The Need To Succeed

I’ve written a book.  It has taken me over a year and a lot of work, but I’ve written a book. 

I’ve said I wanted to be a writer all my life, so this is a big deal.  I’ve sent this collection of my brain nuggets off on its first wave of agents in attempt to interest someone in representing me.  My research suggested a strategy of soliciting about ten prospective agents at a time, continuing with query letters to a new batch of people every four weeks or so.  The guru I consulted implied that it is not unusual for a new writer to receive 20-30 rejections from agents before receiving an offer of representation.  The responses to the first wave of queries are starting to flit into my email. I am well on my way to those 20-30 rejections.   

When I started work on the book, I told myself that I was doing it for fun. I told myself I was doing it for personal satisfaction. I told myself that I was just ticking off a box on my bucket list.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be disappointed if no one wanted to represent or publish it.  I told myself a lot of happy hoopla that people tell themselves when they are trying to force themselves to feel rationally. 

I think feeling rationally may be an oxymoron. 

At any rate, despite my best intentions, I do feel a little deflated as I collect my rejection replies.  It isn’t that I am completely demoralized or depressed or anything so dramatic.  I don’t even feel like I’ve given up yet (although maybe I should!)  Still, I have to admit to feeling a bit dispirited.  Maybe even vaguely ashamed.   

I think it has a lot to do with the ingrained “need to succeed” that drove my every action and emotion while I was working.  During my work life, so much of my worth seemed tied up with results and achievement.  It was easy to feel exposed and ashamed when something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, no matter how hard I tried for a good outcome.  It was as if any sub-wonderful result would mean that everyone would know I wasn’t as smart or talented or strong or whatever as I was supposed to be. I don’t think I’m the only one who carried that world view on her back.  I’ve heard many people voice similar weird concerns that everyone would “find out” they weren’t all they were cracked up to be.    

Now, with the book, I am wondering if I am voluntarily taking on this burden again. I remember that my stomach clenched when I hit the send button on the first query email.  I knew, going into this project, that it was very likely that I would not find an agent willing to represent me.  There are a lot of reasons why writers do not get representation contracts or publication deals.  I’ve read that only about 2% of writers who submit their work for consideration are successful in obtaining agents.  My writing may not be good enough to make it into the top 2%, which doesn’t make it bad.  My writing may be good enough, but my subject or format may not be commercial enough to interest agents and publishers.  My “platform” may not be strong enough to provide the credibility to convince publishers that I have sufficient built-in customers to reduce their risk.   All of these are possible, even probable, reasons why I may never attract an agent.  None of them should be shameworthy, however. 

If the rejections continue, more and more people in the literary world (people who I don’t even know, by the way) will discover I am less talented or less commercial or less savvy or less something.  I have to figure out a way to be okay with that, if I am going to play out the entire scenario.   

There are things I could do to shore up some of my “lesses” that would probably increase the likelihood of attracting an agent and publisher.   I could attend writers’ conferences.  I could pursue speaking engagements more aggressively.  I could figure out how to promote myself on social media. When I was working, I even had some experience and skills that would probably translate very well to this new challenge.  The thing is- I’m just not that into doing any of them. The idea of attending writers’ conferences has some appeal, but I’m sure I’d have to mix and mingle at the conferences for it to do much good and mixing and mingling holds no appeal whatsoever.  As an extreme introvert, it is difficult for me to even ask people to read my blog.  The idea of aggressively trying to put myself in the public eye makes me cringe.  I can challenge myself a little and I probably will try to expand my horizons a bit in the promotion arena, but I really don’t want to cause an earthquake in my comfort zone. As far as social media goes…. My idea of hell is dealing with technology.    

If I am not going to do much to reduce the likelihood of rejections, maybe I need to concentrate on what I’ve already accomplished to evaluate the outcome of my goal to be a writer.

·       I have grown personally and built myself a more satisfying retirement life through writing.

·       I have been writing a weekly blog for just about two years. 

·       I have more unique visitors to my blog each month than I ever thought possible.

·       I approach 30,000 hits on the blogsite each month.

·       I have wonderful, thoughtful readers who leave generous and supportive comments.

·       I have people contact me who say that something I’ve written has helped them.

·       I have written a book that pleases me. 

There isn’t anything wrong with having a need to succeed.  You just have to be discerning about how you define “succeed.” 

Do you feel the pressure of “the need to succeed?”  How do you define “succeed?”  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a successful day!

Terri 🙂

 

The Long Haul

It has now been over nine months since my mother’s stroke. We’ve experienced several seasons of her prognosis. I’ve felt that each season has required a different response from me.

When my mother first had the stroke, I stepped into the war zone of my emotions, trying to be ever present and functional as medical staff triaged her towards “survival.” This season lasted only a day or two.

