Well, he’s not my psychiatrist, cos I don’t actually see one, tho some might say I should, lol. But he is a psychiatrist. And a dear old man who is surely old enough to retire, but doesn’t, for whatever reason. And he’s one of the psychiatrists that I take some of my clients to see regularly.
He knows I’m going to retire and said all the very nice things like how he’ll miss me and he’s sure my clients will. He asked me if I was going to do anything special and my standard answer has become that I’m not going to Italy or buying a Cadillac or anything, just stopping working. I have all sorts of good plans, just nothing very dynamic.
Then he asked me a question that I have thought about but nobody else has put into words. He said I was going to have my own kind of grief and loss to handle on retirement, and asked if I was working on that for myself, after having worked in mental health for over 20 years. Well, thanks, Doc, for thinking of that, and yes, I am working on that for myself.
Any change can bring on a feeling of loss, even a change we want really bad. (I do. I love what I do, but I’m tired. Tired of alarm clocks early in the dark of the morning, and tired having somebody else tell me where I need to be all day.) I face the loss of relationships that are wonderful, some of which have formed over 20 years, some of which are only a few years old, but still very significant. I face the loss of an official schedule, which I’m looking forward to. If I’m not careful to orchestrate retirement plans well, I could face some losses that could turn out to cause me problems.
That same schedule that I want to get away from provides me a sense of purpose. I have a personal sense of purpose, but I’ll have to build a sense of purpose that’s different, that fills in for the rewards I get from the work that I’ve loved for so many years and will now stop doing. When we talk to clients about their recovery from mental illness, we talk about a sense of purpose and a need to have somebody out in the world expecting something from us most days, an agenda, a reason to get up and about. When one retires, one needs to have some kind of meaningful thing to do, to replace the rewards of work, and some of the time spent at work. You can’t just stop, stop what was 40 hours’ worth of real important stuff before, not without making some plans for replacement of some of that importance. Unless you plan to sit on the couch and watch soap operas, which I don’t.
You have to replace some physical activity even if you didn’t have a very physically active job. Your bones and muscles need to keep working to stay healthy, or weight piles on and things like osteoporosis can happen. Your body needs activity.
People who lose jobs when they didn’t choose it can have a real loss of self-esteem. They feel that they used to be important and now they’re not. Not true usually, but the feeling is there for lots of people. That same feeling can come on you thru retirement too, especially if you’re a person whose job has become your identity in your mind. When you work in an intense setting like mental health, you had to learn to not let that happen early on in your career, cos that’s the way a lot of good people let themselves get burned out. I managed not to burn out in all these years, by maintaining a sense of balance between who I am and what I do, very important for people in all sorts of high stress fields to remember.
It’s a new beginning, and a real end. Lots of possibilities open up with more time, if you don’t allow more time to become a burden to you.
So, are you about to retire, or have you lost a job not by your own choice? Are you working on the sense of grief and loss that will be very real to you after your work activity stops? Good mental health is for everybody, and needs to be worked on throughout your lifetime, even when something good is about to happen. When something throws you off balance, even if you wanted it, you need to recognize that and find a new balance for yourself.
No soap operas for me!