Courtney Barr

As an occupational therapy practitioner, I recognize play as a meaningful part of life for all individuals. Play is a way in which a person can experience the world around them, explore social roles, and develop a sense of self.

words + photographs COURTNEY BARR

However, this is not something I always believed. In fact, I thought play was something we packed away in a box and placed on a shelf, never to be opened again as we aged. Or at least I did that as I strived to become an adult. I assumed growing up required me to put away my childish fun, such as playing in the street with my friends, imagining my world as Harry Potter, laying out in the grass looking up at the clouds.

This left me unhappy.

When we are told not to play, and to instead grow up, we are being told not to care for ourselves. We fill our time with obligations such as school or work and rarely say, “No,” to any request we receive from those we know. However, when we are selective and begin living prioritized, we can start saying, “Yes,” to possibilities that refill our tanks. Continually telling myself, “No,” left me unhappy and unable to say, “Yes,” to my authentic self.

Courtney, left, with a co-worker. Photographs courtesy of Courtney Barr.

When I started intentionally thinking of myself, I started to learn who I am, not what society says I should be. This change even impacted future goals. It allowed me to explore what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found a career in which I get to play every. single. day. I get to be spontaneous with my clients, and I am able to laugh more and feel joy on a regular basis, even though some days are filled with sorrow and pain. Through play, I am better able to connect with those around me.

I find if I can laugh with my clients, we build bonds that allow us to create deeper connections. I can trust them, but more importantly, they can trust me – a total stranger – seeing them at their most vulnerable. Kind of like an inside joke.

Courtney, third from right, with co-workers at Halloween.

One day, as I was walking with a client down the hallway, I told her we would have a safe word. Instead of saying, “I need a rest break,” I told her I wanted her to say, “Pickles.” She laughed and said, “I do not particularly like pickles. Can I say, ‘Cucumbers,’ instead?” We both laughed. From that day on, she used cucumbers as a way to tell me she needed a break, and we always had a good chuckle when she said it.

From that day on, she used cucumbers as a way to tell me she needed a break, and we always had a good chuckle when she said it.

Even my co-workers and I like to laugh and play together at work. My co-workers, along with my clients, make it more enjoyable to go to work. When I am feeling down or depressed, they always find a way to make me smile. CB