Acceptance, Change, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, Stress and Anxiety

Downshifting

It’s been a bit of a rough re-entry after our wonderful vacation.  Work stresses and the stress of having to the unplanned purchase of a new car just weeks before I retire have put me on edge, and my schedule is still way too packed so I feel like I am rushing from commitment to commitment without any breathing space.

I know that when I am stressed and rushing, Don gets anxious, and that kicks off a vicious cycle where his anxiety makes his memory and cognitive issues worse, which slows him down, which makes me more stressed and more likely to snap at him, which makes him more anxious, which makes the cognitive issues worse…and then we both end up feeling badly – him because he feels like he is letting me down, and me because I get upset and short-tempered.

We’ve been in that cycle too many times in the past week.

Yesterday we had “Memory Club” – a great 7 week program for people experiencing early-stage short term memory loss and their care partners.  Each week we hear from an expert on some aspect of cognitive impairment/dementia and how to manage it, and then we split up so the people experiencing memory and cognitive issues have time together facilitated by a social worker, and the care partners have time together with a psychologist.  It has been really helpful to have a community of people experiencing similar challenges, and the psychologist’s insights have been particularly helpful to me.

Yesterday when the care partners met, the psychologist talked about the difficulty that care partners have in “downshifting” as they move into the care partner role. He said we are used to driving along at 70 miles per hour on a relatively open highway, where we have known where we are going and the milestones and landmarks are familiar.  Now we need to go onto a road that is unfamiliar, where the destination is unknown, and that is marked by twists and hairpin turns and if we and our loved ones are to navigate this road successfully, we need to learn to downshift.

That concept really spoke to me, as I think it is at the heart of what I have been struggling with lately.  It is obvious that when I don’t downshift by building more space into our schedule so that we can match the pace of our activities to Don’s pace and abilities the wheels start to fall off…and yet I am finding it really difficult to do.  It’s also obvious that I need to downshift for my own well-being, not just Don’s.

I think we will probably struggle with this for the next six weeks until my retirement as I deal with some stressful issues at work, we have family visitors staying with us for all but a couple of days of the next month (we love them all, but they can be high maintenance!), there is a string of retirement events for me (stressful in their own right!), and we still have to fit in medical appointments, Memory Club, sessions with our counselor, exercise, and important time with friends.

Once I retire I will feel more able to take my foot off the gas and downshift, but I suspect that it won’t be that easy for someone with my driven personality to make this shift after nearly 40 years of a fast-paced, intense, and fully scheduled life, and I expect a steep learning curve.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, Stress and Anxiety, travel

R&R

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted, mostly because life has been crazy busy. Even though the demands of my job are diminishing as I head towards retirement, hand over more to staff, and back away from job-related community and professional commitments, I feel like I am constantly juggling work, medical appointments (mostly Don’s), everything that goes into managing our household, and making time for exercise and time with friends….always feeling like something is about to come crashing down

I hadn’t realized how much it all has been wearing on me, and how my weariness and stress have been affecting Don, until the past 10 days, which we have spent in Hawaii. The first week we were at our favorite beachside resort on the Big Island with absolutely nothing on the agenda. We slept in every day, lounged on the beach and swam in the ocean every morning, had siestas every afternoon, made love, and spent time each evening on the lanai of our room listening to the waves. Apart from one day when we drove around the island, and a couple of evenings listening to a favorite slack key artist, we didn’t stir from the resort.

The last few days we’ve been in Honolulu, and while it hasn’t been quite as restful we enjoyed a drive up to the North Shore, caught up with good friends, and enjoyed sunset mai tais and some great Hawaiian music each evening.

Most importantly, we just enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed a lot, and had more, and more meaningful, conversations than we’ve had in a long time.

It wasn’t all nirvana as I did check work email, and one of our cars also died just before we left, so I did spend some time researching replacements and communicating with dealers, but it was the longest stretch of unstructured time that we have had in years. Even our vacations in recent years have been of the adventure travel or sightseeing in new places variety…restorative in their own way, but not deeply restful like this trip has been.

I could see the positive effects in both of us. I was not stress eating, and despite the general lack of exercise and the mai tais I think I actually lost a couple of pounds. Don’s cognitive issues and me pry glitches didn’t disappear, but we both were more able to take them in stride without getting anxious or upset, and as a result some things actually were better.

