By Paula Morris
I lived a driven life prior to retiring.
I worked part-time as an R.N., did practicum work toward my doctorate and maintained a part-time counseling practice on weekends. Combined with this were homework and classroom studies, studying for my comprehensive exams, and combating the guilt of not being able to visit my eldest daughter and two grandsons as often as I would have liked. Added to all that was a fifteen-year relationship with a man who kept me entangled by manufacturing emotional tsunami’s every other week. Totaled, I had the ingredients for a breakdown, burn-out, meltdown – whatever.
Plain and simple, I hit a wall, coming up just short of obtaining my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I will add feeling like a failure to this painful list as being the most gut-wrenching.
What did this wall look like? I failed my comprehensive exams, and even though I could retake them at least two more times I experienced a total lack of desire or motivation to do so. In fact, I questioned whether I ever really wanted to do so.
Also, I developed high blood pressure, cardiac ischemia, and debilitating anxiety. Whether these symptoms were a cause or an effect didn’t matter. The wall was a crash site. I could not make myself go any longer.
What drove me to take on all these tasks? After much introspection, I would say it was a relentless internal dialogue sounding much like my step-mother, taunting me with words that left scars; words that provoked me to attain their opposite. “You’ll always be alone.” “Women can’t be doctors.” “Women shouldn’t go to college because they’re just going to get married and have babies anyway.” “Who do you think you are (when I tried to write poetry)?”
I had to prove those words wrong, so I was harder on myself than anyone else.
When I hit the wall, my mind and body told me that I either stopped the pace I was keeping or be stopped permanently. So, retire I did. Fortunately, all three of my children agreed with my decision.
July 4, 2010 was my Independence Day, my last day of work.
However, I retired “early” at 62, and that has its own drawbacks.
First, I get about $300 a month less than I would have gotten had I waited till full retirement age to retire, which is the difference between just surviving and having a little fun in life. I am finding it very painful to live on a fixed income after having made a decent enough salary to have a few luxuries in life.
Second, I have no health care plan, as I cannot afford private insurance. For some reason our government allows early retirement but thinks that 62 year-olds don’t deserve Medicare. I still have one more full year till I reach age 65.
About two months ago I had to seek medical attention for a terrible cough. My daughter knew of a community health clinic that operated on a sliding fee scale. I saw a “Nurse Practitioner” rather than a doctor, but I was ok with that, and paid very little for a full work up. So, as long as community health centers are funded, medical help is available.
But, the present politically motivated threats to de-fund every social program that helps people like me causes unnecessary fear and anxiety. But that’s a different subject.
There is another drawback, a psychological one. My ex-mother-in-law states it quite nicely. She says: “You are too young to retire.”
The financial guru and author Suze Orman says people now-a-days are much healthier and younger at 62 than years ago, and I heard her extol, “You need to go off of Social Security and get a job and keep a cash flow coming in.”
Guilt is a killer. I still agonize over this issue. Maybe I should just get a job?
Money is not the only problem, however.
My ex-mother-in-law is 88, and she asks me, if I live as long as her, how will I cope with living with my daughter for the next twenty-five years?
My daughter Krista reassured me by saying, “Mom, it’s okay to retire,” but added, “I supplied you with just the roof over your head. Now, it’s up to you to make a new life.”
So, how will I cope? I don’t really know.
Fortunately, Krista made sure that we both have privacy while we built my apartment. She and her fiancé Eric have a very nice full-service camping trailer in back of their house, and that’s where I have been living.
Nevertheless, there are little issues like running out of propane during this rather cold winter and constant need to refill it, plus, having to drain the “waste-water” tank once a week in addition to hauling buckets of water from their house when the temperature gets below 32 degrees and the water freezes.
Then there is the issue of feeling lonely and needing company once in awhile. My daughter works a lot and when she isn’t she likes to have “alone” time or “Eric” time. Having “mom” time isn’t always possible.
What is not an issue is having Eric’s two little girls visiting me. But then, there was an issue, since I gave them things to eat that perhaps they shouldn’t just before dinner, such as “Fluffer-Nutter.” For those of you who have never heard of this concoction, it is bread, peanut butter, marshmallow cream and chocolate chips.
There were words after that incident.
Otherwise, I have my place and they have theirs – except that one time when I walked in on them on the couch – and afterwards I felt like the child as my daughter spoke much like the parent:
“How would you feel if that happened to you, Mom? You can’t just walk in without knocking.”
