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From Passion to Adaptation: Life After Loosing a Meaningful Occupation

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Meaningful occupations are a key part of occupational therapy. To me, my meaningful occupations are activities which both make my existence feel meaningful or those which are just important to me.

Some of my meaningful occupations are as follows:

  • Working, as it gives me sense of purpose

  • Being creative

  • Going to coffee shops

  • Stimming

  • Spending time with loved ones

  • Spending time with animals

  • My food blog

  • Doing my makeup

Before my hip surgeries, my meaningful occupations also included:

  • Karate

  • Ballet

  • Salsa

  • Travel

You might notice that the two lists are quite different, before the surgeries my meaningful occupations were far more active! As I gained more and more pain the active occupations decreased over time. This was ok at first, I missed those activities of course but I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be able to engage in them the way I used to again.

Once the realisation set in that things would never be back to how they were, I went through a long period of grief.

I really like this quote from Brene Brown's ‘Atlas of the Heart’:

“Disenfranchised Grief is grief that is not openly acknowledged or publicly supported through mourning practices or rituals because the experience is not valued or counted [by others] as a loss”.

To me, this summarises the grief felt through the loss of meaningful occupations due to illness, injury, mental health conditions, disability etc. This grief is very real, and I have experienced it first-hand. Losing parts of your life you enjoy, that are a part of your identity and routine is huge... of course you would mourn this loss!

In my case, I had danced since the age of two and a half years old. It was a core part of my identity, and to lose this was enormous... and unfortunately, not something that many other people understood. I think it's really important that if other people aren't validating this loss that you validate it to yourself. Your grief is real, it's perfectly valid to moarn a part of your life, especially when we consider how important meaningful occupations are for our well-being!

I can still dance to some degree, but it’s not the same, the pain it brings and the huge number of moves that are now off-limits make it far less enjoyable. It's easy to shut down at that point and not try anything new, everything can feel hopeless.

Over time I have had to try to adapt to this new identity and a new way of living. I have invested more time in some of my other hobbies such as crafting. I love crafts but it doesn't fill the void of these lost meaningful occupations, and unfortunately, the purpose and joy dance gave me is very different to that of craft. However trying new hobbies is important and has been a key part of my journey too. I'd encourage everyone to explore potential new hobbies because the more meaningful occupations we have the better!

I have learnt that for me I needed to explore other leisure activities to find one that brings

me a similar type of joy to the one I had let go of. For me, this has been replacing high-intensity dance classes with a kitchen disco once a week for 15 minutes. For other people, it might be doing seated dance classes or a lower-intensity discipline. Adapting your old meaningful occupation is key, and that is a big part of occupational therapy!

I could talk a lot more on this topic, particularly around the impact of my neurodivergence on my leasure time, perhaps I will do a blog post about this next month, let me know if you want to see that!

What meaningful occupations have been impacted by your neurotype, disability, mental health, illness etc?

How could you adapt it to make it more accessible for you now?

If you’re not sure, an occupational therapist could support you with this!

If you’re interested in finding out more about how I can support you to get back to whatever is important to you, have a look at my website or email me:

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