So, I picked up a book the other day called "The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement." On the backside it says, "if one or more of the following characteristics describe you, you may be at risk for suffering unpleasant mood swings and depression after retirement."
"You work long hours and are successful in your career." - Yes, guilty as charged. I was very successful at what I did and well-liked or at least well-respected within the community for the service I provided. I definitely felt my work was purposeful.
"You are highly focused and motivated." - Right again.
"You enjoy competition and winning." - Not really, unless in a team setting. I used to enjoy competing individually when I did track and field but now I just feel like an ass if I allow myself to enjoy winning on my own. So, maybe a little bit but usually in a team setting.
"You have an aggressive or assertive personality." - Yes, I'd say assertive but others might say aggressive depending on who you ask, the situation or how sexist they are.
"You enjoy achieving difficult and challenging goals." - Right again, I'm easily bored when I am not challenged.
"You have few outside interests not connected with your work." - Admittedly so. My work and my church are my biggest interests. I don't have many hobbies outside of them.
When I realized that disability retirement was likely, I began doing all the things you are supposed to do. You know, planning financially, getting my accounts in order, making sure I would be able to pay all the bills, getting enough life and mortgage insurance to cover my family in case of an early demise, getting my Will and Trust done, etc. No one, not even my counselor at the VA mentioned preparing myself mentally. In fact, I kept being told that it would help me, that I would experience LESS stress, LESS anxiety, LESS depression.
Obviously, they were wrong, at least initially, and I wasn't as well-prepared as I thought even though I've known it was coming for a long time. The funny thing is, I knew from my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist that people got depressed after retirement but I thought because I was young and I knew for the last 17 years that it was coming, one day, that I wouldn't be affected. More than that, because I already suffer from depression and anxiety associated with a major pain disorder, it was hard to notice when the symptoms I experienced were new.
So, when I started feeling like this wasn't happening to me, like any day I might find a solution to my medical problems and return to work. I thought, "so what, I've always hoped for that."
And when I started feeling hurt, angry, depressed that I wasn't getting better I didn't reach out for help at first because, "I always go through this and its nothing new that people haven't already heard before from me, I'll get through this."
But when it continued to cycle back and forth between denial and anguish as my doctors kept talking about new treatments and possible surgeries. I felt like a yo-yo. Would I ever return to work? Should I dare to hope? Am I ever going to be useful to society again? I'm only 36 years old! My life is over! Why! Why Why!
Okay, get the picture? Anguish. Hurt. Despair. I needed help, I needed support. I looked a little more closely at the stages of grief in retirees and it seemed like I was probably bouncing between the depression and anger stages. I'd already gone through depression and anger a few times, I kept going back and forth between them but I was having a hard time getting to acceptance because the doctors kept telling me that I *might* be able to go back to work if they do such and such treatment or this or that surgery.
This is where I am right now. Still stuck in this stage. I'm trying to deal with it but its hard. I'm a little short on live support actually. I tried reaching out to a few people I wanted to trust with it but found that some people don't understand that post retirement depression is a real thing. One person actually mocked me for being depressed that I am on "permanent vacation" and then proceeded to tell me how much they were going through and compare their ills to mine as if to prove how much worse they had it. It just made me feel more guilty for feeling this way and even more alone. Another made me feel guilty for sharing my feelings of loneliness and decided we are no longer friends because they thought I was trying to tell them it was their fault that I'm feeling lonely. Luckily I have the love and support of my partner, Craig, who unerringly is there for me and me for him.
I'm so worn out by this and all I really want right now is the support and love of my friends and peers but at this point its hard to trust that I can have that and not be ridiculed for it. At the same time I feel compelled to share what I'm going through because it is important to know that retirement, while it should be a joyous time, isn't always. There are more things to prepare for than money and bills.
Despite my rough start, it is getting better. I still resent the lack of support I've received from my friends and peers, but I'm forging ahead with new things. I've been cutting out things that do not bring me peace and following through on the things that do. I have learned that I must have a schedule or routine in my day so things don't tend to drift together. Daily exercise has figured prominently in my daily activities and I have learned to focus on relationships that are built on reciprocity and trust. I also have been talking to my counselor about my feelings and it helps, not as much I think as having the support of my loved ones but some.
If you are experiencing this yourself due to disability or retirement, please remember to expand your social groups if you can well before retirement. Take up a few hobbies or sports, meet new people, make some friends outside of work, seek out counseling. Financial planning is great but there is more to life than money.
In the end, its love that really matters.