That’s when I really got it. I thought I had it before, but I hadn’t really internalized it. Now, I’ve really got it – I have to live as if my daughter lives a mile away. Message received, and of course, accepted.
But there is a bigger, overarching problem: dealing with the loss of what I lost when I retired.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of giving up the house I lived in for thirty-four years and raised my children, or quitting my job and leaving the career I depended on for thirty-five years. Further, I walked away from old friends, moved from the state I was born in and started over thousands of miles away in Graham – and did it all at the same time. Each of these alone is a major life stressor, and experiencing them all at once is traumatic!
But that’s what retirement is – stopping one way of life and starting another.
In addition, I feared losing my independence, and the truth is I was dependent on my daughter for a short time. Worse, all my personal things are in storage till my house is done so I am living with nothing of my own but my most casual clothing and using things that aren’t mine. I felt displaced.
As a result, during the first couple of months in Graham I felt frozen in place, afraid to step out and go anywhere myself. Everything was just too huge and too far away. I was totally overwhelmed.
Slowly, though, I have come to realize that my identity and the independence I once had, has changed to an interdependence, and that is okay. I now have the great fortune of living close to my daughter and her family, and that has become important to me.
In fact, I believe the current economy and environmental changes will dictate in the near future that families will have to pull together and live interdependently as they did in earlier times.
Our modern-day concept of the “nuclear family” catered to individualism, independence and “me first-ism.” I think families have suffered because of this – for example, many children don’t know their cousins, aunts or uncles. I know this is true of my family, and I regret it.
Over time I adjusted, and I began thinking of what it was I really wanted to do in my retirement. I put the vibration out there in the universe, and many satisfying experiences have come my way.
Making new friends and sharing meals together is important to me, so I accepted an invitation to dinner at a neighbor’s house for New Years Eve even though I was a little nervous about it. There, I met another woman who wanted someone to share walks, so now we stroll every-other-day, come rain or shine.
I love reading and discussing books so I joined a book club at the Graham library. Plus, I used to write political commentaries for my local paper in Illinois and I wanted to find some kind of writing opportunity here in Washington state. One day, I decided to check out a little coffee shop in Graham named Le’ Cupcake, and serendipitously met the publisher of The Mountain News. Now, here I am.
Increasing cash flow is a necessity. I’m not sure yet what it is I will do for a job, but a part time one is a probability for the near future.
Right now, though, I’m excited about my new place, which is a major conversion of my daughter’s two-car garage, and it’s ready for drywall, finally. Soon, I’ll be busy choosing things like tile and paint color, and that’ll be fun.
When complete, I’ll have a living room with a cathedral ceiling, and huge windows that will let in lots of light along with French doors that open onto a deck. I’ll also have a large bedroom with an attached office space, a kitchen and dinette area, and a bathroom possessing a shower stall replete with a built-in bench.
In return, I’m financing their construction of a three-car garage, which will include a great little workshop and workout area. I feel good about this little house.
I had always planned to build a dwelling for myself that would allow me to live without rent or a mortgage, so that I could survive on social security alone.
Unfortunately, due to our present economy, which prevented me from getting top dollar for my house and the loss of thousands of dollars from my IRA’s when the market crashed a few years ago, I needed help.
Although my first idea was living in a “Yurt” (Google http://www.PacificYurts.com for a look at how great an idea this was), my daughter disapproved, so she and Eric made the decision to offer me the option of building an attached apartment. It’s a big deal for all of us.
Further, I moved here with the intent of working with Krista and Eric to create a self-sustaining property utilizing the principals of permaculture on our one-acre of land.
Back in Illinois, I contributed to the planning of a permaculture in a rural area called Black Oaks Center for Renewable and Sustainable Living. They had a completely self-sustained property that included a well and a cistern to collect rainwater along with a pond stocked with fish, chickens and goats, vegetable gardens, and fruit and nut trees. In addition, they had hay bale houses, yurts – of course – and a community fire pit for cooking and camp fires.
I envision something like this on our land. Presently, we have our own well, five chickens, two goats and a vegetable garden. It’s a start.
I don’t know how things will be in a few years. I only know that I want to remain useful and contribute something to life here in the Pacific Northwest.
This new stage I’ve entered, retirement, is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Wish me luck with mine, and good luck with yours.
© 2011 Paula Morris
All Rights Reserved