During the next season, my mother worked hard at rehabbing. The goal was for her to improve from “precarious existence” to “some truncated version of independent living.” During that time, I rabbitted around doing, doing, and doing. My focus was on doing all the administrative things to keep her life on hold and making sure nothing fell through the cracks so there was nothing to distract my mom from just getting better. I also invested my efforts in being her cheerleader and motivator.  I concentrated on trying to share the rehab process with her, as if my doing the exercises with her could somehow take part of the yoke from her shoulders. I also tried desperately to provide some sort of normalcy and memory of what “real life” was like. I remember regularly pushing her wheelchair around the rehab facility in the hot, humid Florida weather. My goal for that little adventure in exhaustion and dehydration was to remind her how much she enjoyed just being out of doors.  I wanted to show her that she could still enjoy some of her favorite things about living.

I think my mother knew before I did that things were not going to work out in the way I wanted. The season changed. It became darker and bleaker. The rehab wasn’t working.  My mother’s life got smaller instead of larger as she kept struggling with the physical and occupational therapy. As her life got smaller, so did the number of life experiences she could still enjoy. She became so, so weary. She declined physically and emotionally.  We seemed to have entered a season of good-bye. The hospice people believed she would pass quietly within a few days or weeks.

When someone you love is in their last days or weeks, everything in life changes. My life became all about her. During this short-term season, I spent much of my time just being with her at the hospice center. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t really do anything. I was just there. She ate almost nothing.  She slept a lot. I think she was just worn out from the months of battling to make progress in rehab and from the emotional effort it took her to accept her reality and decide to just let things be.  I did nothing to keep my life running that didn’t absolutely have to be done. I didn’t make much progress on the tasks needed to manage the financial side of my mother’s life either. Anything that wasn’t boiling over got pushed to the back burner, including my own feelings.

Once my mother had this opportunity to rest her weary body and soul, she stabilized and the season changed again. While it was clear she was never going to get better, it appeared that she would survive beyond the short term… whatever that might be. She was still journeying rather purposefully towards the end of life, but she was traveling at a languid pace. Sometimes, I think that pace has slowed for a reason.  This new season has given her time to look at the totality of her life in a clearer, less confused way than she could during the rehab or hospice seasons.  It has given us both the chance to reconnect in a more meaningful way.  Whatever the reason for the slower pace, it is her pace and it needs to be what it is.

Now, we seem to be managing her illness and journey towards her end of life for the “long haul,” if one can speak of the journey towards the end of life as the “long haul.”   The response must change. My role in this season has been to suggest and implement ways to make her memories and connections more satisfying and concrete.  I’ve bought laptop computers and portable DVD players to show her family pictures and videos. I’ve suggested particular movies and television shows for us to watch together that have meant something to us in the past. I call and face time my brother regularly from her nursing home room so that they can interact I’ve kept up with her friends in California, which results in those folks sending her emails and cards.

I have to acknowledge, though, that it is no longer possible for me to react in the same way I did while my mother was at the hospice house. All those practical and logistical tasks that I postponed during that sad, strange short haul have to be dealt with at some point. I must invest some time and energy in other relationships, if I want those relationships to survive the long haul of my mother’s decline. I have to feel the feelings that I pushed to the back burner when the only thing that mattered was my mother’s comfort. I need to take time for myself to replenish the reserves of strength that I’ve been depleting over the past nine months.  Over the long haul, my life has to be about more than watching my mother come to the end of hers.

I struggle with how to prioritize and balance over the long haul. I’m confident that my mother likes it when I live in a world outside her narrow one. She enjoys the pictures and stories I bring back to her after my “day off” each week. It is still pretty excruciating to leave her, for a lot of reasons. It is still exhausting to conduct my life with the extra layer of hurt over my shoulders that doesn’t ever really disappear. In some ways, of course, the short haul season was more difficult because it was so dark and intense and lonely. The long haul has been lighter and more purposeful. On the other hand, the long haul is just so relentless. I am so aware that I have no idea how much longer this way of life will continue. I have no idea how much longer I will be rearranging my days to visit the nursing home during my mother’s “sweet spot” of alertness. I have no idea how many more days I will have to do what needs to be done to manage her affairs. I have no idea when I will run out of strategies to keep her engaged.  I have no idea how long I can handle the grief. I have no idea what is ahead and how far ahead it is, except that the situation is likely only to get worse. As difficult as the “now”  is and as difficult as it is to journey this path with my mother, it hits me in the gut that the day is coming when I won’t be traveling with my mother anymore. That reality sneaks up on me from a dark, cold corner of my brain on a regular basis.  I am terrified of what it will feel like when it happens.

Sometimes I think I cannot face all the sorrow and fear one more day. Then I realize, I don’t have to face it for one more day. Right here, right now, I only have to do it today. I do much better when I keep my eyes and heart focused directly in the present. I can go to the nursing home today. I can think of ways, however small, to make my mother happier today. I can handle seeing her pain today. I can avoid experiencing the pain associated with my mother’s eventual death today.

What is the answer to handling the stress of everything related to my mother’s illness over the long haul? The short haul.

What do you think?  How does a person balance the needs of oneself  with the needs of others?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have safe travels today!

Terri 🙂

PS For those of you who read last week’s post, I wanted to provide an update.  Last Thursday, when I was walking into the nursing facility, I noticed that the warped places in the pavement are now covered by cement structures that look like speed bumps.  Apparently, my nice gardener guy did more than just help me up and clean up my mess.  I’m glad they fixed the problem!

