A long time ago in a seemingly far, far away galaxy I started my career as a Direct Support Professional.  I was just-turned-22-and-I-knew-it-all-but-in-reality-didn’t-know-my-knee-from-my-elbow (there is another way to say this, but I’m keeping it G-rated).  Essentially, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I tried really hard, but there were some things that were still beyond me.  What I was starting to understand was that my “stuff”, your “stuff”, anyone’s “stuff” affects all the “stuff”.

Luckily I had a fantastic supervisor who had seen things and been around and shared her experiences to help me grow.

After a particularly challenging day, I had to run down to the office after leaving the home where I was providing support.  I walked into her office and slumped down in her chair with a heavy sigh.  “Patty, I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”

In true Patty fashion, she turns to me with a grin, “WELL.  What could possibly be that bad?  Tell me about it.”

I relayed the morning and early afternoon and shared that the house felt like it had a weird vibe.  All was fine.  The gentlemen who lived there were all doing great… but the vibe was coming from the DSPs.  There were 3 of us providing support that day: a longer term DSP (10+ years & who was fantastic), myself (about 3 months in) and then someone who was newly hired (1 week) and we were training them.  I don’t know who (or all of us) were giving off this vibe.  It could have been me, new DSP, or veteran DSP.  Something was just off… just enough it was noticeable and we even commented on it (not surprisingly as we all acknowledged it, it kinda went away).

After I shared the events of the day, conversations back and forth between us, and the like, she sighed heavily and said, “Look… it sounds like we didn’t leave our suitcases outside.”

I was exhausted and had no idea what she was talking about.  She went on to explain that when we show up for support, we need to be showing up fully and completely.  She likened it to suitcases.  When you arrive to the person’s home, you need to leave your personal suitcase at the door.  Gently set it down with love and care (or throw it in the bushes to teach it a lesson) and pick up your professional suitcase and carry it inside and keep it with you throughout the time.  

I said, but that personal suitcase is me.  I’m leaving myself at the door?  “Not quite…” she said.  She went on to further explain, you are still you, but baggage you’re leaving outside is packed with the coffee pot that wouldn’t turn on this morning, your mother-in-law giving you a hard time about not returning her call fast enough, your dog eating part of the couch last night, the cat disappearing, your toddler having a melt down at 5:00 a.m. because he wants every  day to be his birthday & he didn’t want Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast…  You get the idea.  The things that are weighing on you.

She went on to say, you are still you and all the experiences you have had, but that immediate “stuff” has to stay outside at the front door (or over in the shrubbery to teach it a lesson).  We can’t let our “stuff” affect the good supports we are about to offer to people.

I miss Patty.  She passed away 15 years ago and I still think of her quite a bit.  She was one of my first real teachers who freely shared everything she knew in her 35+ years of supporting people. – Jessica Stover