These pandemic days have made me realize that in all the ways that count I never felt “retired” until the day in March 2020 when I began to shelter-at-home. We’ve officially been retired since September of 2011 (when Peggy retired, so did I) — but we have kept busy enough that I never really internalized many of the adjustments that people go through when employment ends. It’s not been an easy adjustment.
I know that last sentence is a bit absurd. COVID has not been easy for anyone — particularly the millions of people who have contracted it, and the more than half million who has perished. I’m not making light of the disease.
What I wanted to highlight is the way in which our brains adjust to things. One of those things is our place in the world. Early in life we don’t think about having a “place” — we are too busy exploring and making our mark on the universe. That’s a good thing. But, by it’s nature, early life is a time when we tend to simply plow forward into new things with very little concern about outcome. A child who falls down doesn’t stay down for long. There is a big wide world out there to be found, and conquered, and before you know it any trauma suffered in the fall is forgotten and they are up and at ‘em again.
As we age there is some sensitization that transpires. We look at our job situation before making crazy decisions like quitting. We look at our marriage / partner prospect before doing other things. Sometimes it’s our bank balance that forces us to be “realistic” about our expectations but basically for most of our life we are focussed on what lies ahead.
And then comes retirement. It’s like someone said, “You are superfluous to requirements — you’re unnecessary — go away, we don’t need you.” Many of us struggle first with the idea that other people feel that way about us. But there is the corollary to that experience in which we begin to question internally whether we, ourselves, see us as unnecessary, as useless, as surplus to requirements!
After retirement we made the decision to go full-time RV’ing and it took us a year of hard work to get the house ready for sale, get it sold, buy our RV, figure out what to take along and drive out the driveway for the last time.
While we were traveling there were plans to be made, routes to be planned, itineraries to be figured out while we hung out in one place or another, etc.. RV’ing was fun and relaxing and it was also (in many ways) like having a job. Because no place was “home” there were always irons in the fire for when we had to leave and how that was going to happen.
Being a guy who loves to travel (…but maybe I’m getting to the point where I can honestly say “used to love traveling”) even after we gave up the RV we stayed quite busy. We still made little trips, we were out and about locally, we had a pretty darn full life — or at least as full as we wanted it to be. After all, you all know I’m a hermit and don’t like being around people all that much — so it doesn’t take a lot of activity to keep me happy.
But, along came COVID and the idea of travel, the idea of going places, even the idea of leaving the house, became a serious consideration. Balance the risk and the reward. Consider what you are doing. THAT came as a shock for me — I might should have had the experience earlier in retirement but I didn’t — it just arrived for me along with COVID. Oh Goody!
With my health concerns (which I have written about often enough so won’t go into today) I have been coming to terms with the idea that there are … at this time in life … some things I can’t do and some things I shouldn’t do. Ok — that in and of itself isn’t/wasn’t a big deal. We all face limits throughout life.
Because much of my work life I was self-employed I never really got into the “missing” my workplace frame of mind. I know Peggy has dealt with that, and even now nearly 10 years after retirement her subconscious still conjures up dreams about her at work. Evidently some part of her is still adjusting to being retired too.
There is the whole sense of utility, of contribution that some of us struggle with. I was raised to see myself as a contributing part of society; now that I’m both more sedentary and more movement-restricted it’s harder to see how my activity is contributing to much of anything and I’m sure I’m just like millions of other humans who may be retired, may be recently out of a job, or are simply struggling with the complications of COVID and the national shutdown.
There is no logical “end” to this post. The battle is ongoing. For the world, and for myself. I’m not always sure if I’m making any progress in my adjustment period. Partly because I think my brain wants to continue thinking of this 10 year old “new” phase in life as something exclusively connected with COVID and if I’m totally honest it does not. Like every other human on earth who lives to a ripe old age (and many are not so privileged) there comes a time when you have to recognize that the world is moving on without you. I doubt that anyone comes to that realization eagerly.
I do think that because we live in such a time-obsessed culture that we struggle with old-age differently than previous generations. Generations before me had no worry about nano-seconds. They had no had no concept of mega-hertz. It bothers me if my computer takes 3 minutes to sort 1 million files and I want it done in 2 minutes or 1 minute. It would take me days and weeks to manually sort through that much information but my computer does it for me in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. And yes, I used that obsolete metaphor on purpose. We are a long way from a world in which the cycle of natural things has any impact on how we see and experience the world. Our weather forecasts have us worried about weather that may or may not happen 5 days in advance, but we forget to take an umbrella with us for today’s storm. Our sense of time is disjointed and sporadic — we have no continuity — things don’t flow natural from one thing into another because we have every minute scheduled according to a day-planner and nothing dares get out of place. We make no allowances for traffic, or accidents, or empty grocery shelves, or the doctor we had an appointment with who is running 2 hours late because the surgery he’s doing took longer than it was “supposed to” take.
No, I’m still adjusting. For me, and I can only speak for myself, it helps that I have realized what I’ve been doing in my own brain. Now that I’m aware I can deal with the adjustment instead of just kicking the adjustment can down the street into the future. I have compassion on so many others who are trying to adjust too, but haven’t the foggiest idea of what’s happening to them. Their world has been torn apart — in most cases far more violently than my own — and they are hanging on for dear life. I don’t feel my case is nearly as severe — but then maybe no one does until it’s too late.
I wrote that last statement because I suspect that there are a lot of folks — more than any of us imagine — who are feeling at the desperate ends. I expect when we have gotten beyond the immediacy of COVID-19 that we will discover there have been an inordinate number of suicides. Lots of people pushed to their ultimate limits who gave up. It’s always sad when someone gives up. But in these desperate times, and especially when government has given up on caring for it’s population, it’s easier to understand than when the world looks bright and new and functioning as intended.
If you are having a hard time of it, I hope you talk to someone. In part that is why I write. Writing puts the hodgepodge of thoughts roaming around in my brain into some semblance of order and I can process what comes out the other end. Not everyone writes. Some of us talk. If that’s your way… then talk to someone. Please.