days before Hilary Term…), but for various reasons, I really struggled to do this. I remember thinking a lot of this was just down to being tired, or being lazy, or some other thing which could easily be solved if I just ‘used my time more wisely’. But it was only after I returned to Oxford, actually, that I realised the toll that being a young carer had taken on my daily routine over the vac. 

As soon as I’d sit down to watch a lecture, I’d have to go and collect prescriptions. Thinking it could be a quick trip into town, and I’d be able to get back and watch my lecture very soon, I’d then have to do some food shopping, since I’m the only person who can carry the bags back home (or for that matter, walk into town in the first place), and you know, I’d already be in town anyway, so it’d save the journey… By now it’d be time to eat already, and Mum would usually still be asleep, so I’d have to make sure that my brother has food and takes the right medication. I’d make food for Mum too, in case she wakes up. Then, you know, the washing up doesn’t do itself, but I’d have to do the vacuuming later as that’s too noisy. 

And the day continues. If I don’t have any plans for myself, maybe I could sneak that lecture in eventually. But being a young carer isn’t just something you can ‘stop doing’, no matter how much vac work your tutors set you. No offence if any tutors are reading this, but in this case, vac work is not my priority. On the off chance I actually do have plans to do something nice for myself, like meet up with friends, I still can’t just stop being a young carer. Even while I went on a date, I had to constantly be alert and check my phone in case I needed to collect any urgent prescriptions – which I (somewhat embarrassingly) did end up having to do. 

But this is only the practical aspect of being a young carer. Like I said, you can’t just stop being a young carer, which applies to doing things, but also thinking about it, too. The long, technical conversations I have with my mum about diagnoses, treatments, and next steps, are emotionally exhausting. Constantly worrying about my family members’ health is extremely draining, and even when I do nice things for myself or with other people, I can’t just stop worrying. It doesn’t work like that. So even on days when I may not have to do much for my family, I am still constantly worried about how they are managing and whether I should be doing anything for them. Especially at university – obviously, it’s quite difficult to physically care for somebody if you’re not with them. But, no matter how much reassurance they give me that they’ll be fine while I’m gone, it’s always on my mind, and sometimes makes it very hard for me to be as productive as I’d like. 

The takeaway point from this article is that nobody lives the same life; nobody has the same 24 hours. As a young carer, my 24 hours involve caring for my family members, and constantly thinking about their health. And this is only from my perspective, the person in this story without a disability. My mum’s and brother’s 24 hours are drastically different from mine, and from each other’s. Maybe they would have more to say on this topic than I would. But like I said, I just hope I can let other young carers in Oxford (and maybe even beyond) know that their 24 hours are not entirely different from other students’.