“Christmas will never be the same now mammy is gone but Sarah brings me hope that time will make things easier.”

I started caring for mammy when I was in year 7 of high school. She was diagnosed with cancer and became ill quite quickly. She was my best friend so of course I was going to look after her even though I was very young myself.

I mostly stopped going to school because I became a young carer for both mammy and my baby sister but I was also being bullied, which made me very anxious and gave me panic attacks. Mammy did ask if I could be home schooled but my school said no. When I went in I was taught in a separate building to the other pupils.

It was a rough time because Mammy was suffering with more than just her cancer. She also had severe depression, which her husband couldn’t handle so they got a divorce, mammy had a breakdown and our family fell apart.

I did have a counsellor through my school but I was just a closed book so they couldn’t help me. They did tell me I could claim a benefit for young carers but I didn’t feel right claiming money to take care of my own mam, so I carried on without it. I had no other help around me but I didn’t see then how much I needed it, so I just kept going.

When mammy died last year, it broke me. Like I said, she was my best friend and we did everything together. One day she was there and then she was gone. Even now I still tell myself she’s in hospital and coming home soon but I know she’s not. I just can’t allow myself to accept she’s gone. I think it’s cruel for a child to have to accept they’re never going to see their parent again.

I tried to keep living in our home but I couldn’t keep up with my family members that kept coming and going. They were struggling without mammy but not acknowledging that I was too. I was basically living in a shell with no electric or gas because I couldn’t afford to pay the emergency each week. A good friend of my mam’s saw how much I was struggling and moved me in with him for a while. He’s lovely and made me feel welcome but I never felt like it was my home. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to eat there so I went from a size 10 to a size 6 and became even more anxious.

At the time there was a Social Worker supporting one of my other siblings. We asked her if she could help me in anyway. She referred me to Llamau and that’s when I met Sarah.

Sarah has been like a breath of fresh air in my life. Before meeting Sarah I’d just moved into my own flat but I still felt so lost and numb. My family had helped me decorate the place but that’s not really what I needed or wanted help with. Sarah sat me down with a coffee and we talked through a lot of things. I didn’t have a bank account, know how to pay my council tax or log into my Universal Credit account. Sarah helped me with all of that, whilst just being a lovely person.

I didn’t realise but money was being taken from my benefits for my mam’s rent arrears. Sarah fought for that to stop and for me to be given back all the money taken from me. She’s helped me get started with Llamau’s Learning 4 Life programme, which is helping me pick up where I left off in school. I’m now working again too. I don’t know where I’d be without her.

The pandemic has been awful to deal with on top of losing mammy. I’ve felt so alone and frightened, plus during the last firebreak I was so upset by everything I ended up sleeping for a whole week.

I haven’t put any Christmas decorations up this year. If I’m completely honest, I don’t want Christmas. It’s not the same without mammy. Christmas will never be the same now mammy is gone but Sarah brings me hope that time will make things easier. I like to believe her but I still have a lot of fear around what my future looks like. One day I hope to travel China and learn more about world cultures but for now I’m taking one step at a time.