A reflection on Occupational Deprivation and Gain during the nationwide Lockdown

A reflection on Occupational Deprivation and Gain during the nationwide Lockdown
A reflection on Occupational Deprivation and Gain during the nationwide Lockdown

Written by Vina Leas (Occupational Therapist)

I am sitting in front of the television watching President Cyril Ramaphosa address the nation. It feels surreal. He just announced in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak that South Africa will enter a three-week nationwide lockdown, merely 22 days after the first reported COVID-19 case in South Africa. It is so unreal that it feels like a scene out of a science fiction movie about aliens invading earth…but this, this is real. Everybody has to stop. Everybody has to stay at home. Nobody is allowed to continue “life as we know it”.

During the preparation period before lockdown as well as during the first few days/weeks, people were almost excited to face this new and unprecedented situation. We wanted to show everybody that we’ve got this! We can do this. If you watched the trends on social media or listen to friends or family, it was all about what we were “doing”, how we occupied ourselves. A million photos of families baking banana bread, making their own yeast to bake bread, recipe swopping WhatsApp messages, impossible Facebook riddles, backyard runs on STRAVA, webinars and class meetings via ZOOM, ridiculous dares of swallowing raw eggs, playing old boardgames in the cupboard and the list goes on and on…#wevegotthis #day5lockdown #wereinthistogether #stayathome. Fast forward to Lockdown day 49…#stillhere #thisisnotfunny

Now we might ask ourselves what happened? The answer is simple. Reality has set in. The nationwide lockdown that started off as a 3-week fun run, has turned into a 7-week grueling marathon with no finish line in sight.

During our first year of studies as Occupational Therapists at the University of Pretoria we had a subject called “Occupational Science”. It goes into the philosophy of occupation and that each person finds meaning in occupation.

Understanding “occupational science” is at the core of occupational therapy, this is what we do. An occupational therapist is the expert in occupational science.

“Occupation” refers to things that occupy your time and bring meaning to your life. The World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) states that the engagement in occupations are not only a right but also a need. (wfot.org). We fulfil different roles or different “occupations” on a daily basis, the role of parent, employee, manager, cook, cleaner, teacher, lover, judge. 

During an exceptional time like this, we reevaluate our roles and look at two ends of the spectrum, namely occupational deprivation and on the other side occupational gain.

Occupational Deprivation

“Occupational deprivation” can be defined as a ‘a state of preclusion from engagement in occupations of necessity and/or meaning due to factors that stand outside the immediate control of the individual’ (Whiteford 2000:201). As a result, an individual may experience lack of meaning or purpose in life as well as feelings of helplessness, despair, depression, and social isolation.

Occupational deprivation was often believed to only affect those experiencing extreme situations, like refugees, or those in prison. In short, it refers to people whose opportunity to participate freely in desired occupations, including work, leisure, school, play is restricted or limited.

Until a few weeks ago the population at large was not even aware of the term “occupation deprivation”. Now, with more than 3.9 billion people in some form of lockdown in over 90 different countries worldwide, it is safe to say that almost half the world’s population suffers to some degree of occupation deprivation.

Fighting occupational deprivation can be addressed by implementing the following strategies:

  1. TAKE CONTROL get up, get dressed and plan your day or week include physical exercise, work, household chores like cooking and cleaning, play and/or relaxation
  2. BE SOCIAL – decrease social distancing by using innovated methods of keeping in touch with friends or family
  3. SET BOUNDARIES – working from home has it challenges, one being not able to turn off the computer, answering “one” more email. Have a set “going home” time and turn the computer off.
  4. GET OUT – even if it is to the local grocery store to buy essential supplies. Go for a walk with the dog during the designated times.
  5. IT IS OK it is okay to feel overwhelmed. This is new to all of us. Have a support system in place consisting of close friends, family and/or a qualified therapist.

Occupational Gain 

On the other side of occupational deprivation is the wonderful experience of occupational gain. Lockdown is a once in a lifetime experience. Never again in your life will you be forced to stay at home with your family. We will be talking about the year 2020 and the Lockdown for years to come. We reevaluate and prioritize our role as a mother, caregiver, provider, comforter.

We used to complain about too much screen time, overbooked schedules of children, running from one event to another, decreased quality time with the family.

Lockdown has forced us to stop our busy lives and spend time with the family. Lockdown has given us the opportunity, in the midst of all the stress about job losses, financial strain and uncertainties, to strengthen our relationships with our families.

Over the past 7-weeks I’ve noticed people moving from the “fear zone” of panic buying, hoarding, easily irritated to the “learning zone” of taking control, creating opportunities to finally the “growth zone” of adapting, living, being grateful and helping others.

During this time, I had the wonderful opportunity to observe our family, especially the children, go through all of the above phases. I’ve learned so much. Children are more resilient and adapt easier than we think.

During the “fear zone” the children asked a lot of questions about the virus, what will happen. During the “fear zone” they required comfort, reassurance, clear times for specific tasks, chores or physical exercise. They needed clear boundaries in terms of bedtime, screen time and responsibilities. They needed help to reset into the new normal. They were occupationally deprived from school, socializing with friends and sport. They had an overwhelming need to feel safe.

Soon we moved onto the “learning zone” with subtle suggestions like “maybe we should paint the tree house”, “would you like to make a ‘krismis’ bed”. We quickly transformed from facilitated opportunities to self-initiated opportunities to be creative and playful. To be honest, the biggest motivator for creativity in this time was boredom. They had to think of new ways to entertain themselves. From building bird traps in the garden to in-door furniture and blanket tents, from making breakfast to “Googling” new recipes for homemade ice cream and caramel coated popcorn.

We are now in the final phase of “growth”, the children are settled into the routine of home-schooling and doing chores in and around the house. We still have our good days and our bad days, and that is okay. It was, and still is, a wonderful journey of growing together as a family. It is a journey of finding meaning and purpose in our roles and/or “occupation” as a father, a mother, a brother and a sister.

Lockdown has severely impacted our participation in daily activities. “Life as we know it” has changed and we need to adapt. We can either choose occupational loss and deprivation…OR we can take control and find meaning and purpose in our newly defined roles to experience growth and occupational gain.

Ref: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0308022619865223

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