 

School Of Dolphins

Yes, I know that dolphins travel in pods, not schools.  However, that doesn’t mean that the dolphins don’t have a thing or two to teach us.  I learned a lot from my day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.  The dolphin experience especially taught me  several important things about how to best use the time of our lives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my new merry marine mammal friends.

Make the most of your time.

A few years ago, I nagged a friend of mine to participate in a dolphin encounter in Hawaii.  We didn’t exactly “swim” with the dolphins.  It was more like “wading with the dolphins” because we kind of wimped out and took the encounter option that didn’t involve any deep-water interaction.   I can swim and have been swimming since I was a very little girl.  On the other hand, I was sort of anxious because I didn’t know how competent one needed to be in the water or how far I’d have to swim or how long it would take me to cover the ground I’d need to cover to do the deep-water swim.  My friend and I had a wonderful, soul-lightening time on our “dolphin wading” encounter, but I still couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on something.

The Discovery Cove experience did include a deep-water swim with the dolphin.  Part of my hesitation in deciding to go was the same anxiety that I wasn’t a good enough swimmer, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.  As I was standing in the water waiting for my turn at the swim, I confess to feeling a bit nervous. I am a self-professed proponent of carefully controlled adventure.  I’d rather have artificial adventure than risk the dangers of the real thing.

I believe that litigation potential is a fairly effective vetting tool to determine if something is reasonably safe.  I figure, if an organization is big enough and has deep enough pockets to get sued in the event of disaster, I’m probably going to come out of whatever adventure simulation they provide in one piece.  Since Discovery Cove has been operating for over fifteen years and has not been felled by ruinous lawsuits, I figured I’d probably be okay.

I did believe our dolphin, Kaolani, was probably not going to attack.   On the other hand, I still did not know what level of swimming competency was going to be required to keep up with the dolphin. All the trainers kept saying that if you had to ask if you’d need a life jacket, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deep-water swim.  They offered a shallow water swim as an alternative.  I kept thinking about it, even when I was out in the water.  No one else was asking for the shallow water swim. I didn’t want to miss anything, especially after self-limiting my earlier dolphin encounter in Hawaii. There was a bitsy little girl in our group whose toes barely reached the bottom of the shallow part of the water.  She opted for the deep-water swim. I decided that, if she could do it, so could I.  As it turned out, I just had to swim about eight feet and tread water for a few minutes.  I held on to Kaolani’s flippers and dolphin-surfed my way back to the shore.  And I didn’t drown.

Once I had my dolphin encounter, I resolved to stop limiting myself.  I stopped worrying about what I looked like or whether I could do something.  It was incredibly freeing.  I did everything the park had to offer.  I felt like a kid again.  But a more self-confident kid than the kid I actually was once upon a time.

Let It Flow.

It may seem almost contradictory to my lesson about making the most of time, but I think it is more of a corollary than a contradiction.  I learned that nothing terribly bad happens if you stop worrying about what an experience is supposed to be like and what you are supposed to do to maximize your time.  Sometimes, it is best to just let a day of exploration unfold as it is going to and react as you want to in the moment.

Before I went to Discovery Cove, I had this huge need to understand how everything worked.  I had so many questions about the minutia of the operation!  Here are some of the queries that ran through my head:

  • How good a swimmer must you be to enjoy the dolphin experience? (just barely competent)
  • Where were the lockers in relation to the activities? (all over the place and you could easily appropriate more than one locker if it was more convenient)
  • Is there a preferred order in which to experience the attractions or maximize your time? (I don’t really think so- I felt like I could do all the attractions without prioritizing) How easy was it to get to the lockers periodically during the day? (phenomenally easy)
  • How did you know when to go to the dolphin encounter? (they gave you the time and location when you checked into the park)
  • How did you get reapplication of sunscreen? (there were stations all over the place)
  • Where were the food stations? (again, all over the place)
  • Since I eat like a four-year-old, what was there to eat? (a wide variety of sweet and savory offerings)
  • Did you need to bring money for incidentals? (not really, although I never feel comfortable leaving the house without some money so I kept $40 in the locker and never took it out)
  • Should I bring a hat? (yes, but know it will get drenched going under the waterfalls interspersed on the lazy river)
  • Were there private showers and dressing areas? (yes)
  • Would the required wetsuit vests fit me? (yes)
  • Would I look awkward or funny doing the experiences? (maybe, but nobody cared)

I could go on and on, but I think I already have.  The Discovery Cove website gave a lot of information, but I found that it was just enough to inspire my brain to craft new questions.

Once I was in the park for half an hour or so, I relaxed considerably and stopped worrying about “doing it right.”  I just meandered and did what I wanted when I wanted.  I did it right, without even trying.

She Who Travels Fastest Travels Alone.

I really wasn’t thinking so much about traveling fast through Discovery Cove, but I do think that I probably traveled better alone.

One of my other hesitations in booking my day at Discovery Cove was that I’d be going by myself because Max doesn’t do water recreation.  The idea of him paying the high admission price to simply trail along behind me, take pictures, and consume all-you-can-eat hot pretzels all day seemed ludicrous.

