Clare Keogh shares the challenges of not only adapting her work practices and routines, but also adapting – and fixing – the ‘Star Wars’ saga through her great love of ‘fan fiction’.

What have been the impacts of lockdown on your work?

I am a paediatric occupational therapist working at a school for autistic children. The first lockdown was quite hard, because we had to be quite resourceful in creating things for the kids to do and supporting families, which is not the same as working directly with the kids.

This second time around has been a bit easier because it’s the time of year when there are reports to be written, teacher-focussed allied healthcare meetings etc. There is more structure and ‘normality’ around what needs to be done.

What has got you through personally?

I live in a one bedroom unit with no backyard, but we’re within easy walking distance of the Moonee Ponds Creek trail. I go for a half-hour walk there most days and on some Sundays I meet up with Kate Scull, who lives near me. So that’s kept some community going.

Being autistic myself, I’ve also been challenged to look at what I do and how I live through the lens of my occupational therapy knowledge. To basically look at myself and go, ‘Okay, what do I need, how do I get it and what are the things that make me happy?’

Is there anything that’s brought you particular joy?

There’s a concept called ‘autistic joy’ which is basically the understanding that autistic people can feel things very deeply. So honouring and trying to encourage autistic joy – things that make us happy and feel really good, the things we’re passionate about – has been part of it.

For me it’s singing and music. Even though I can’t go to choir, I can still participate in virtual choirs and sing along to stuff at church. Spotify has also got a lot of listening from me over the past few months. I actually switched to a premium account because I was listening to it so much the ads became annoying! 

I also listen to music while I’m doing some of my other autistic joy things and much of that recently has been related to ‘space’. Why? Well, one of things I’ve been doing in one form or other during the entire lockdown has been writing and researching ‘fan fiction’. Fan fiction is basically where, after reading or watching an original piece of work, you ‘play’ in that universe through what you write. Once a book or movie is over I enjoy creating my own world by writing fiction that ‘fixes’ something about the original story. Currently for me that’s ‘Star Wars’, which is why I mentioned the ‘space’ theme when talking about music. I enjoyed the first movie of the recent series very much, but the other two had problems. So I’m trying to rewrite those two, basically.

I do want to write my own original fiction one day and, in some ways, this project is getting me into the habit of writing regularly and also teaching me the way I want to write. I’ve spent a good few months looking at what works and what doesn’t work in the movies and rebuilding from that. So when I eventually start to write my own original fiction again I’ll have a better understanding of what I need to look out for with my characters.

But I enjoy writing fan fiction for pleasure anyway. There are a couple of different fan fiction websites where you can post works and I am planning on publishing my ‘Star Wars’ work on to these.

What have you learned through this period?

I think I’ve learned a lot about what helps and hinders my mental health and what I can and can’t do to help it along. I haven’t quite had the time and space before to notice those things, but I’ve been able to do this a bit more easily during lockdown.

As touched on above, learning how to apply to myself the occupational therapy and psychological knowledge that I practice with the kids has been another learning. I’m really hopeful that this will benefit me in an ongoing way. So not liking how I am feeling at any point and figuring out how I can shift that a little bit has been important. It’s like, “Hey, Clare, just remember you’re like the kids you’re working with and the things you recommend them to do, you sometimes need to do as well.”

What are you look forward to most when this is all over?

Being able to go back to choir. Before COVID that was one of the main ways that I got autistic joy. 

Apart from that, I’m really looking forward to the more mundane things like being able to go to the hairdresser to get my hair cut and coloured again – maybe a purple-red-pink or something like that. And also being able to get a massage. I’m someone who benefits from getting a massage about once a month because all the stretching in the world can’t do everything.

What changes would you like to see as a result of all this?

I’d love this time to be used as a ‘reset’ for things like energy emissions and climate change. I can do a little bit, but in order for me to do my little bit effectively, the wider systems need to also be more effective. For example, in order for something to be recycled properly you should not have to wash it out yourself – it should be something like an ‘industrial rinse’ at the end of the recycling line. That’s a little ‘pet peeve’ of mine!

Peter McKinnon, 15/10/20

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