The Subconscious Speaks

It’s been two weeks since I turned in my two months’ notice at work. I haven’t reached a point where I’ve second guessed my decision and wondered if I should try and work until I’m 70 in order to maximize the Social Security I can receive. I come down firmly in the camp that I should go for it while I still have the health to do it – whatever “it” turns out to be.

That said, I’ve found myself engaging in some interesting things lately … well, two. One concerns my waking state and the other concerns my dreams.

As far back as I can remember, if I’m going to have a dream that I would recognize as showing anxiety, it has always harkened back to my dancing days. I will either be onstage in the wrong costume or I’ll be late and trying to perform the wrong routine. In the past two weeks, I’ve had a couple of those dance dreams but they seem to have some other interesting components to them. In both cases, I was trying to lead the ensemble to the stage location and we couldn’t quite get there. All the other dancers were younger than I was and I was afraid they weren’t listening to me.

Okay, should we try to analyze them? I think I’m worried that my “legacy” will be forgotten by the younger generation taking over my duties and that I’ll be seen as useless. Sound about right? The reason I find this interesting is because in my waking Yin-Yang-Woven-Dreamcatcher-8_3.jpg.optimalstate, despite the dreams, I’m aware that people at work think I’ve made some significant contributions and that we need to get someone who can continue them as is. So I find it fascinating that my subconscious says otherwise. Perhaps I need a dream catcher over my bed – at least until my actual retirement.

Then there’s my waking state. I have found myself, illogically, stocking up on things like books on CD for my car, magazine subscriptions, cases of prescription cat food, sneakers for the gym, custom-fitted trash bags for my kitchen garbage can, my favorite cologne Screen-Shot-2015-11-05-at-9.57.43-AMand the oversize tees I sleep in. What’s up with that? I guess I know that when those run out, I’ll probably see them as extravagances that I shouldn’t be spending my Social Security money on, so the idea is that if I stock up now, it’ll be quite some time before I have to face the music.

Who knows what other illogical things I’ll come up with in the next six weeks in preparation for retirement? Time will tell

The Senior Free-Time Routine

The closer I get to retirement, the more nervous I get. I’m not quite sure why. Fear of the unknown? It occurred to me that all the people I talk to on a daily basis are at work. Yes, I talk to my cats, but conversation is sparse.

So I decided to start early and work on a daily calendar that will fill up every day of my first month of retirement for a couple of reasons: (1) to try to get into some good habits from Day 1 so I’m not sitting around the house, either endlessly napping or stuffing food in my mouth; and (2) to make sure I do things that make me happy, keep me healthy and active, and show me that all that free time I thought I wanted was really worth it. But I’m struggling.

I made a list of all the things I would definitely do, some of the things I might do and the things I’d love to do but probably won’t be able to afford. My days look a bit dreary . . . and that makes me nervous all over again.

I even assigned them times so I could see how much of my day would be occupied. No surprise it adds up to about the amount of time I’d spend at work. And I included generous amounts of time as well in case something was so damned interesting that I got lost in it and before I knew it, an extra half hour or so had sped past. I have things like working on my novel, cooking nicer meals than I’d normally prepare, perhaps purchasing and riding a bicycle – not only as good exercise but because I loved riding a bike as a kid, marketing my company to small businesses around town, querying and submitting articles to magazines, reading, etc.

In the process of trying to find a suitable picture of what a senior’s calendar of events would look like, I found this toddler’s calendar and decided it looked dangerously close to mine. Our RoutineI know I’ve made some jokes about it, but it seriously worries me that I’ll hate the free time I’ve dreamed of, wish I could go back to work and then nobody will hire me because I’m too old. I have images in my head of lonely, bored seniors sitting at home staring out the window and I don’t want to be one of them. With any kind of luck, I’ll relish the time that’s all mine, all day – nobody to answer to, no time limitations or deadlines. That prospect excites me.

But there’s still that little negativity imp sitting on my shoulder whispering that I’m making a mistake and should work until I die. I’ll let you know who wins in a couple of months.

Revising the Dreams

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They say getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s true. You discover that the things you dreamed about doing when you were young, things that you’ve carried over decade to decade, are suddenly no longer within your reach. So now what? Do you persist in going after them, do you give up on the dream entirely, or do you try to find a compromise so you’re still getting some of the experience even if it’s not all it was meant to be?

I find that I have a stubborn streak that holds on to the dream for months and months, reworking it in my mind a dozen times with tiny little concessions each time, so I can still pursue the basic dream. But somewhere along the line, I realize it’s time to let it go and then I start looking at ways to make some of it happen.

One of my dreams was to have a house with enough land to create a garden retreat, a place replete with trees, flowers, vines, grass, and at least one little nook where I could hang out with a good book and enjoy the view and the quiet – sort of like the picture I chose for this post.

Getting close to retirement, I refused to give up this dream and looked only at houses with spacious back yards. But little realities kept creeping in and I must say, they really annoyed me. I have a friend who pointed out that the cost alone of all the foliage would kill me. Then I’d probably have to initially employ a landscaper to till the soil and prepare the beds. Not being much of a horticulturist, I’d probably have to get professional advice on designing my perfect retreat. All of these costs are difficult, if not impossible, when living on social security.

