Retirement, Work

Taking a break

The past few weeks my life has been a whirlwind of house guests, retirement events, pre-retirement paperwork, cleaning my office of 15 years of accumulated stuff, social and volunteer commitments, and just keeping on top of the day-to-day tasks that keep our household and lives afloat.

No time for blogging, or for anything other than paddling as fast as I can to keep my head above water….both figuratively and literally as the one thing I have made sure I find time for is swimming.

Once I am actually retired – in 22 days! – I am hoping that the whirlwind will stop, or at least slow down, so that I have the time and energy to put into blogging, and that it will feel less like a chore and more like the creative outlet I hoped it would be.  Until then I think I will be taking a break….

 

 

Acceptance, Family, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, swimming

Swimming

I am a swimmer.  I’ve never been on a swim team, had my last swimming lesson when I was 12, my stroke is far from perfect and even my fastest pace is slow….but starting when I was in grad school, and continuing with only short breaks due to injury or lack of pool access, I have shown up several times a week and swum laps.

Swimming is my exercise of choice, but more than that it is what keeps me sane when my world is going crazy.  Counting laps is my mantra, and the rhythm of my breath is my meditation.  As Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui wrote in this blog post, 

“In the pool, I let go of all my responsibilities and inner chatter and focus on my breath and the way my body tilts gently with each stroke.”   When I emerge from the water, my body is tired, but my soul is revitalized.

Lately my life feels even more turbulent than usual.  My last few weeks at work before retirement are busy as I wind down or hand over tasks and projects, there are too many retirement events for an introvert like me, and we are partway through a month of non-stop house guests…family members that we love, but who bring long-standing triggers and dramas.

Most of this will die down once I retire, but I will still be faced with the roller-coaster ride of Don’s cognitive issues and the uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and fear that we both are feeling.

I will swim my way through.

To borrow again from Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui, swimming “is one more invitation, on this life journey, to step into small, imperfect action.  I am reminded that I am the type of person who moves through fear and anxiety, and does hard things, who seeks freedom and does not quit.”

I have a feeling that the coming months and years will test me in ways that I never wanted to be tested, but I will swim my way through the fear and anxiety and I will not quit.

 

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 –

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, tree, crowd, shoes, outdoor and nature

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….