Before I met Max, I did a lot of things by myself.  After my divorce in 1988, I was single for many years.  I learned very quickly that, if I really wanted to do something or go somewhere, I should do it by myself rather than wait for a time when someone else might join me.  It was nice when I did things with dates or with friends, but I really had no problem having adventures on my own.

After Max and I met, I became very used to having a partner on my experiences.  It was really nice to share our recreation and perspectives.  Once he moved in with me, I almost never did anything fun on my own.  I didn’t mind at all.  He doubled my enjoyment of these activities.  On the other hand, I found I was starting to lose my self-reliance in the fun arena.

When I first made the reservation, a day on my own at Discovery Cove sounded appealing.  I could please only myself and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or desires.  As the time approached, however, I started to feel a little bereft about being without Max while I had this new experience.

It turned out that Discovery Cove is a great place to have fun, with or without other people.  I pretty much tuned out everyone else and did exactly what I wanted to do.  To be clear, Max would have been fine paying his money and watching me have a good time.  One of his favorite recreational activities is watching me do stuff he wouldn’t do, like feeding animals in a petting zoo or bouncing around in a swimming pool.  It bothers me, though, to know he is waiting for me.  Since Max doesn’t do water activities, I am sure I would have worried about him being bored while I cavorted in the deep. Without him, I was free to return to a second and third time snorkeling on the reef.  I could lie around doing nothing when I felt like it.  I could eat and drink when it felt like the right time for me.  Also, I could enjoy showing him pictures and telling him all about my day when I got home.

So, dolphins don’t travel in schools.  They are good teachers, though, and I think I am going to try very hard to apply the lessons I learned at Discovery Cove to the rest of my life!

Have you ever learned a valuable life lesson while engaged in some seemingly inconsequential event, like my day with the dolphins?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a great day!

Terri

Still Alive and Kicking

Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet.  The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life.  They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.)  The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year.  Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.   

A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness.  Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344.  In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to:  changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation.  And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research…  like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.      

Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends.  After all, I RETIRED.  That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them.  Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed.  It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence. 

When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke.  When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea.  I was always struggling against drowning.  For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean.  Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet.  Certainly, not much comparison.  Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right.   It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world. 

So, what do I do?  Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done.   But maybe it is time to stand still for a while.  It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities.  When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention.  Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy.  I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream.  Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.   

So let’s hear it for monotony!  Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.

Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired?  Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working?  How did you cope with the situation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a reasonably stress-free day!

Terri 🙂

PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week.  I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning.  More about the dolphin day soon, I promise!  In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.

 

 

Springing Forward

The hospice nurse says my mother no longer experiences time in the same way most people do.  Do you think it might be contagious? 

Never before in my life have I messed anything up because of the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.  Last Sunday, I was getting ready to go to church.  I happened to look down at my phone and noticed it said the time was an hour later than I thought it was.  I wondered what was wrong with my phone.  As it turns out, nothing. 

I went to church, still operating firmly in Eastern Standard Time despite all iPhone indications to the contrary.  I thought I was arriving early for Sunday School and was surprised at how full the parking lot already was.  I noticed some folks going into the church and wondered at that.  By Terri Time, it was just about an hour before the service was to start and people usually don’t arrive that early.  Finally, out of nowhere (or, maybe, out of the numerous hints that my brain was consuming but apparently not digesting very quickly), I realized that Daylight Savings Time might just have started at 2:00 o’clock that morning.   

So, I did not have a spring forward this year.  It was more like a stumble forward.  Maybe I was actually pushed directly into the path of an oncoming time change.  I think there might be a message for me in this. 

I think I may have become a little stuck in flux during this past season.  Is that an oxymoron?  Can one be “stuck” if one is in a state of “flux?”  All I know is that I think my brain has been wallowing in some sort of disagreeable sludge ever since my mom had her stroke.  I have become used to living in a nearly constant mood of sadness, anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. It has become a comfortable ooze, if not a pleasant one.  I tend to sink deeper into it rather than exerting the effort to lumber out of it.  Yes, this whole journey started back in the last Daylight Savings Time.  Theoretically, I’ve had a couple of time changes to adapt to my new circumstances. I’m not sure my transmission is that good, though.  It tends to slip.  Given my sinister slide into the emotional muck, I’d say I had no trouble at all “falling back.” 

Now that spring is here (whether I sprung with it or not), it might be a good time to recognize and acknowledge new birth.  There has been a lot of growing inside me recently.  I’ve graduated from my perception that retirement is simply well-earned rest.  I’m now seeing how retirement can and should be enriching, as well as restful.    More than two years after my move, I have started thinking of Florida as “home.”  It no longer feels disloyal to prefer my life in Florida to what I was experiencing back in California.  I believe I have learned more about myself in the past two years than in the prior 30 plus “career” years put together.  The best news about that self-education is that I am figuring out how to appreciate myself.  I’m not saying that I am all that and a bag of chips, but I think I can now safely say that I am at least the bag of chips.  

