On March 13 the daycare I supply taught at closed due to COVID, the occupational therapy practice I worked with was put on hold (we eventually moved to virtual sessions but my clients didn’t fit with online therapy), the yoga studio I was set to pick up alternative front desk shifts closed and my babysitting gigs were put on hold. The volunteer jobs and upcoming yoga teaching jobs I had were all in places with extremely vulnerable populations so that was paused as well. I had lost all of my “productivity” activities in one day, couldn’t see any loved ones or spend social time in cafes, and I was concerned that I would get bored and lose my livelihood.
As an occupational therapist, it is almost drilled into our heads that we NEED occupational balance to thrive. We need a balance of self care, leisure and productivity activities to find wellbeing. And then when COVID-19 shut down the economy and sent many home without the opportunity for remote work, our world changed. As an individuals who is CONSTANTLY busy, and an occupational therapist who was taught the importance of occupational balance, it’s been an interesting transition personally and professionally.
The first few weeks I felt anxiety about the health of my loved ones, where the money for rent, food and bills would come from, and extremely low mood because I hadn’t seen people or engaged in any of my meaningful activities. I started teaching virtual yoga, which kept me going a bit but outside of those times I had a hard time motivating myself to do anything. As time went on, friends would comment on my Instagram posts of paintings I’ve done and home projects my fiancée, Sydney and I had did, saying we were “doing great” at covid and they were envious of us making the best of our time. In reality, we went back and forth between feeling ok and having some energy, and being anxious or feeling depressed. In reality, we would try to fill our days with some sort of interesting activity, and in the times between we were taking turns supporting each other emotionally. Social media painted our experiences as fun, cute and uplifting, but in reality I watched so many of my friends continue working and advancing their careers during COVID and wished I was doing the same.
Then one day something seemed to shift. It sounds silly but we downloaded Pokemon go – the cell phone game where you walk around town collecting Pokémon and completing challenges. For two women in our 20s, it seems childish, but it got us out of the house daily. We’d go for small walks, which turned bigger as the weather got better, and in the hunt for Pokémon we would also find little book libraries, cool nature, and items on the side of the road that we would take home to fix up and add to our home. Sydney made me a slat wall garden, we got some patio furniture and I started gardening. We rearranged our home and would go for walks to find trains to video record for the kiddos we couldn’t see due to COVID. We read books, started planning our wedding, and started biking places in the city for social distanced hang outs with some friends. Emotions were still a roller coaster, but we seemed to be settling better into this time.
As I’m writing this, it’s the end of July and I’m lying on a dock up north as we’re visiting Sydney’s family. I’ve recognized that my values have changed, moving away from getting the ideal job to remembering that when I go back to work, I have many passions to engage in around work! During this transition in the world, I started teaching yoga virtually, tutoring kids in reading and writing, blogging, and getting involved in planning committees and professional networks in my Occupational therapy community. I’ve become involved in social justice in my community, unlearning and relearning, and educating my community. I have found a passion for painting, refinishing old furniture and working on growing my green thumb. My connections with certain friends have faded away but a lot of them have strengthened during this time. I’ve learned how to cut down on my spending and how to stop taking certain things for granted.
Reflecting on my professional self, I’ve realized society’s influence on occupational therapy practices. When we preach so highly the balance of productivity, self care and leisure, we connect this to society’s definitions of each activity category. Productivity for example is always a push to contribute to society whether through paid or volunteer work. Which pushes ableist ideals – if someone is unable to work for whatever reason, are they deemed unable to be productive? Can we open these categories to what clients believe fits within them? As someone with very minimal work through this time, I found myself redefining the term productivity (I wrote a blog about it, check it out here). Grocery shopping, watering my plants, cooking for my fiancée, attending a webinar – all these things shifted from self care or leisure to productivity activities as I was able to cross them off my to do lists. Going for a walk was equally self care, productivity AND leisure for me in one day. So where am I going with this reflection?
As the world starts to push to get back to “normal”, I want to try to push for something new. In my personal life, I want to remember the simplicity of meeting a friend in a park to chat, of painting for joy, of watering my plants as a morning ritual. I want to continue to spend time talking instead of spending money with friends, and finding meaning in all activities without guilt when I’m not “busy enough”. As a professional, I want to be more informed, less judgemental, and way more collaborative. As an occupational therapist I want to push for clients to explore their own productivity activities and ensure them that just because they can’t hold a job right now or can’t volunteer, they can still be productive. I want to emphasize the importance of mental health, and of self advocacy. I want to shift the focus of my paediatric sessions from teaching children to also teaching and coaching parents so that if therapy stops again due to whatever reason, parents have the skills to continue without me.
Moving forward I want to continue connecting with various people over twitter, Instagram, Facebook and blog posts to create virtual connections. I want to continue exploring things that I love, and finding new things I will grow to love. Have you taken the time to reflect on your past few months at all? Whether you’ve been working or not, whether you’ve changed your habits or not, what are you going to take with you from these past few months?
***if anything comes up in your reflections that you would benefit from chatting with, shoot me an email! – Contact me