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  • Writer's pictureNicole Cipriani

I Occupied Myself

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Episode 3 dropped last Thursday. There’s a whole group of little OT-related conversations out in the world with my voice in them, and that’s kinda scary. Per the Cipriani project protocol, Occupy Yourself is ambitious. For the first two weekly episodes, I’ve been able to publish an accompanying blog post on Thursday when the podcast drops. Well here we are on Sunday. Whoops. Guess that’s not a rule.


Here’s a little short story long:


Two Fridays ago, at the end of an exhausting week on all fronts, Val and I sat down to chat with QU OT professor Roseanna Tufano. I was physically and mentally drained from an illness, causing me to fall behind on documentation at work, also with the creative effort of starting up Occupy Yourself. What was supposed to be a roughly 60 minute interview turned into 120+ minutes, between Roseanna’s pleasant company and my tired brain, which was pulling the conversation in all sorts of non-linear directions with my follow up questions.


The week leading up to episode 3 was exhausting from an emotional perspective as well, and it continued into the editing week. Talking to former professors, starting with Marli, had gotten me reflecting on my time in undergrad. That trend continued and deepened with Roseanna. I kept coming back to one memory of that time.


While I am unsure of the exact antecedent, the outcome was that I had an emotional meltdown by myself in the snowy woods adjacent to a campus parking lot. I had likely held my tears in for the duration of the car ride, coming back from whatever social outing, walking away from my friends (in fact, sending them away) to cry in the woods by myself. Totally safe. Great idea. They did come back later to check on me, but I had wandered away, leaving a sad body-print in the snow.


As the inhabitant of my current non-adolescent brain, I had likely just set my expectations too high, getting lost in fantasy versions of reality, and then the plans changed suddenly, popping my fantasy bubble. There was a lot of masking of what I now know to be a rollicking mix of ADHD and generalized anxiety happening at that time, and there has been a lot of exploration of those responses turned habits and the subsequent unraveling of their effects-in the past two weeks especially, as it relates to that time period.


I replayed this memory while listening to our interview with Roseanna, as we discussed the family as both a client and a context, the way the family structure hands down responses to stress, passed down from generation to generation. I continued to pick away at those loose threads in my mind. I sliced out huge segments of the interview where I dragged the conversation off-course with my different angles of questioning, only to come back to the same themes of family as a client, context, social group, role-clearinghouse, routine-factory, and all sorts of other connections to the OT Practice Framework, and thus the ways they influence our lives as individuals.


Back to the snow mope, I didn’t have the term for it yet, but I was experiencing rejection sensitive dysphoria. I became mad at myself for depending on others for my happiness and getting let down. As I was dramatically lamenting my way through the trees under the distant glow of the parking lot lights, I found a stick with a dried vine wrapped around it that seemed to express my emotions- I held on to that stick as a reminder. Don’t wrap yourself around someone else. Don’t be needy. I think that stick-vine made at least 2-3 moves with me. A little reminder about that layer of my mask that I thought I needed.


But in my emotional state, further limited by the fact that I was comparing my neurodivergent mind with everyone else’s, I hadn’t received the nuance of the lesson. Of course self-understanding and self-reliance is necessary for success, but within that, there’s plenty of room to look to others for support and stability in times of challenge. This allows us to be there to support others in turn. After more life lessons on this after meltdowns in various interesting environments, I’ve better learned how to identify those who enrich my life, and to recognize where my effort will not be returned. And I’m getting better at understanding what it is that I want. Which does not come easily to me, given that people-pleasing is another layer I'm working out of my mask.


Of course I continued to reflect on that journey. Yesterday, after putting a dent in my dirty dish pile, I had cleared what doubles as my plant care area (bonus). I pulled one of my plant pals (Dawn, a golden pothos) out of her pot to inspect for root rot. Her leaves had been turning yellow one by one, and the soil had been taking longer to dry out between waterings. There did seem to be some darkening of some of the roots, so I decided to evaluate further, thinking I’d treat and repot.


