I thought I would stop feeling chronically stressed and overwhelmed once I stopped working. I realized that work issues are not the only stressors in life. I knew that thinking I would NEVER feel stressed again was patently unrealistic. Still, I thought the relentlessness of the condition would disappear. I was wrong. The stress storm that raged inside me through my work life hasn’t really blown away. It has abated from hurricane level, but I’m not taking the storm shutters down just yet.
I think I’ve hit on a theory as to why that constant feeling of vague panic hasn’t left. Somehow, in the rush of changes and new experiences, I’ve become less the sum of my parts and more my role in the world. I seem to be less who I am and more what I am. It seems “me” is no longer a compilation of my attributes, preferences, perspectives, values, and unique quirks. To the world, I am the senior citizen living in a retirement community. To most of my former employees and colleagues, I am the retired leader who isn’t in the loop. To my mother, I am the administrative assistant and caretaker. To Max, I am the strategic and tactical partner in carving out our new life. None of these roles is bad. In fact, they all contribute to who I am. Still, feeling that I am always the somewhat one-dimensional role and not the multi-faceted person is stressful. Every now and again, I observe myself in a moment just being myself and reacting to others in a way that feels genuine and effortless. It is wonderfully refreshing. Most of the time, though, I am doing and saying things that seem right for the role I happen to be filling at the time. The living of my life seems to be a performance and a rather forced one at that. I often feel like I am waiting to be me. I’ve found that this can be as stressful as postponing a priority of my own when something happened at work that forced me to change my plans.
So how do I stop living in the role and allowing myself to be who I am? I have a few ideas.
I need to notice what is happening when I observe myself just being me and do what I can to replicate those conditions. I think those “me” moments often occur when I am talking about something or doing something that is quite apart from any of my roles. I guess the common denominator is that I am usually focusing on a passion of my own. For instance, I joined a book club about a year after we moved. I have always loved books and revel in the artistry that goes into truly elegantly constructed literature. About a million years ago, I majored in English in college. During my career, I was not called on to discuss books. However, many of the most satisfying aspects of my job involved analysis, discussion, and communication. Those elements of analysis, discussion, and communication are certainly present in the book club. I find the conversations at the book club to be fascinating and wonderfully soul-nourishing. The club discusses a wide variety of genres and styles, which broadens my understanding of the world. The other members’ comments enrich my understanding and enjoyment of the books. I also love it when I can offer a perspective that the majority haven’t considered.
I also need to allow myself to speak genuinely of my interests to the people in my life. I find that I have started to communicate in a rather sparse, functional way. Instead of sharing my thoughts and feelings about my passions, I often edit myself and only talk about what needs to be done in the context of the role. For instance, if my mother asks me how the book club went, I may just answer “fine” and move on to asking her about how she feels or what tasks I need to complete for her. There is no reason to withhold my thoughts about the book club discussion. It isn’t a secret society or anything. In fact, my mother is interested in what I do when I am not with her and is always pleased to hear about my activities. Maintaining relationships instead of merely fulfilling roles requires honesty and sharing ourselves generously with others.
Another strategy that will help is to protect the time I’ve set aside for doing fun things with Max and enjoy the day adventures we take. I often find myself most relaxed and light-hearted when we are sitting watching a movie at home or spending a whole day together at a theme park or shopping mall. Unfortunately, though, I will sometimes sacrifice that time either to do something that needs doing or compromise it by overscheduling myself and feeling rushed when I should be having fun.
I also need to make time for activities on my own. I love doing things with Max. I love doing things with my mom. I love doing things with my new Florida friends. Still, it is really fun and refreshing to sometimes just go out and have an adventure on my own without having to worry about what the other person wants or needs. When I was working and before we moved, it was relatively easy to do something on my own because malls and events and other activities were all around us. It was pretty easy to stop somewhere for an hour or two on my way home from work to get a little “me” time. In our new home territory, things are more spread out, so going somewhere on my own is a little less automatic. With a little forethought, however, I find it is possible and necessary to have Terri Time.
And, finally, I CAN go home again when I need to feel like me again. Usually, that “going home” means a phone, text, or email conversation with a much-loved faraway friend. However, planes do fly both ways and I certainly can travel to visit the folks who understand the real me best.
A few months ago, I made a quick trip to my home state to do just that. I had not intended to go back so soon after moving, but there was a confluence of circumstances that motivated me. A dear friend from another state was coming in to my home state for business. The opportunity to see my three bestest friends in the same geographic vicinity was too good a chance to miss.
It was a whirlwind trip and very busy. I did not sleep late or loll around doing nothing. It involved lots of planning and scheduling and visiting multiple airports. I rushed hither, thither, and yon to spend time with the people I cherish. I rented a car and drove about 800 miles in the four days of my visit. I didn’t spend more than one night in any one location. Still, I arrived home feeling re-energized, happy, and loving life.
When I thought about why the trip had been so wonderful, I realized that, to the friends I visited, I was just me. They didn’t need me to do anything for them. They relished in hearing me talk about our common interests and about my new life. They had been looking forward to just being with and laughing with me. I was not filling a role. I was simply Terri- their sister of the soul.
So what are your thoughts? Have you ever felt “on-you” after a major life change, like retirement or a move? What did you do about it? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a wonderful day!
Note: Next week, I’ll be back to posting on Wednesday morning. Thanks for your understanding…. and for reading! You all rock.