Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career

The Heart of our Daily Work Life

Author(s)

Michaela Whalen is a DSP at Down Home Ranch in Elgin, Texas. She can be reached at michaela@downhomeranch.org

Michaela Whalen

When I became a DSP 12 years ago, I didn’t realize I was not only stepping into my purpose, but was starting the process of finding myself. It remains the one thing in life that always feels right. It feels right even after a hard day, a double shift, or a 60-hour work week. I have learned that when you make the choice to support another person, you are making an agreement with yourself to show up. It was important for me to show up in my own life. I had to come to understand my values, ideals, limits, and strengths. Once I understood these things, I could see them in the people I support. I do my best work when in ongoing reflection, so I can collaborate and adapt my practices to best support people. I practice self-care regularly; it helps me to show up at work ready to provide quality support.

Showing up and being fully present for the people I support has helped me to learn. Being ready to learn each day has helped me to support more effectively. This helps me gain perspective over the years. It allows me to see beauty and the uniqueness of each interaction. Many moments require putting my ego aside to try to take the perspective of the person I support. We all have things that are important to and for us, and there are many ways of expressing these things. Sometimes it requires seeing beyond barriers. We are pulled out of our own self-centered world. This provides an opportunity for growth.

Life can move fast. It can pull us in many directions. If we don’t stop or slow down, we can miss the best parts. The people I support remind me to slow down. I’m often surprised about what is possible when we share our hearts a little more. These moments are important to me. It’s greetings filled with smiles with hugs. It’s eagerness to show you a picture or something new and interesting. It’s watching Home Alone and Santa Clause in July. It’s dancing to George Strait at 7 am because only then will they take their medicine. It’s also hours at the hospital advocating with doctors. It’s holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations. It is teaching, learning, trying new things, and stepping out of our comfort zones. It’s showing up and being present for the people I support.

The change of pace resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has been very impactful. Instead of going out in their regular routine, many people I support have been isolated in their homes. We continue to find ways to share with others and maintain relationships.

The change of pace resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has been very impactful. Instead of going out in their regular routine, many people I support have been isolated in their homes. We continue to find ways to share with others and maintain relationships. We have dropped off handwritten notes at friends’ doors. We have hosted virtual hangouts. Some have included social distance dance parties. There have been virtual dates, and birthday parties, and other innovative ways to share their love. While we all want the separation to end, the people I support find contentment that we, their DSPs, keep them safe. This helps gives the people we support something to hold onto. It gives all of us something to hold onto.

The people I’ve supported are like my family; their capabilities expand beyond barriers. We are together in times of sickness, sadness, joy, laughter, love, and sometimes even death. There are good times and less-enjoyable times. We share them all. We learn lessons and come out stronger, wiser, and more capable. Being a DSP fills my spirit and fuels my purpose. As much as I chose this work, I feel it also chose me. I continuously come back to front line work. Each person I support teaches me new lessons and skills. Being a DSP has helped me to understand myself. I have learned to enjoy what life has to offer while sharing that with others.