Last Autumn I was offered a job as a support worker for individuals with developmental disabilities. At the time, I was as knowledgeable about such disabilities as the average person; I knew that individuals who were given such a diagnosis experienced a range of physical and intellectual delays. Thankfully, I received copious amounts of training on specific disabilities, as well as practical information like how to give proper care, modify behaviour, and administer medication.
Yet, despite all of the training, no one tells you that you will encounter days of work that might try your patience in ways you never imagined possible. I knew the job would come with challenges, but never did I imagine it would be so difficult some days. They don’t explain that there will be times when one or—to my horror—both ladies under my support begin to uncontrollably sob in the middle of the produce aisle, eliciting judgmental looks and condescending comments from fellow shoppers. And further, that there will be days when not even the promise of a stop at McDonalds will calm their tears. No one forewarns of the mornings where one individual is so anxious to catch the disability-friendly bus that she tries to escape when you aren’t looking; the afternoons when a slight change in routine results in heavy sighs and slammed doors; and the evenings where they set off the security alarm at the library, revealing DVDs they forgot to check out. Those are hard days. You know, like, cry on your drive home kind of days—crying that similarly cannot be consoled with McDonalds.
The other thing no one tells you is that some days will soften your heart and show you joy in unprecedented ways. There will be days where an individual will burst into the staff office, physically unable to contain their excitement about the afternoon’s upcoming game of bowling. Or, one morning they might think of a brilliant new nickname for you—“Mickey Mouse”—and proceed to giggle uncontrollably at their joke. The trainers don’t tell you about the milestones they will reach, like independently ordering and paying for their own coffee; nor will they tell you of the heart-warming habits that will continue, like a phone call with a friend at exactly 3:45PM each day just to say hello. No one tells you they will take one look at your demeanour and give you a hug, somehow able to sense that a loved one passed away. No one told me my heart would melt when an individual makes a suggestion and quickly proceeds to ask, “Was that a good idea? I’m smart right?”
No one told me about these things or the ways they would impact me. And in all likelihood, no one really could have, anyways.
Life doesn’t come with a training manual; no written list that warns March 7 will be a good day, and April 9 will be a bad one. There is no book that says, “this circumstance will be challenging, but this conversation will be refreshing.” Instead, like my experiences with the individuals I support, I have a feeling most things in life are that which no one can warn you about. Most given circumstances are things we just have to go through, moments we need to live. And hopefully, with a learnable heart, each situation can be used by the Lord to teach us, humble us, grow us and change us. And sometimes these experiences are difficult, and embarrassing, and painful; and sometimes they are fun and light-hearted. But in it all, let’s allow the Lord to use our life experiences, our work, and our day-to-day to shape us, teach us, and make us more like him. And if a meltdown in the grocery store is what it takes—let it.
words by Alyssa Vlieg and photo by Cate Willis