Disability and life: can you be friends with your PA?

Rupy Kaur is a young, British Asian, disabled woman, who is very independent and can be feisty when needed (so she says!). She is writing for DH on some of the experiences that happen to her on a day-to-day basis, focussing on relationships with PAs.
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My last blog concentrated on what can go wrong with the PA relationship but this blog concentrates on whether it’s a good idea to be friends with your PA.
When I first became a user of direct payments, the council initially provided me with ‘carers’. It was a really odd relationship. Different people used to come in and out and there was something not right about it. I remember it being very clinical. I felt like I was this dirty thing that just needed getting out of bed. They were coming to my house in what looked like a nurse’s outfit, they had to wear gloves and an apron with all the tasks that they did. Making conversation was really hard and they never really spoke about themselves. The relationship was very clear; they were the professionals helping yet another disabled person get out of bed. You knew that they had been told not to form any relationships with any of the clients and it was all very PC. From this I learnt that things needed to be a bit more personal (and drew my own conspiracy theory that these ‘carers’ were actually robots).
Fast forward a few years later where I became the employer of my own PAs. At the time, I thought it would be a very good idea to employ one of my friends to be my PA. What could go wrong? We had been friends for several years and she knew – well I thought she did – exactly what I needed. After the first month I realised that it was not going to work out. She would decide to take days off without telling me and I felt bad for asking her to complete tasks as I felt that I was abusing our friendship. From this I learnt never to mix business and pleasure.
Through trial and error, I think I have found a good mix in terms of how to be friends with your PA whilst keeping it professional. Although I understand that the care industry is taught to not become too close to the service users, I personally believe that when it comes to assisting people in the community full time, not getting close can actually be a dangerous trait. PAs and people who use PAs see each other nearly every day and therefore spend a lot of time together. It’s only natural for a bond to form and if a bond does not form then I think that’s a bit odd. At the end of the day, you are involved in each other’s lives. You will know when your PA is feeling a bit down and vice versa. It’s healthy to form an open relationship where you can be friendly whist acknowledging that each of you have your own lives.
I personally prefer to recruit PAs who have had no experience of support before. That way you can mould them to how you prefer them to work, as you’re an individual with your own individual needs and they don’t come with any preconceived ideas of what assisting is about. I also employ PAs who have similar interests to me and have maybe been to university as they tend to understand my life a bit better, as they have had similar experiences. At first I am very strict and repetitive in terms of how I like things to be done. However, once my PAs have grasped my routine, I tend to let my guard down a little. This is where the friendship begins as my PAs understand what needs doing and what the boundaries are, but also know that we need a good relationship.
Some of my best PAs have become lifelong friends. I therefore think it is possible to be friends with your PAs as long as you both know what the boundaries are.
Until next time,
Rx
By Rupy Kaur
Disability Horizons
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