1 yr in, retired at 60. Part three: 18 months was the magic number
How simple it all seemed, focusing only on my retirement struggles at the end of one year. Learning how to experience downtime. All the suggestions about retirement said get a hobby or three, a part time job, volunteer, etc. Those are all good suggestions for most, but I found that learning to be comfortable and relaxed in downtime was most critical.
As outlined in my previous posts, my biggest challenges were learning to self analyze what was hindering my adjustments to retirement (creating unhappiness) and being fully transparent with "me" about my struggles with depression and anxiety during retirement.
Just when I started to get a durable grip on my retirement psyche, a world pandemic hits casting many of my best laid plans back into turmoil.
It's said that with every dark cloud comes a sliver lining and Covid provided that for me; an opportunity to really focus on my own situation so that the Covid did not add immeasurably to my phycological woes.
Getting to the conclusion of this part of my retirement journey, hitting 18 months of retirement irrefutably changed my feelings from dark, sometimes gloomy and always searching for answers to feeling fulfilled, having a sense of purpose and, above all else, gaining a sense of calm and being relaxed.
How 18 months of practice pushed me to a satisfactory retirement life can be refined down to several points:
What made me feel so uncomfortable during times of downtime, quiet times, gaps between activities, was the creeping feeling that I was already retired from the hamster wheel of a full time working life, now there I sat with no challenges facing me, no chores ignored, and an unspecified amount of idle time. A ripe setting for self loathing.
I started out just sitting for fifteen minutes and blocked negative thoughts and feelings several times a day. It was an exercise. I forced my way up to 30 minutes and learned how to only let positive thoughts come through- family, project planning, listen to my surroundings, music, etc.
I don't forcefully need to push the bad feelings or creeping negative analysis during my downtime any more. I trained myself to let more positive in and it's benefited me so much.
Find what's right for you when it comes to working. It's not defeating to admit that in retirement you still need a little to a lot to do outside of being fully retired.
I worked in several different capacities during the first 18 months landing on a couple small technical advising and technical writing opportunities. While I earn less than 1/10th of my full-time salary, the interaction and the 10-12 hours I spend per week suits me well. It keeps me reading, stimulates my interests, and provides a meaningful distraction.
I think the same would apply to a part time manufacturing job, a work online from home part timer, etc. Like a kid with their first savings effort, I watch the small monthly increments of moneys grow and plan spends outside of our retirement moneys.
Find time for daily physical well being- when you are doing something physically for yourself, it's almost impossible to make time for self loathing or feelings of withering away into old age.
I'm not a go to the gym type (but think it wonderful for those who are) but I try to spend 30 minutes a day walking and, interestingly enough, splitting wood for an hour 3 times a week.
I have a reasonable set of dumbbell weights that I'll do fifteen- twenty minutes worth of lifting a couple times per week especially if I miss my wood splitting or just feel inspired to do a bit more, those exercises that genuinely make your joints and muscles feel better, alive.
It doesn't matter if you are mobility limited, wheelchair-bound, or just paralyzed by retirement, even a tiny amount of routine physical exertion makes the body, and especially the spirit better.
Work out the relationships in your life- I often felt (and wrote about) my identity being tied so closely to my career.
I business traveled internationally for 30 years so my contributions to gatherings with friends and family were often detailing adventures in foreign lands. Then, one day, nothing.
It took a long time to understand that to some groups of people, I no longer had excitement to contribute and my tales of gardening, grandchildren, and finding relaxation were not of interest.
I felt largely irrelevant and remembered listening to stories from retirees when I was younger and, in my mind, humming the Springsteen song Glory Days as they regaled with tales of their past. Here I was in that same spot.
It would be a lie to tell you I didn't need to reduce focus on some relationships in my life and even let a few completely fall away. I did find over the period of 18 months that many relationships grew, exceeding their pre-retirement value, but I had to commit the time to making that value grow.
You can't allow impatience or false pride to hurry things or even control your satisfaction at developing relationships- if you do it will be a significant source of anxiety and even depression.
In addition to a 75% reduction in anxiety and depression, I am finally enjoying sleep like I never have before. Im not a napper, but being able to have fulfilling sleep for 8+ hours a night is such a pleasure.
I was always a person who felt the night laid bare all of the unvarnished realities of my angst, a time of truth stripped of ego barriers.
Now when I awake in the middle of the night for any reason, it's not an analysis of the mind's thunderclouds that grays my thoughts, but a feeling that those clouds are gone and the freedom to do what I want to do, get up, stay in bed, watch TV, all my choices I have even in the middle of the night.
A good sleep creates a natural time of freedom from one's demons and, for me, waking up after a good sleep helps to keep my armor up against the days mental challenges. A lack of quality sleep alway exacerbates any daily mental challenge.
I'm ever vigilant to monitor my anxiety and depression, even at just a 25% level of its past strength, there's overwhelmingly strong mojo in depression to bust free from its confines and grow rapidly.
As Allie Griffin wrote New York Post writer "Depression is frustrating. It's knowing there's so much to be grateful for and happy about and to enjoy, but you just can't get there."
Depression depends upon personal care and nurturing to survive and retirement can be a very ripe climate for that very nurturing.
I'm never afraid to admit that several times in my life I sought professional consultation that helped me craft the personal coping tools that have helped me since retirement.
Don't hesitate to seek qualified care if you find your own journey a little much to handle on your own. The tools and understanding you will gain can last for a lifetime.