Frontline Initiative: The Diverse Voices of Direct Support Professionals
Self-care Helps Me Go the Distance
Tasha uses painting as self-care
I have worked as a direct support professional (DSP) for Penn-Mar Human Services since 2019. I support individuals with intellectual disabilities in one of the organization’s residential homes, so when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I stayed on the job, but had to learn fast how to become more flexible. I’m sure many of you can relate to my experience during this stressful and unpredictable time. My husband Ryan and I were trying to juggle our responsibilities on the job and at home, which was quite a challenge since he, too, worked as a DSP for another non-profit. Being a caregiver for children as well as managing DSP responsibilities can be challenging anytime, but it was more so with the unpredictability of the pandemic.
The people I support had to make huge adjustments as well. They missed their families and friends. They missed their daily routines, the places they went, and things they did. Being at home all day meant that they had a lot of free time. As DSPs, we supported them to fill their time with playing games, watching movies, and being creative with arts or crafts.
I worked the 10-hour-overnight shift but was often asked to work overtime to fill-in for other DSPs who were ill themselves or unable to work. Often, I was assigned to work at another house where a person supported had COVID-19. I was constantly getting tested for COVID-19 to ensure that everyone around me was safe. But eventually my husband and I contracted the virus and had to take time off to quarantine before returning to work.
Author, Tasha Christian with her step daughter and husband.
The first half of the pandemic was emotionally draining. The stress of working under constantly-changing conditions and trying to keep up the spirits of the people we were supporting was taking its toll. I was weary. Prayer and music, especially Christian songs, helped me to calm down. One of my favorite songs was by Mercy Me: I Can Only Imagine .
I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the sun
I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever—forever worship You
I also made time to take long walks alone and to speak on the phone with my parents, sisters, and friends. Unfortunately, I was only able to see my 11-year-old stepdaughter a handful of times during the pandemic. She lives in another state and the COVID-19 guidelines on travel prevented us from seeing her as much as we would have liked. We missed her visit during spring break at the beginning of the pandemic. We communicated through video chat and phone calls. She talked to us about how hard it was that she did not see her friends and doing school online was frustrating. My husband and I missed her, and I know many of you were also separated from your loved ones. Our closest companions during that time were our two cats.
Painting was a great creative outlet for me. I continued my hobby of painting on canvas and rocks to relieve the pressures in an effort to reconnect with my personal life.
COVID-19 taught me many lessons and made me appreciate many things. I saw a lot of DSPs burn out on the job. To continue our work in supporting people, we need to know our own limits. When DSPs become so stressed that they start bringing their emotions to work or the stress affects their health, it is time to spend less time at work. We need to be aware of when we go too far or try to do too much.
COVID-19 taught me many lessons and made me appreciate many things. I saw a lot of DSPs burn out on the job. To continue our work in supporting people, we need to know our own limits. When DSPs become so stressed that they start bringing their emotions to work or the stress affects their health, it is time to spend less time at work. DSPs teach residents how to manage their emotions and role modeling is a method of teaching. If I am too stressed, I work less overtime. We need to be aware of when we go too far or try to do too much. We need to pace ourselves so we can go the distance.
I was also very appreciative of the support I received from my employer. I was nervous to tell them that I had COVID-19, but they gave me the time-off I needed and communicated with me often. All the DSPs were grateful for the meals they often provided in the homes of the people supported and for the staff, to lessen our burden.
And what can I say about my fellow DSPs? I am so appreciative of my co-workers. We inspired each other by working together to share supplies, resources, and ideas, and held each other up during some of the longest and most challenging days.
Over time, it was gratifying to see our hard work pay off. The people we support seemed to go with the flow. They became more patient and resilient with the circumstances. Their ability to adapt inspired me to do my job better.
Reflecting on all that has happened in the past few years, and all that I incorporated into my life to deal with the challenges, I can say I am now more at peace with myself and my work as a DSP. We see our stepdaughter and family more often without interference. I can’t think of a more fulfilling or meaningful profession.