One year ago Wednesday (March 18th, 2020), it was lunchtime and I was leaving a client’s home after doing an initial assessment. Sanitizing my hands and opening the front door of my car, I sit down and unlock my phone. I see an email from my boss: “Please move all home visits to virtual going forward.”
At the time, we naively thought that we would be shut down for 2 weeks, maybe a month or two, but this would be temporary. We didn’t really know anything about the virus and it was stressful. However, as occupational therapists, we are constantly looking at ways that we can adapt the way we do things for wellbeing in a specific context. I thought it could be an idea to make a post on social media, or a blog on a friend’s website, or start a blog, or a website, sharing ideas that we could do to adapt to spending our lives at home – looking at things that we could still do – looking for things to do to support our wellbeing during lockdown. I started beyondCOVID with the goal to share knowledge and ideas in the hopes that people could transform the knowledge into action and at least one person would benefit and have an easier time accessing wellbeing during the pandemic.
I knew it wasn’t realistic to work on this alone and I could only come up with so many ideas from my limited perspective, so I reached out on social media and through the World Federation of Occupational Therapist’s OTION network, looking for people to join me in this project. People joined from the UK, Austria, the USA, Canada, and Austria. Late nights and early mornings were spent meeting potential team members on Zoom, learning how to design a website, courses in online “marketing” (which let’s just say, I have now given up on a bit because it felt like I was losing my humanity to it and was moving out of integrity), making mistakes, while working full-time adjusting to telehealth. Taking things one step at a time, we rapidly built a Doing Library (originally one page), Daily Doing missions, blog posts sharing knowledge on things that we could do and reflections on our experience in relation to occupational therapy research, and some words and images for compassion and hope. We were flying by the seat of our pants. We thought it would be for two weeks, maybe a few months – even if it’s a lot, we can do anything for a few months, right?
Since the beginning, knowing that although COVID was a common barrier, in our different countries and life contexts, we had different experiences with it, we had prioritized the mental health of contributors over what we did for beyond COVID – our mental wellbeing was more important than productivity. After about 40 days of “social distancing” at home, it became clear that, with no near end to COVID in sight and burnout looming, it was not sustainable to keep things up at that rate. With our 40th mission, we shifted from “daily doing missions” to “weekly wellbeing missions”. As things started to open up, we gradually decreased how often we updated the Doing Library. Our blogs decreased in frequency. Contributors had babies, got married, started school, and came and went.
I probably hit my first whirl of “COVID-burnout” in June, disengaging from many of my volunteer projects and doing what I could to hold on. I had booked vacation for the first week of July, I counted down the days and then I spent 4 days sick, struggling to breathe and coughing a ton – took a COVID test, it came back negative and so it was probably one of my occasional stress asthma exacerbations. It didn’t feel like a vacation but I did feel a bit more rested. As an OT, I felt I should be able to adapt, to find restorative things to do, to have occupational balance, and beat myself up a bit, before friends reminded me to have self-compassion. I hit burnout again in August, and this time I fortunately had booked 5 days of kayaking and camping locally, keeping my phone off and away from the internet for the first week of September and could do this. It was a wonderful time of reflection and presence with the world outside the internet, with nature, and connecting with myself and my values and what I wanted to restore in my life. Around this time, we also started a podcast so that we could have conversations with more people and look at ways for content to be accessible in another medium. We discovered tools like deScript, which is a podcast editing tool that makes transcription and captioning a lot easier than the “voice to text” transcription method I had tried before. We hadn’t refocused yet though – we were still trying to keep up with something that kept going on and on on – and things felt scattered.
As we moved into the end of the year, and other burnout periods and a concussion happened, more than a few bouts of “imposter syndrome” and we began an annual strategic plan for 2021. Instead of taking things day by day, and then week by week, and then month by month, we figured it would probably be helpful at this point to have more of a structure in place – a vision for a year. In early February, following a wonderfully informative chat with Sarah Putt (@OT.4.Lyfe), we realised that we had basically been fooling ourselves in who we were talking to and we were missing what we could do in plain sight, so we have made some changes and shifted how we do things – so that we can share resources with you and take care of our wellbeing for the long run. After one year of quick learning, stumbling, starting, restarting, inconsistency with burnout, we haven’t figured it all out yet, but we have a clearer vision of what we want to do as COVID has clearly been for longer than 2 weeks.
So what will we be doing moving forward:
- Monthly Themes: Each month we will explore different categories of occupations and environments where we do things. Each week, we will be looking to share resources, research, and celebrate people who are contributing to community, belonging, wellbeing, justice, and advocacy. As our experiences in COVID continue to shift, more information is coming available on living with the long-term impacts of COVID, we will continue to look for ways we can continue adapting.
- Weekly Wellbeing Missions: Each month, we will reflect on how our occupations relate to wellbeing, learning, community/belonging, justice, and for those months that have 5 weeks, there will be a bonus week that will depend on the monthly theme. We invite you to join the conversation on social media, share your perspectives, research, and things you know so that we can grow our understanding together.
- Partnerships and Collaborations: We have recently formed a partnership with the COTAD chapter at St. Louis University where we will be collaborating on blogs and sharing ideas from research with you. Do you have ideas for activities and actions we can do, want to participate in a blog interview, or want to submit a blog relating to our monthly themes? Send us an email or reach out to us on social media and we would love to meet you and learn more!
- We’re not doing a podcast anymore as part of beyond COVID … but it is going to be a sister project called: “Things We Do”. Do What You Love came out of a time when we were a bit all over the place in the middle of burnout- and, while full of passion, it was, well, sporadic and scattered. We will be transitioning our Do What You Love episodes to fit this new name gradually over the coming months and we are really grateful for all the conversations that we have had with our guests so far. We welcome guests who use AAC tools for communication. Join Anna and Emily biweekly starting on March 21st, 2021 as we chat with our guests to explore the things we do in life, how our activities relate to wellbeing, and possibilities for participation.
Throughout this year, we have met friends from around the world, learned lots, wondered what the heck we were actually doing a couple of times, had nerd-outs on occupational science, and brainstorms about little things that we can do. We’re looking forward to continue learning and sharing in our next year as we navigate the world as it is now and looking for ways we can contribute to bridges for community, justice, and wellbeing.
Authors: Anna Braunizer and Emily Polovick-Moulds, Co-Leads for Beyond Covid