In addition to recognizing and acknowledging the new beginnings I’ve birthed since my retirement, spring seems a good time to nurture the seedlings that are beginning to sprout for other changes.  I know I’ll never be okay with my mother’s condition, but I do sometimes feel the stirrings of acceptance and reconciliation.  This spring, I want to be a gardener.  I want to tend to my mother’s heart- to fill it with beautiful flowers and plants and lovely scents to remind her how much she is loved.  I also want to tend my own heart- to heal it and love it and remind it of how much I love. 

Is spring growing season for you?  Any particular “gardening” you are planning for this year?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy almost spring!

Terri 🙂

The New Normal

When I was working, I participated in a training program designed to develop my potential for a middle-management position.  The course consisted of three sessions of one week each.  In between the sessions, we had homework to complete in the time until we reconvened.  At the end of the second session, the instructors explained that our third session would include a long (a whopping understatement- as it turned out, the word “interminable” was more accurate) simulation of a real business problem. The exercise would require us to prioritize needs and create a budget to run the entire agency in an environment of limited resources and continuing budget cuts. The instructors told us that, as part of the simulation, we would have to deal with constantly changing conditions and would have to present our decisions to a team of executives.  The executives’ role would be to pick apart our budgets and make us defend them.

To make the challenge more difficult, the instructors assigned each student a role to play in the exercise.  We would each have to play the part of an executive from an agency department with which we had no experience.  In the time before we came back to class, we were supposed to research our roles, figure out the interests and priorities of the person who actually held the position we were assigned, and be prepared to explain the inner workings of the department of which we had just become the executive.

During the months between the second and third session, I became a manic fact-gatherer.  I knew virtually nothing about my assigned department.  I scoured the internet for information about my role.  I tried to talk to people who actually worked in the department that I was going to “fake lead.” To be honest, I actually understood only about every third word that I read about the new department.  To say the least, my comprehension was a bit compromised.  Still, I kept printing things out and trying to organize the information in a way that made sense.  I built large three-ring binders of printed information.  I hoped that I was combining the bits and pieces of data that I did understand into a coherent overall general understanding of the department’s priorities and mission.

I arrived at class pulling a rolling suitcase behind me.  The suitcase contained the binders of pages printed off the internet, email traffic between me and employees of the actual department in question, and my own notes and analysis. I was a sitting duck.  As soon as I walked through the door armed with my suitcase, the instructors immediately re-assigned me to another position in a completely different department.  Other than killing a lot of trees and building my muscles lifting all that paper, my research was pretty useless.

The instructors were trying to teach me that I tend to rely too much on planning and preparation.  They wanted me to learn to develop my quick-thinking and adaptability skills.  I completely agree with their assessment of my obsessive-compulsive planning tendencies.  I also agree that the lesson they wanted to teach me is a valid life lesson.

However, I don’t learn that easily.  In the weeks since my mother’s stroke, the memory of this episode has come careening back to the front of my mind.  It almost seems like I am living through the whole thing again.

All day and most of the night, I strategize about how to help my mother, how to advocate for her, and how to provide a comfortable future for her.  I run errands.  I talk to experts.  I google so much my brain hurts.  Just when I think I’ve got a good enough plan to tame the tigers of uncertainty in my gut, I start the day and something happens that makes all that planning pretty much moot.  It is as if God sees me hauling my rolling suitcase of information and plans, gently unclasps my hand from the handle, and puts me in a different situation where all that wonderful research I’ve accumulated is completely useless. Instead of shrugging and just dealing with whatever the new situation is, I find myself heading headlong into another flurry of research and preparation.  I think I must have the hardest head ever.

I am still not real good at living in the moment and I’m really bad at living in the particular moments I’m experiencing right now.  I think I’ve been kind of waiting for the “new normal” to begin.  I know that I have to find some way to live some semblance of my own life in order to stay sane for myself and stay strong for my mother. However, I keep thinking that I will be able to gradually disengage somewhat from the “stroke world” where I visit my mother every day and work with her on therapy and do the administrative work necessary to provide for her life.

The thing is- I keep waiting for some milestone of recovery to jump start that gradual disengagement process.  I’m not sure exactly what I expect that moment to look like. I am thinking of milestones such as regaining enough speech to truly be able to express her opinion of activities concerning her, moving into her eventual home in assisted living, or having no reason to expect that she will go back to the hospital in the forseeable future.  Maybe that milestone is even just having several days of progress in a row. Maybe one of the reasons that I am so tired (aside from the manic midnight internet research, I mean) is that I’ve been holding my breath waiting for that magical “new normal.”

It strikes me now that maybe this is the “new normal.”  Maybe the “new normal” is not stability.  Maybe the “new normal” is a series of amorphous, disorderly days from which I cannot expect anything specific.

Despite the vagaries of this version of “new normal,” I do try to schedule time for myself.  I’m just not very good at it.  Something always seems to get in the way. I feel like a dog wearing one of those electronic fence collars.  As soon as I start nosing around the perimeter of “stroke world,” I get a shock that sends me scurrying back well within the boundaries.  I had to cancel a trip to California because the stroke was so fresh and rehab so new.  We had an overnight trip to Disney scheduled and I was going to avoid the hospital for the entire day we left.  I ended up having to go to the hospital because it was the only day the paralegal could come to get the Power of Attorneys signed…. And then she didn’t show up.  I had a reservation, made months and months ago, to spend a day at a local day resort to swim with the dolphins.  I cancelled it because the hospital suddenly scheduled surgery on my mother’s leg for the day of my reservation.

