Here’s What It’s Like When Your Boyfriend Suddenly Becomes Your Carer
Alex Taylor-Beal and Stephanie Crack’s lives were changed forever as students when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Stephanie Crack, 25, was just beginning her second year of university when she began to develop the symptoms. At first, she didn't know what was wrong, but she was finding it difficult to walk and having problems with her balance. It was only after spending five nights in A&E that she eventually found out what the problem was: She was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is a condition that affects the central nervous system – your immune system attacks the coating around your nerve fibres (called myelin). The symptoms vary, because the central nervous system is linked to every part of your body.
She was seriously affected and came to rely on her partner – Alex Taylor-Beal, 27, whom she'd met back in Sussex, and who was sharing her flat in Birmingham – to help her with a range of simple tasks, like cooking her dinner, washing her hair, putting on her socks, and helping her walk to the shops, all while attempting to study for his own degree.
It might sound stressful, but Taylor-Beal downplays his role. "She was my priority," he tells BuzzFeed News, "but I still ended up with a 2:1 so I was happy." He talks about how well Crack's doing now and sounds pretty happy that her condition has improved, describing how she occasionally struggles with long distances, but doesn't make it sound like her problems – or his own contribution – were all that serious.
It's only when BuzzFeed News talks to Crack that the true extent of his efforts becomes clear.
"Alex – nothing could phase him," she says. "When he says he walked me to university, for example, what he means is that I'd walk 10 steps, have to sit down for a while, then walk 10 more steps."
Eventually, she had to drop out of university for a year: "I was struggling in my second year, and I realised I was too ill to carry on. I couldn't have him constantly ferrying me to uni."
During that time, she couldn't leave the flat. "It was like a 24/7 job for him. He'd do breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me, and shower me. I couldn't close my eyes because it would make my knees buckle – I couldn't stand up for long enough in there."
The emotional toll that being cared for took on her was heartbreaking. She says she felt constantly guilty: "I really worried his university life would suffer. He never saw me as a chore. I felt like I was dragging him down – I kept saying, 'If you want to leave, leave,' but he never even considered it."
She adds: "I just didn't understand why he wanted to stay with me, as I wasn't much fun to be around – I was either sleeping or just sitting on the sofa as I could barely walk. It's like he didn't see that was all I did, which it felt like to me – he still just saw me as me."
And she says she can barely believe his modesty when it comes to describing what he did for her, and says it stems from the fact that "he's never seen himself as a carer". She adds: "When he made me meals, he'd say things like, 'It's fine, I have to make them for myself anyway.'" She finds it "amazing" to hear him describing how he only did "this and that" for her.
The pair were told that if she was to claim Disability Living Allowance, she'd have to quit her university course. She hoped she'd recover enough to carry on studying and didn't want to leave the course. She was right: The drugs she was taking eventually stopped the majority of her relapses, though for a while, she says, she was left walking like "Frankenstein's monster".
She managed to retake her second year, but says she doesn't think she could have done it if Taylor-Beal hadn't been able to look after her. Her parents would have taken her back home, but she told them not to, because he was looking after her. "As I got a bit better and could do more things on my own, like cook dinner," she says, "I felt like I was repaying him a bit for all the care he gave me. He never wanted me to 'repay' him, but I try to anyway."
Now she not only has a degree but is studying for a master's. She says most of Taylor-Beal's work now involves managing her emotions (the symptoms of MS can be controlled, but there is no cure): "I feel good, but I still get stressed out. MS can do that. He knows exactly when to help me when I get annoyed at something stupid – like not being able to open a jar. I still need the odd physical support when I walk too far, but luckily I can wash my own hair now! If I became really ill again, I know Alex would still be there to support me, telling me I'm just as I always was."
There's more good news: The pair are now engaged to be married. "He's my world, Crack says. "I just can't describe how amazing he is."
For more information about caring for people with multiple sclerosis, visit the Multiple Sclerosis Society's website.
Want to read more from the Carers' Issue? Shane Burcaw wrote about the hilarious and incredibly awkward realities of being cared for by loved ones. Alex Andreou described how caring for his mother gave him the best birthday he'd ever had. Tom Chivers pulled together 11 charts that show how care will evolve in the UK over the next several years. Halima Ali collected some of the secrets people caring for loved ones never tell you.