Content and Questioning: Living Comfortably with Contradiction

My last blog entry was just over 8 weeks ago, and my retirement decision continues to feel like the correct decision. However, retirement only feels like a reality now. The very beginning of my retirement occurred over the Christmas period, and we had a 12-day Norwegian cruise booked for the 30th of January as one of the bucket list events on my things to do in retirement list.  So essentially from the 17th of December until the 13th of February I was living in a retirement, holiday, vacation bubble. Sure, as my previous retirement blogposts document, I was working on developing a shape to my retirement life, but retirement didn’t feel 100% real. That initial two-month period was fabulous and I felt myself de-stress, relax, lighten and begin to recover. The trip to Norway was particularly rejuvenating and I remained in a childlike state of wonder, amazement, exploration, mindfulness, and joy for the entire trip. (More about that in another blog). Normally on holiday I would remain worried or thinking about work – and often doing some work. Not having the unconscious/semi-conscious worry was palpable (and lovely). 

On Monday the 14th of February I woke up and had a panic – “Shit I’m retired now. What am I going to do with myself?” I was shocked at the intensity of the panic and anxiety that washed over me in that minute. I sat with those feelings as I went about my new morning routine – coffee for my husband, dogs out for a walk, exercise, meditation, journaling, breakfast and bath. The panic eased, but I was left with an uneasy questioning sense of “is this enough?” I began to engage with the days domestic tasks and then began to do my intellectual pursuits in the afternoon: reviewing an article for a journal, reviewing promotions applications for an international university, preparing for some mediation sessions coming up later in the week. The rest of the week followed a similar pattern as I continued to work on those intellectual pursuits.

In my meditation practice I began to simply ask the question in the 3rd person, “What do you want to do in retirement?” I just let that question percolate in meditation and in my unconscious for the next several weeks. Thankfully there was no panic, just a reflective wondering. On one level it seemed a bit odd that I would be asking myself this question because I had done so much pre-retirement planning and thinking, but I know myself well enough to realise that my processing and discernment process occurs in waves. (Even for simple decisions – which drives my quick decision-making husband crazy). There was a sense of comfort in simply asking the question in meditation even though the initial structure I developed was working for me.

The following two weeks were much the same, though we came down with a cold. We went to our first big event since lockdown over that weekend and our immune systems must have gone into a state of shock! Though I was still doing some intellectual activities, the cold really slowed me down (e.g. I was having to take a nap everyday and my thinking wasn’t as clear). I reflected on how while working I would have continued to push through the cold. At the end of that two-week period I had my delayed night out with the staff from the School. It was so good to see people from work and I was reminded just how much I liked the people I worked with. I got to hear about some of the university machinations and that was enough to remind me that I really don’t miss the stress that came with being Dean, but I do miss the interaction with the amazing people there. The School gave me an incredibly thoughtful and beautiful retirement present – a commissioned painting (the graphic with this blogpost) by DJCAD alumna Stephen French. I was so touched and it is one of my favourite views from Dundee – a view of the V&A looking across the River Tay. I lived on and looked over the Tay every day for 13 years and I do miss the beauty and power of that majestic river. 

I took the train home the next morning and again reflected on how retirement really was the right thing for me at this point. I also felt very fortunate to have had such a great career and to have worked with such amazing people over the years. I was also very proud of my legacy. It was a nice place to be mentally/emotionally. At the same time, I was still asking myself, “What do you want to do in retirement?” No panic, no anxiety, no fear…. just a simple question.

Our immune system must have been weakened by that lingering cold, as I picked up another bug in all those festivities/train journeys and was totally flattened for two weeks. We were convinced it was COVID at first because of the horrible cough and extreme fatigue, but numerous PCR and LFD tests said no. Again, I reflected on the experience of being unwell while retired as compared to being unwell while working. If I’m honest with myself, I really was rubbish at self-care while working. I frequently went to work while sick, came back too soon, or worked from home while ill. Part of that was being an American who was brought up with having only two weeks sick leave entitlement each year, but part of it was my own workaholic drive or my fear of letting people down. For the past 2 weeks I just let myself be sick, engaged in soothing self-care, slept a lot – a whole lot, played on my PlayStation when I had the energy, and took the dogs out for their walks. It was such a strange, but pleasant, experience to be sick, but not stressed. I do have some deadlines coming up in the next 2 weeks, but I felt no stress or worry. I wonder what my working life would have been like if I hadn’t run myself ragged all the time. 

So here I am now, back in the saddle again. Back to doing my routine, feeling well, engaging in my intellectual pursuits, doing a wee bit of volunteer work, continuing my caring responsibilities and picking up my hobbies. I am really content AND I’m still asking, “what do you want to do in retirement?”  This apparent contradiction feels great. Let’s see where this ends up.

1 thought on “Content and Questioning: Living Comfortably with Contradiction

  1. Ann V

    Interesting. I always used my summer breaks to practice being retired, so there little trouble answering your question about what to do.


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