For the first two months after my mother’s episode, I went to the hospital or rehab facility every single day while also trying to handle the administrative stuff of her life and keep my own household running, too.  I kept thinking that I must find ways of doing things for myself, but rarely put those thoughts into action beyond meeting my most basic needs.  I needed a day off from “stroke world”-  a day when I didn’t have to watch my mom struggle in the hospital or rehab facility, when I didn’t have to chase down medical professionals to share information, when I didn’t have to consider different strategies for paying for care, when I didn’t have to enact administrative procedures to manage my mom’s life.  After two months of going to the hospital or rehab facility every day, I craved a “day off” from “stroke world.”

When Hurricane Matthew threatened to stuff Central Florida into a blender and hit the “liquefy” button, I finally spent a whole day without visiting my mother at the rehab facility.  As it turned out, Matthew’s impact was pretty minor in our neck of the woods. There probably was no reason for me to not go to the rehab facility.  Still, even a girl raised in Southern California knows enough to question the wisdom of going out in the rain… especially when the rain has an actual name.  I was glad I did stay home, if only to show myself that I carry no magic talisman with me when I visit my mother that will ensure her health and safety.  She was just fine without me for a day.

Since then, I have taken one day each week to not go to the rehab facility.  Max and I went to Disney Springs one day, Epcot one day, and to the Lowry Park Zoo one day.  I think it has helped, although I am still learning to manage the discomfort I feel about leaving and the dread of what I will find when I go back.  Overall, these excursions do help me wring out my stress-addled brain so I can start fresh.  Still, it is a bit of a conundrum.  While I want these “days off” so badly I can taste it, it feels disloyal.  After all, my mom doesn’t get to take a day off from “stroke world.”

I know that it is irrational.  I know that I can’t decrease my mother’s anxiety and misery by feeling anxious and miserable myself.  I know that there isn’t much I can do to decrease her discomfort and frustration in seven days that I can’t do in five or six.  I know that my mother would want me to have a separate life.

I know all these things in my head.  But not so much in my heart.

So how do you deal with a “normal” that isn’t?  What pointers can you give me?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a “nicer than normal” day!

Terri

You CAN Go Home Again

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 terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Note: Next week, I’ll be back to posting on Wednesday morning.  Thanks for your understanding…. and for reading!  You all rock.

 

God’s Waiting Room

I think I may be too young to live in a retirement community.  When I was still living in the working world in my old state, even though I had stopped working, my brain sort of defined my retirement as “I’m being rewarded for working so hard and doing such a good job.”  When I moved to my new state, to a community where the average resident is probably a generation older than I am, my brain quickly started defining my retirement as “I’m too old to work.” 

It is a little odd.  I have almost always been the youngest in whatever circle I have orbited… at the workplace, amongst my friends, in my extended family.  As a result, I’ve usually felt even younger than I actually was.  I had just started feeling a bit wizened when I retired and moved to my over 55 community, which I lovingly refer to as “God’s waiting room.”  I thought that this return to being the youngest kid on the block might bolster up that youthful feeling, but no such luck.  I am actually feeling older.  I’m not sure why, because the folks in this community are incredibly active, involved, and energetic.  They play tennis, power through exercise classes, volunteer, run countless activities and events at the community clubhouse, and always seem to be popping out somewhere in their souped up golf carts. 

The friends I left in my old state are starting to refer to themselves as my “young friends,” even though they are older than I am.

The truth about my retirement is probably somewhere in between.  The good people of the United States are paying me a lifetime pension as part of my long term employment contract, not as a special reward for doing a really good job.  While I don’t believe I (or most anyone else, for that matter) is incapable of work after age 55, I do believe that we are each born with some finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance for frustration and obstacles.  I think mine was just about depleted.  I could feel my “bounce back” mechanism getting a little less bouncy over the past couple of years, but I don’t think I realized how low the tank was really getting.  I shudder to think how that paucity of patience must have manifested itself under the daily schedule of frustrations that simply just exist on any job.  When I moved and began dealing with the myriad of issues related to a major life change, it became clear to me that the slightest little setback caused me to react with disproportionate frustration.  Any little thing that didn’t go exactly as I planned might start me crying and plummeting down the road to despair. 

I’ve had numerous opportunities to observe this reaction, as there have been so many setbacks in dealing with the house, the lawn, moving my mother to her new home, getting a new washer and dryer, etc., etc., etc.  It isn’t pretty and I’ve noticed my mother is starting to be afraid to open the mail or take a phone call because she is sure the communication will mean some new setback that will cause me to disintegrate before her very eyes. 