By the end of the trip he was reading a real book after quite a long period where he has had trouble focusing on longer written pieces. He was able to navigate his way to and from restrooms in airports and restaurants without getting disoriented the way he had on other recent trips…and when he did get a little turned around he was able to stop, not panic, and reorient himself. He drove the cars we rented, and although he was a little nervous and commented that it felt different he did just fine. We just finished a game of Ipad Scrabble on the plane trip home, our first in a year or more, and he was noticeably more patient, used more complex words and configurations, and didn’t get “stuck” the way he did the last time we played.

While we obviously can’t be on permanent vacation, and even after I retire we will have exercise classes, doctor’s appointments, and social commitments on our calendar I think being free of the 40+ hours that my job consumes in a good week (and not infrequently 50-60 hours or more), not to mention being free of the work stress, is going to make a huge difference in our relationship and well-being.

I’m also going to make sure we have plenty of unstructured time…weekly “sabbath” days, short get aways where we just chill, and at least one long beach vacation to Hawaii or somewhere similar each year.

Now we just need to get through the next seven weeks until I retire – weeks that are already filled with appointments, retirement parties, and extended visits from family…

Reflections, Retirement

Ready for retirement

The past couple of weeks it has felt like the universe is conspiring to reinforce that I have made the right decision to retire.

While there have been the usual ups and downs, dramas, and irritants over the years, and there are some specific parts of my job I have disliked (union negotiations, for example) overall the past 14 years have been enjoyable and rewarding.  Maybe it’s my mindset as a “short timer” or maybe it is that lately there actually have been more instances of the things that have irritated me…but whatever the reason I am definitely less tolerant of the irritants and minutiae and definitely feeling ready to move on.

At the same time, I’ve been obsessively checking my financial planning spreadsheets and running scenarios for scenarios and I am comfortable (I should probably touch wood here!) that we have the resources to weather a stock market crash, a medical crisis, or whatever the future might bring.

And, in response to the myriad questions about “what you going to do when you retire?” I’ve been running through my long and growing list of projects I want to get done, classes I want to take, and places I want to visit, and organizations I want to support with my time…not to mention the prospect of waking up without an alarm; and having unscheduled time to garden, cook healthy meals, bake, walk or bike to do my errands, and to read….Let’s just say I’m not worried about filling my time!

In other words, I am ready!  Now I just need to make it through the next 9 weeks….

Change, Reflections, Retirement, Uncategorized

Rooted

As my retirement date nears one of the most common questions I get is “Are you moving?”  The answer is absolutely not!

It is true that we live in one of the highest cost areas of the country, and our retirement income and savings would stretch a lot further elsewhere, but there are many reasons we are staying put –

  • We love living three blocks from the beach, seeing whales spouting and dolphins frolicking on our morning walks, and our gorgeous ocean sunsets.
  • We love our home, yard, and neighbors.
  • Our family and friends are scattered around North America and the world, and we love that they want to come visit us and that our proximity to LAX makes it convenient for them to do so.
  •  We love our Mediterranean climate and have no desire to move anywhere hotter, or colder.
  • We love that pretty much everything we really need (restaurants, grocery stores, bank, shops) is in walking distance, or at most a very short drive away.

All of these things are nice, but the most important thing is that after moving 7 times over the course of our marriage, this is where we have put down roots.

We live in a home that my grandparents bought over 80 years ago.  It’s not where I grew up, but I spent many happy vacations and holidays here, and it is a place of good memories for several generations of may family.  For me, it represents home.

We’ve also established routines, found service providers that we like (doctors, dentist, tradespeople, garage…), learned which grocery stores have the best deals on which items, gotten to know the vendors at the Farmers’ Market and the morning walkers on the Esplanade, watched the trees we’ve planted grow, and most importantly, we’ve made friends.  In short, this has become our community.

Simone Weil once wrote “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

We are rooted here.

 

 

Letting Go, Reflections, Retirement, Work

Bittersweet

Today was our annual Staff Day at work – my last.  All of the libraries were closed so that we could bring the entire staff together for training and fellowship.  The staff team that volunteered to plan the day outdid themselves with a great mix of team-building and learning opportunities, not to mention excellent food and our first staff Bake Off featuring an amazing array of gourmet treats.

They had me in tears after lunch when they showed a photo montage from my 14 years at the library district, including photos of too many people who are now deceased, then presented me with an album of photos of almost every employee, Board members, and volunteers with a hand written note from each.