That was my first reality. Then there’s the annoyance of old age. At 65, I’m in relatively good health but my aches and pains have increased and I notice that they do so at an accelerated pace. Perhaps that’s the problem and everyone faces it: You go for decades being in tip-top form and think it will stay that way indefinitely and then one day you discover you need back surgery for the increasing difficulty you’ve been having with what you thought were pulled muscles that were just taking longer and longer to heal, or you have a strange bout of symptoms that mimic heart problems and find you need a medication for GERD, or bounding up the stairs two at a time becomes a slower progression on a daily basis, etc. To top it off, these new issues are not things that are going to return to that 20s physique; they are permanent and likely to get worse.

I didn’t bargain for that when I was younger and, stupidly, didn’t anticipate it, either. Although aware of the possibility, when I was younger I sort of figured they always happened to someone else or that I’d see them coming and make appropriate adjustments (although what those adjustments might have been is anybody’s guess). And now, it’s too late to back up and tackle that garden with the stamina and non-creaky joints of my 20 or 30-year-old self.

So, reluctantly, I’ve realized I would never be able to keep up with the daily maintenance of a garden of that size. That acceptance, oddly, happened almost overnight. I registered the growing list of problems I might encounter but stubbornly stuck to my original plan for months. Then one day, I woke up and instead of talking about buying a house, began talking about renting a condo or townhouse with a small space off a back patio or a balcony where I could put a few potted plants. Just like that, I’d come to terms with a new reality.

And just so you know, the hardest part of this whole thing is moving forward without looking back at the things I could have done, and should have done, when I had the time, the resources and the stamina. People tell you it’s never too late, but sometimes it is, and I hate that.

Freedom or Boredom

1464810432178This whole retirement thing is a bit tricky. I, like many before me, have spent decades talking about all the fun things I’ll do when I retire, not least of which is not having to set an alarm and then function on someone else’s time for the majority of my day. And the older I get, the more I’ve felt like life is passing me by while I’m stuck inside following someone else’s rules.  I didn’t notice it so much when I was younger because in my 20s, 30s, 40s and even some of my 50s, it still felt like I had hundreds of hours left to do what I wanted – to rebel and head out on my own, to forge a different life in another part of the world and explore, explore, explore.

I managed a little of that. When I was dancing, I got to see South Africa, Egypt, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, England, Italy, France, and Thailand. In a brief search for a retirement place, I checked out Panama and Costa Rica. But the funny thing is, the closer I get to retirement, the scarier it looks and the less adventurous I get.

Why is that? There are any number of reasons. I get less adventurous because moving two cats to a foreign country is problematic and then what if I hate it; I’ve developed chronic issues as I get older that require care, which makes me worry about leaving the country; I’d be an older, single female living amongst strangers and hoping they’re nice to me rather than viewing me as the odd one out and an easy target; and the hassle of traveling isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. Things that never bothered me before, now do: Did I pack everything, did I leave early enough to get to the airport, will I find an overhead bin to put my carry-on in, will I hold up everyone behind me (none of whom offers to help) while I try to stuff my bag in that overhead bin, will I find my way through the airport to my connection in time, will the taxi driver screw me around on my way to the hotel, will this be the one hotel in the city with a bedbug problem … and on and on.

As for retirement being scarier the closer I get, I have a short list of what ifs:

  1. What if I get bored with the things I think will entertain me? I have a long list of things I’ve always wanted to tackle but what if I go through the list in the first few months and then none of them appeal to me any more?
  2. What if I get so used to sleeping late and with nowhere I have to go, resort to sitting around staring at the television or the computer screen, putting on weight and becoming more and more sedentary (which would, of course, mean that my chronic back problem will only get worse and my joints more creaky)?
  3. What if I decide I can’t live on my Social Security and I need to find a part-time job? At my age, very few places are likely to want to hire me and then I have to wonder if I should’ve retired in the first place.
  4. What if I get lonely? There’s an older gentleman who comes into the Starbucks where I go to write who, as I’ve heard him tell people, comes in every single day (like I’ll soon be doing) and sits very quietly until he can insinuate himself into someone’s conversation, where he then proceeds to spend far too much time talking to them. Will I end up like that – desperate for human conversation?
  5. What if I die? I’ve heard countless stories about people who were looking forward to retiring and then died within a few months of doing so. One of my co-workers and her husband both retired so they could travel the country. They were excited about this new path in their lives. They bought an RV and planned out their route around the United States. He died roughly two months after retiring. I don’t know why that happens so often (or at least often enough to have caught my attention) but I sure as hell don’t want to be one of the statistics.

So I suppose the basic issue is whether or not the dream will be all it’s cracked up to be. Looking at your dreams and realizing that they might be just that and nothing more, can put a serious dent in the rest of your days. It makes you pause and go through the retirement check list one more time to assure yourself that you’ve thought of everything. Then you just have to say: You’ll be fine. Repeat after me: You’ll be fine.