I’ve taken to purposefully maintaining a calm, albeit artificial, exterior over everything I can now.  I’m no idiot and I could see that my freak outs were not doing any good and just feeding into the frenzy of everyone around me, like my mother and Max.  I am embracing the mantra, “pretend until you are” and acting like I’m mildly amused rather than completely freaked out when something isn’t happening the way I think it should.  It is hard work and I’m not sure I’m succeeding, but maybe I’ll improve with practice. 

And maybe that finite quantity of patience, mental endurance, and tolerance of frustration and obstacles will regenerate itself when I finally stop drawing from it on an hourly basis, as I did while I was working.  Keep your fingers crossed!

So what do you think?  Is it possible to regenerate stresshardiness?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Be Careful What You Wish For

One of my dreams about retirement was that I would never again have to deal with anyone with whom I didn’t want to deal. This was a comforting thought all those years when I was working trying to appease unhappy customers, motivate recalcitrant employees, and calm agitated executives. 

Unfortunately, the reality is significantly different from my dreams.  Since retiring and moving, I have had to deal with multiple people with whom I would rather not deal.  Here is a partial list of them:

The junk guy I hired to haul away the leftover boxes from moving

The electric company guy

The gas company guy

The cable guy

The internet guy

The tree trimmer guy

The first sod guy

The second sod guy (once the first guy’s sod died rather immediately and spectacularly)

The lawn treatment guy

The electrician guy

The second electrician guy (after the first electrician guy inherited a bunch of money and called in rich before completing my job)

The sprinkler guy

The first handyman guy who replaced the large steps at my mother’s mobile home with tiny little steps she could manage

The second handyman guy I hired to take away the rubble left by said first handyman guy who replaced the mobile home stairs

The home warranty guy

The air conditioner guy

And the list goes on.

 

It isn’t that any of these are bad people.  In fact, most of them are very nice.  Or at least, they say “yes ma’am” a lot which is not, I realize, strictly speaking, the same thing.  Still, I would rather people say “yes ma’am” and at least appear sympathetic than snarl in my face.  Also, I did genuinely like most of these folks. The problem is that I’d rather not spend my time, money, and energy fixing the problems these people represent.

 

Also, these vendors in this new community don’t exactly have a sense of urgency in responding to their customers’ requests (or at least this customer’s requests). They are also pretty optimistic, which is a euphemism for “living in a fantasy world,” when they tell you how long it will take to complete jobs.  I think making an appointment to show up at any given time is always contingent upon how the fishing is that day.

 

Another of my dreams of retirement was moving to a place where the pace of life was a bit slower and I didn’t have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That dream has come true.  It is nice not doing everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  The thing is- no one else does, either. 

Now it’s your turn!  What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Terri 🙂

 

Moving Day

About three years before I planned to retire from my job in the southwest part of the country, I purchased a house in the southeast part of the country.

 To fully grasp the significance of that statement, you probably need to know something about my general disposition.  I am probably the most risk averse person on the face of the planet.  I took an extremely responsible federal job in 1981 that paid the paltry sum of $10,900 per year solely because I figured I would never have to worry about getting laid off or eating cat food when I was old.  Any extra money I ever had went into a plain old savings account.  I own one share of stock, in the Disney Corporation, not because it was financially sound, but because I thought the ornamentation on the stock certificate was appealing.  When employees all over the federal government were converting their old, tired defined benefit retirement plans to more aggressive investment plans, I stuck with the original plan.  The last time I moved anywhere was in 1991 when I purchased a tiny condominium located less than five miles from the rental property where I was living at the time.  I never turned that condo over for a detached home when the real estate boomed or busted. 

 This fiscal conservatism served me well.  Through inflation, gradual progression and promotion, and, frankly, simple longevity, I ended my career making about 17 times the annual salary I made when I started.  The savings accounts, while not resulting in huge wealth, are liquid and secure.  The tiny little condo ultimately increased in value by about $80,000 in the time I owned it.  And the Tinker Bell graphic on the Disney stock certificate graces the wall in my new home very nicely.  As to the tired old defined benefit plan, it enabled me to retire right on schedule.  Many of the people who changed plans to take advantage of the nineties stock bubble are postponing their retirement now because the bubble burst.

All this goes to show that purchasing a house 3000 miles away to rent out while I was awaiting my retirement was completely out of character for me.  However, real estate prices and interest rates were way down and I happened upon a real estate agent in the new location whose main line of business was managing rental properties.  She also had a history of living near our home in the old location.  If I was ever going to take a chance, this seemed to be a good one to take.   Since I had saved a nice chunk of change to put down on the house as a result of “practicing” paying another mortgage, I was confident that I could afford the house even if I did not get tenants.  I wasn’t thrilled to have the house sitting vacant, so I did have a few anxious months until the property manager found tenants.  After that point, everything was easy.  The rent, minus the property management fees, went into an account every month and the mortgage payment magically deducted itself from the same account every month, as did the HOA fees.  Once in a great while, I wrote a check for some insurance or some minor repairs.  I even had positive cash flow.  The only pain was doing my income tax return to show the rental income and expenses.

 In fact, things went along so swimmingly, I  sort of forgot that, one day, I would be turning my life upside down, moving 3000 miles from my little one bedroom condo in the west, and taking up residence in that rental property. 