The day ended with the obligatory team photo –

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We have certainly had our challenges over the years, but it has been a huge privilege to work with this creative, talented, and hardworking group of people.  As much as I am looking forward to retirement I know that I will miss them very much.

Truly a bittersweet day….

Illness

Surviving

I was feeling smug that I had made it through this year’s nasty flu season, but last Thursday I got hit by a virus, which turned into an upper respiratory infection my eye.  The timing couldn’t have been worse, following several days off work for vacation and with a long list of tasks to be completed and some tricky issues at work.

I was off work for two days last week, then battled through most of this week trying to stay on top of my to-do list,  carry out my responsibilities at home, keep up my exercise routine, and participate in a couple of important-to-me social events.  I felt like I was operating at half speed, but I just kept reminding myself of a quote from Winston Churchill –

“Most of the world’s work is done by people who don’t feel very well”

I survived until today, when I woke up actually feeling like my chest infection was starting to abate somewhat, but with one eye glued shut, red, swollen and itchy.  I spent the morning resting in bed and then thankfully Don had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon.  I was able to get his wonderful Primary Care doctor to look at me too.  After listening to my chest and looking at my eye he sent me off with eye drops, and a prescription for antibiotics to be filled if I am not better soon.

Hopefully the eye drops will work quickly, and with a good night of sleep under my belt I’ll feel well enough to get to the aqua aerobics class that is a highlight of my week.  In any case I am planning a quiet weekend of rest, with a break for a low key Easter brunch with family, before I get back into the swing of things with a new appreciation for my usually robust immune system.

 

 

 

 

 

Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, swimming, travel

Whales, dolphins…and angels

We just got back from a long weekend in Puerto Vallarta.  It had been more than 10 years since we were last there, and we had forgotten how much we like it.  This time we stayed a block from Los Muertos beach, walking distance from all of the city sights and in the thick of the action.  We loved the vibrancy, the color, watching the local families crowd the beach on what was for them a holiday weekend, and the food.  We ate lots of street tacos and several meals with our feet in the sand, drank far too many margaritas, took the water taxi to the little beach town of Yelapa, and saw some spectacular sunsets.

On Monday we took a 1/2 day whale watching trip with Wildlife Connection – a small, biologist-run outfit that takes people out in zodiacs so you can get really close to the whales.  It was a blast watching the humpbacks frolicking in Banderas Bay.  We got some amazing photos, but I think this is my favorite:

 

The next day we went out with Wildlife Connection again, this time to find dolphins with the hope of swimming with them in the wild.  One of the biologists studied a particular pod of dolphins for her Master’s thesis, and they became friendly with her and will often swim up to people.  We found the pod, and I volunteered to jump in first along with another man since Don did not want to go in.  A couple of dolphins swam right up to me and circled around, one of them so close it nearly brushed against me.  In just a few seconds they were gone, but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime.

It all happened so fast that it was hard to get a picture, but Don managed to capture it in the last second of a video he took with his iPhone, and I was able to extract this very blurry image from there.  That is me in the  back with a dolphin swimming right in front of me.

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Unfortunately for the people who went in the water after me, the dolphins became more interested in surfing the wake and in teasing people by swimming towards them and then flashing past, so no one else got such an up close and personal experience.  I feel truly blessed.

I also feel blessed that Don and I got to spend such a fun time together, “making memories” as my grandmother always used to say.  These times together are becoming even more precious as we face his aging process and the cognitive challenges it has brought.

The trip could have ended badly as Don wandered out of the VIP Lounge at the airport and found himself on the wrong side of security without his passport or boarding pass.  He had left to go to the restroom, which he didn’t realize was inside the lounge, and then got disoriented and lost.  I started to worry when he didn’t return, and tried checking the restrooms both inside and out of the lounge.  One of the waiters in the lounge saw my distress and was about to go out and search with me when I got a call from Don on my cell phone and he told me where he was.  The waiter told me he would watch our stuff while I went and retrieved Don, and then when we returned was so solicitous, bringing us bottled water to take on the airplane, and checking every few minutes to make sure Don was ok.  I tried to find him to thank him when we left to catch our plane, but didn’t see him.  A few minutes later he came hurrying up the departure hall to say goodbye to us.  He was a lovely, kind man who went above and beyond to help us…an angel when I really needed one.