Pros and Cons of Working at a Peer Respite House
Did you enjoy the totally unrelated photo I took of the Hollywood sign some years ago?
This August celebrated my third year anniversary at my job. I may have mentioned briefly in passing on one other post that I work in peer support, or maybe I didn’t. I think maybe I didn’t, because I talked so much about it on my old blog. I’ve only posted a few times there this year. Ultimately, it’s abandoned.
So I figured I’d talk a bit about it today. Not the job itself really, but the pros and cons I’ve come across with working with other people with lived experience at a respite house. There are ten times more pros than there are cons, but I think anyone would say that if they work a job they actually care about.
- People understand you.
- I’d say this is really what separates a retail job or even another professional career from peer support. There’s no need to hide who you are or how you think and there’s encouragement to express your feelings. It’s difficult to do that in other jobs because most other jobs aren’t centered on your feelings or your comfort. When you are struggling, you’re free to say so and good chances are you’ll receive support from not only your coworkers but the people who are receiving the peer services. When was the last time a customer gave a shit about why you were in a bad mood? (Not saying it doesn’t happen, there are some nice customers out there, but most people just get offended by your shitty mood and therefore act more shitty toward you because how dare you ruin their good mood).
- You can take literal mental health days (and get paid).
- The way it works for us, people either use their sick time or vacation time, or a mix of both, depending on if they work full time (which is four 8 hour shifts a week, or a mix of overnights and day shifts) or part time (which is what I do). There is no limit on the amount of sick days or vacation days you can use in a given year, as far as I’m aware. I accumulated weeks worth of sick days and used them all at once (for that hospitalization period) and a couple weeks later I used some more. It may be different at different peer places, but for us that’s how it works, and I’m sure other places have a similar sense of leniency.
- Transformations are amazing.
- Even if you don’t jive with a particular person coming in for services, chances are they’ll connect really well with at least one other person, be it another person receiving services or a peer worker, and you get to see people come out of their shells or make revelations about themselves. You see their perspectives shift. Some people become less helpless as they realize they really can do things (like cook for themselves, navigate bus lines, search for housing, create a resume, e.t.c). Some people express their feelings for the first time (like me) and other people learn how to pull back on their sharing and give other people the space to share.
- Uncomfortable situations are uncomfortable and kind of cool.
- Sometimes you’re presented with abrupt shit. It can catch you off guard, especially at 2 in the morning. The cool thing is that you learn how to work with the uncomfortable-ness instead of against it, and you learn more of how to do that everyday. Eventually all this shit you learn rolls over into everyday life and you’ll find yourself learning a stranger’s life story when all they’d said was hi to you, and you said hi back and asked how they were and they shrugged and rather than walk away you just had to comment: “that seems as if you’re not satisfied with today” and there you go, you’ve opened Pandora’s box full of reflections and open ended questions. Just roll with it. You’ve become your ultimate self.
- You’re apart of a community, not just a workplace.
- And not only are you apart of it, you get to help build and maintain the atmosphere and contribute to people’s lives and they contribute to your life and it’s never just “coming to work”. You go places with people mentally and physically (we take people on outings to the beach and such). The more you get to know certain people, the more they trust you and the more you trust them and it’s not some weird hierarchical “I’m the worker, you’re the guest (we call people guests, not clients or whatever), do what I say”. Or, “This is what worked for me so it’s going to work for you, you just need to listen to me”. Or “You’re not complying with my orders and that makes me insecure and therefore you’re a problem guest”.
- There are A LOT of different personalities. You won’t jive with them all.
- No one jives with all of their coworkers at any kind of job, or the people they interact with. But at most jobs you just knuckle through it and the drama is kind of hovering in the background, the elephant in the room. You don’t go after a customer and say “you know, your kid didn’t put that toy back on the shelf and that hurts because my next hour I have to stock and there are so many toys misplaced that I can’t even get my actual stocking job done and I just feel it’s disrespectful to the store and to us workers when people throw things around. How do you feel about that?” No. You do your job, you go home, you gossip on social media or whatever. At this job the drama can blow up fairly quickly and some of it is a bit under the rug but most of it is in the open. This isn’t really a con. But it can become extremely stressful, which is why I put it on this list. Everyone deals with separate mental health stuff, so some people’s anxiety can really up your anxiety. Other’s paranoia can really, really up your paranoia, I’ve noticed personally.
- You don’t always make enough to live on.
- At least, not where I live. With two overnight shifts and one day shift, I bring in an average of $1500 a month before taxes (+ or – $500). Now, if I lived in Cheyboygan, Michigan, that would be a lot. Here, it’s not even enough for one month’s rent for a studio half the time. And if you find a studio less than that, don’t expect to eat or have electricity or soap to wash your ass. The addition of one night shift (10 hrs) was enough to push me 100 dollars over the Medi-Cal welfare limit and so my insurance was ripped away and all the Health services I received. Some people purposefully keep their hours low so they don’t lose insurance and social security and subsidized housing. You get trapped in this web of “I want to work, and I can work, but I can’t work enough to make a living because I still get overwhelmed and the government doesn’t want me to work but they do want me to work so what the fuck?”
- It’s easy to get burnt out.
- If I worked more than I do, especially right now, I would (majorly) break down at least twice a year. There’s a lot of emotions to deal with. There’s a lot of stuff you might accidentally bring home with you.
There are a lot more positives and probably some more negatives too, but I’m not trying to go on into infinity. Overall, this is the most comfortable and rewarding job I’ve had. They hired me a month before my 21st birthday and I’m still the youngest worker there by one year. I always joke they’re not allowed to hire anyone younger than me because I’ve always been the baby they’ve had to cradle; I feel like I was raised there and it’s only been three years. That should say something about growth. I think maybe I was mentally raised there.
There are a bunch of different types of peer services out there. Walk-in/Drop-in centers, Warmlines (which are phone lines manned by peers. Some are better than others. We offer a Warmline at the house.) NAMI is a version of family and peer services; some people find them useful and rewarding. There are more respite houses popping up across the U.S. There may be 40 or so now. There was 30-something when I first got hired. Sometimes there are peers working in the hospitals.
If you’re curious about a peer respite near you, check this directory This is the U.S list. There are peer services in other countries as well, it just takes a quick google search.
If you want to learn more about what a Peer Respite actually is, read this description here.