Now that episode 3 has been edited and published, Friday’s conversation was now fresh in my mind. I’d been putting off listening to the recording. The previous day, not fully recovered from the life-overwhelm, Val and I had the pleasure of chatting with Shannon Downey, traveling craftivist. We were talking about the use of crafts as a healing tool. In Val’s literature review, there was some hypotheses that the positive effects of crafting on mental health could be due to the distraction factor when creating- that crafting takes you away from your problems.


In my experience I tend to find the opposite- there is great comfort for me in leisure and crafting that allows me to reflect on my situation to support emotional development by connecting my feelings to the task. As my mind tends to do, after that delightful conversation with Shannon and Val, Saturday morning I woke up with raging imposter syndrome. I called my sister. I called a friend. I focused on the Dawn task and sent a photo to my plant-expert mom. I processed some thoughts. I shed some tears. And I began to solve the problem. I began to do the task. I purposefully occupied myself in this leisure activity as a method of saving my plant while continuing to do the work of unraveling my mask.


As I was rinsing roots, I was emotionally clearing all sorts of negative self-talk. When I could better examine their status, I began to more clearly articulate my thoughts. I was able to see that what I thought was a hardy stem was just a clipping that had been propagated. Those big leaves were being fed by a tiny, growing, root system. One that was just starting to develop rot at a couple ends, but was mostly really just young, and being asked to do a lot. I gently removed that which no longer brought nourishment. I reassessed my assumptions about the problem. I created a new plan for Dawn. Instead of re-planting her in soil, I gave her a jar of water to allow the light to come through. To allow those roots to strengthen. To ignore the thick stem that was really just masking the true problem, and to continue to grow what had already begun to develop. And I made all the connections with expectations for myself and @occyoupod.


And then I went further.


I crafted a macramé hanger inspired by this tutorial to let the young roots enjoy the sunlight. I used yarn left over from a more recent knitting project that brought me comfort in a time of great stress (it comes up in episode 4), and from the Occupy Yourself knit panel in our current cover art/profile pic. I was using purposeful occupation to meet my goals. I thought about using the resources you already have. I thought about all the things that come together to support one person. The people, the routines, the leisure preferences. The way we talk to ourselves. The way we recognize our patterns and needs. The way we structure our lives to support our goals and visions. The way we make deliberate design choices. I wrapped the hand-dyed Golden Compass colorway of the comfort project in spiraling knots around the solid utilitarian wool from the Occupy Yourself panel. The stick-vine. "This is not something to avoid. This is something to consider with intention to hold each other up with strength." I alternated the strands to reach surround the jar in a net of custom width and depth. "We all reach and come together to support what is valuable to us."


I added water to the suspended jar and found an unexpected connection. A sudden memory came to me. One of an eccentric, recently deceased family member that Dawn is circuitously named after. At my grandfather's funeral several years ago, he paid an urgent compliment to me (that I immediately dismissed), gripping my upper arms and telling me that he could see some kind of light shining through me. My memory is not reliable for exact phrasing- I guess he was describing the vibe I was giving him, and he was talking about sharp, clear sunlight coming in at different angles, as though through textured glass with golden tones. Again, I immediately dismissed it, and yet here I was, putting the plant named after him, a golden pothos, in a textured jar, with sunlight bouncing through the water at different angles, suspended by golden yarn. It added a layer to understanding of the generational depth of family, right before it added more questions, of course (so many more questions). The task of supporting both Dawn and myself in this moment, however, felt complete. There is power in purposeful occupation. We can turn to it when we’re done crying in the cold woods.

So that’s that. It’s Sunday and I’m about to revisit Shannon’s interview before catching up on all that documentation I've been putting off. The takeaway is this: Think about how you use your leisure time to help you reflect on your challenges. Occupy yourself with purpose and intention, and the time you spend doing the thing you enjoy will also offer you insight, clarity, and maybe even a cool decorative reminder of your resilience in times of vulnerability and the people who've supported you along the way!

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