 The neighborhood where Max, my longtime boyfriend and POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters), and I were living in my tiny little condo had been declining over the past several years.  The real estate bubble burst rather messily, leaving quite the aftermath in our quiet little community. Many of the owners, wanting to move on to detached houses but unable to sell their condos for what they thought appropriate, rented their small units.  They were not too particular about who paid the rent, as long as someone did.  Noise, crime, and general shadiness increased.   The police visited as frequently as the UPS truck.  Sometimes, we were the ones inviting them to stop by, when the neighbors’ “disagreements” seemed to cross the line to “potentially dangerous domestic disputes.”  People also often hosted parties on their patios, during which the entertainment seemed to involve the guests regaling each other with tales of their various criminal activities. Since drunkenness doesn’t exactly come with a volume control, we heard it all… at any hour of the day or night.  The people below us, who seemed to be away from home at least 13-14 hours a day, had two yappy yorkies.  The people insisted the yorkies did not bark, or, if they did, they barked no more than average dogs.  Technically, they might have been right.  It wasn’t so much barking as ear-piercing screeching that went on for literally hours some days.  However, in my mind, the real issue was HOW WOULD THEY HAVE KNOWN IF THEIR DOGS WERE BARKING, SINCE THEY WERE NEVER HOME?!

In short, the neighborhood transformed.  It changed from a quiet community of young married couples and older retired people into something resembling a compound of frat houses.  During that iteration, we tried to ignore the irritants, but ignoring things became more difficult when Max retired and was exposed to the issues all day long.  Ultimately, the transformation took a more sinister turn and the frat house occupants started talking about guns and drugs and beating each other to a pulp.

 With all this being said, one would think I would have been anxious to go.  Max certainly was.  In the year before my retirement, he kept counting down the days until we could move.  He researched television cable and satellite companies near the new home.  He studied possible internet companies.  He made decisions about these items like A YEAR before the planned move.    He made frequent suggestions that maybe it was time to check out realtors, contract moving companies, and put the condo on the market.  I really wasn’t ready.  The condo still felt like it was home to me. I didn’t feel any need to begin the moving process months and months before it was actually going to happen. Plus, remember that my rental property in the southeast was doing just fine and I had kind of forgotten that I was one day actually going to live there. 

Still, I agreed that it wouldn’t hurt anything for Max to begin working on the moving issues, which he did with great aplomb.  Finally, I yielded to pressure and interviewed a couple of realtors… six months before our expected move date. I agreed to put the condo on the market because the realtors all said it was a good idea to have the house for sale during the summer, but I didn’t believe it would actually sell any time soon because I couldn’t see anyone buying the condo and waiting for six months to occupy.  I had no intention of vacating the premises before our ultimate move across the country.

Silly me.  The condo actually sold within a week of listing.  The buyer was purchasing the condo with an occupant mortgage but said he was fine with waiting until December to move in.  It soon became clear that he had no intention of ever residing there.  He was buying it to rent and was perfectly happy to have built-in tenants for six months.  So, I would be paying rent on my own house for months before moving!  Okay, I know that it was no longer my house after I received the very healthy purchase price from the escrow.  That transaction not only paid off the remaining mortgage on the condo, but also allowed me to pay off the mortgage on the house on the other side of the country.  A rational person could not argue that the condo was “mine” any longer.  It still felt very, very odd to write that rent check every month… and that probably also helped me let go of the “home” place the condo had in my heart.

There were other factors in the last several months in the condo that helped ease the blow of actually leaving.  Because we had packed away much of my “stuff” when we put the condo on the market, most of my personal thumbprint was buried in storage and a safety deposit box.  For several months, when I looked around the condo, I no longer saw my history.  Those four walls became a place to sleep, watch TV, and make millions of arrangements for the big move.  That space was no longer where my life happened.  In the last few weeks, there were so many things happening, between my retirement celebration and the impending move, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would be like to be gone.  In short, the emphasis of our lives was on the process of leaving, not the result.

Still, when the day actually came for us to begin our great adventure and the movers finally removed everything left in the condo, it wasn’t easy.  Max and I stood in the empty condo and I looked around a last time.  I remembered how it felt when I first moved in, some 23 years before.  I was so proud and so happy and so excited.  I bought the condo all by myself and I pleased only myself.  When Max moved in about a dozen years ago, it was because his presence increased my joy.  Many of the people I loved who have since passed from this life spent time with me in this condo.  My father, who died in 1996,  spent a couple of weeks with me when I first moved in, doing odd jobs and helping make the place home for me.  I raised my little welsh corgi mutant here and she went to doggy heaven as I sat on this floor and held her in my arms. My work life morphed from a job to a career during the time I lived here.    I met the love of my life while living here.  In this condo, I first learned how to be truly happy with myself and evolved into the person I am today. 

The moment of nostalgia was intense, but it passed as suddenly as it had come.  I shed a tear or two, but never felt the hurt I expected to feel.  It was a little disorienting to walk out the door, but not particularly painful.  I think, as I looked at the empty condo, I realized that the history I made there was not in the space, but in my heart.  And I am taking my heart with me, wherever I go.

So what are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri 🙂