I am not writing novels or poetry, not doing new research, not getting articles published, not blogging regularly, not painting dozens of paintings, nor drawing every day (not even every month). I'm not even cleaning my house every week, not planting a big garden, not walking every day, not doing yoga regularly, and instead of losing weight I have gained 20 pounds. I'm not volunteering at a dozen worthy causes - or even one. I'm not even sitting and reading all the serious non-fiction books that I bought over the last 20 years with the idea that someday I'd find the time to get to them. But I've played lots of Candy Crush Jelly, spent lots of hours on Facebook, and watched a lot of hours of Netflix and Hulu. Sure I like doing those things, but they're not productive, not what I promised myself to do with retirement.
Every time I start to write about this I end up stopping before I get very far. It feels like whining, and I hate whining. And again, I almost stopped and tossed this post out too. I have so much to be grateful for, so many things that many of the people living here in my community, my county do not have, and I am indeed grateful for them. I practice gratitude every day for all my many blessings. But I still feel lost, and often very alone.
I do not regret retiring - the last several years of my job were so stressful and I was anxious all the time. The stress and the anxiety are gone, but they've left this huge open space in my life that I that struggle with daily. There are many days, maybe even most days when I don't want to get out of bed at all. I feel tired in the morning - even after being on nighttime oxygen for two months. I do get up every morning for one simple reason, no one else will remember to feed my outdoor kitty, Jake. John's good about feeding the dogs and the indoor cats, but he doesn't remember about Jake, and I know Jake depends on me. Some days other things help motivate me, but I feel sad that some days the only thing getting me out of bed is this one little orange and white cat that would go hungry without me.
I haven't spoken or written about this to anyone. As I write this, I have to keep stopping and browsing elsewhere on the internet because it is so difficult to think about, much less write about. Yet the fact that I am writing, despite having to walk away and do other things to deal with the intensity, says to me that I'm a little better at this moment than I was during the past winter.
Sometimes the obstacles to the life I think I should be living in retirement seem insurmountable. The days when I feel like I've done the most worthwhile things - when I've been physically active, taken care of my house and garden, done things out in the world where I'm with people, or am artistically creative, are also the days that I find myself in the most pain at the end of the day. This past ten days I did a number of things (either with my husband or alone) that make my heart sing - attending outdoor music events, going to the farmers market, being with and talking to people, planting a rose bush, caring for my tomato plants. But by the end of each of those active days, I could bearly walk, just picking up my feet for one more step, much less getting up and down the steps to my home was overwhelming. I fell into bed in exhaustion not even feeling up to my usual evening reading before sleep. It's like the words of Shannon McNally's song Banshee Moan: "well you're damned if you do/damned if you don't/trouble if you will/double if you won't/so you watch you say/watch what you do/" (we heard Shannon McNally on Thursday night in Whitesburg at the Levitt AMP concert). Now that really feels like whining. I know so many people who have so much more pain than I do, people who've actually had to have surgery on their backs, hips, and/or knees.
Then there's the problem of friends, or rather the lack of them. My yoga teacher suggested to me a month or so ago that I should get together a group of friends for a morning yoga class. Only I don't have any friends to ask to do a weekday morning yoga class with me. I do have two best friends that I talk to often and can tell just about anything (except this, I haven't talked about all this with anyone) but one is in Nevada and the other is in Oregon. I love them and they love me, but they aren't here, I can't ask them to join me in a yoga class as much as they might like to do so. We can't just go to a movie together or out for coffee - and with the time difference and their busy lives I can't even just pick up a phone and know they'll be there. My husband is wonderful, there are lots of things we like to do together, and we talk all the time. But one person can't be your whole world - it's too hard on them - and my husband is sad and lonely too. There are many people here locally that I like and admire, most of whom I think like me too. But there's no one that I feel like I can call to do things with or just sit around and hang out.
When I was teaching I felt so busy all the time between work and home life that I didn't make any real effort to "make friends" the way I did when I was single. Almost everyone I know is so connected to this region, they all have families, their children and grandchildren, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and this fills up their lives as it should. There was a colleague who retired when I did that I think of as a friend, and we said we'd have lunch often and stay in touch. I've tried three or four times in the first six months of retirement to get together for lunch, and every time she had things she had to do with her family, so I gave up.
Boy, this really feels like whining. I'm not saying "poor me, nobody likes me." I'm saying that I didn't make much of an effort for the first 20 years I lived here to be an active friend to the people around me, and now that I have the time most of the people that I know have their own lives and families, and I'm clueless as to how to become more connected to others. This is why I spend so much time on Facebook - at least that way I feel a little bit connected to other people and a little less isolated. But it's a catch 22 because time spent at the computer is not spent trying to be out in the world where people are.
So I go on struggling, feeling lost and sad. It feels a little like the identity crisis of my early twenties. I got started on this today because of reading something that someone I know shared on Facebook:
"Living in this skin is hard and painful, most of the time, because I never volunteered to take this on. The daily sacrifice of heart over mind, the forever ongoing task of explaining this and that, and why I don’t want to look like this and be like that but still here I am and if this is the body I’ve been given, I’m sure as hell gonna make it work." ~Charlotte ErikssonI'd never heard of Charlotte Eriksson before this morning, so of course, I googled her (disclaimer I didn't actually use "Google" but rather a search engine called Ecosia that plants trees for so many searches). I read some bits and pieces of Eriksson's work and thought - yes! But I also thought this is how young people feel who are just starting out, trying to find themselves. How can I be feeling all this at sixty-seven, I'm not supposed to be having an identity crisis at my age, yet here I am.
This is what linguist Deborah Tannen called "troubles talk" that thing that women (and many men too) do when they just want to let something out. I'm not looking for someone to give me solutions, I'm just finally getting it out there, talking about it for the first time, putting some light on the darker thoughts that have been going around my brain for the past year. Maybe to feel a little more connected.
I have ideas, know the things I should be doing. So I will go on trying to find a way.