Walking Through It
Somehow, I just knew once life settled down after the births of two new grandbabies this summer, and once the start of a new school year was just around the corner, that I would start to fumble in finding my way...that my heart would start to ache...that I'd begin to feel the "lost-ness" in this new 'retirement' place I chose to be in. Though, to be clear, I use the word 'chose' here somewhat loosely because I feel I was very much divinely guided to that decision, so much so, in fact, that it almost doesn't feel like it was my decision at all. I know that sounds a little crazy, but there's a whole other story that goes along with it, so you'll just have to trust me when I say it was a choice that didn't exactly feel like a choice. It was a decision that was given to me, and I acted upon the obvious.
Regardless of how it happened, if I'm totally honest, I didn't expect this retirement thing to be quite this hard. I'm more of a walk-into-the-sunset, happily-ever-after kind of girl. I'm the-glass-is-always-half-full kind of girl, the eternal optimist, the ever so slightly naive-but-adorable romanticist. But, apparently, I'm also the give-the-perfect-advice-to-others-yet-fail-to-take-your-own-advice kind of person because what I'm feeling right now was not expected and certainly isn't being executed in the way I would guide anyone else in my shoes. This reminds me of when I struggled, hard, with empty nesting even though I didn't think I was going to, and afterwards my friends said, "We don't know what you were thinking but we knew it was going to be really hard for you!" Did everyone else know this retirement thing was going to be hard for me too? Word of advice here: Just say, "No!" Hahaha
So, yes, I'm struggling, though defining that struggle is not easy for me, I guess because I know I have so much to be thankful for so I feel guilty that I'm having a hard time when others would kill to be in my position. Nonetheless, wrestling with this, I am, perhaps if for no other reason than because this is the first time in maybe my whole adult life that I'm not running 'like a chicken with my head cut off' trying to get a million things done in a finite amount of time. For the first time in forever, I do not have a school year to ready for, weekly themes and lesson plans to create, parental correspondence to complete, contracts to update and renew, schedules to make, a playground to power wash and make inviting, or little people to prepare for. I do not have toys to clean, or a playroom and art room to organize and restock with supplies. I do not have to make sure my house is clean, my bed is made, or my laundry is done. Heck, I don't even have to shower if I don't feel like it. In short, I don't have to do anything I don't want to do!!!!
This 'do whatever you want, when and if you feel like it,' is something I don't think I've EVER experienced, at least not with any real regularity or without knowing I was going back to work in (X) amount of time. Many of you undoubtedly think this sounds wonderful, but I don't know quite how to do this world of no expectations, no schedule, no commitments, no time constraints, no pressure, no loud on-going commotion! Right now, I feel lost, without purpose, and without focus in my own assumed wonderful can-do-whatever-I-want life! OMG, and now I feel guilty again just saying that out loud! UGH!
How can I be struggling to motivate myself to garden, to write, to walk my dog, to make new & exciting to-do lists, to plan my future, to immerse myself in nature, to create new art, to plan our next vacation destination - all the things I usually really enjoy, and all the things I used to dream about doing regularly once I could? Why am I not meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning like a doting housewife? (After this statement I feel the need to mention that this particular sense of inadequacy does NOT come from my husband as he has no expectations, is placing zero pressure on me, and is extremely laid back about everything! Yes, he’s a gem!) Then there's the question of why I'm not yet jumping to tackle any of the gazillions of organizing tasks or home improvement projects my house and I have both been screaming for? Why am I not exercising every day and planning the meals that will help with my weight loss efforts and the new body I dreamed I'd finally manage to achieve once I had the time to concentrate on it? HA! Why am I not planning get-togethers and lunch and dinner dates with friends now that I actually have the time? And why, for god's sake, am I struggling with not having the overwhelming desire to spend every spare moment with my wonderful grandbabies, all of whom I love and adore? Are these all expectations I placed on myself? Are these the expectations I think others have of me? Is this me still struggling with perfectionism? Am I overthinking it all? Maybe. That certainly wouldn't be unlike me. Just tired? Possible. All of the above? Maybe a little of all of it I'm guessing.
Yet the reality is that on any given day I feel as though I'm choosing avoidance of anything and everything that requires any real effort (other than my knee therapy which I'm happy to report I'm remaining relatively faithful to because it is costing me a helluva lot of money!) and instead choosing social media scrolling, riding my motorcycle, watching television, doing a little reading, and riding my motorcycle some more. My motorcycle certainly isn't an entirely bad thing (I do love it!), but I also recognize that it's very easy for me to choose it right now over any other option because it temporarily takes away my 'Blues' and gives me the high I crave. And of course, I'm still working on that fearlessness it's helping me rediscover, so there's another plus for the motorcycle anyway!
For anyone wondering, I've experienced depression, so I know what that feels like. This doesn't feel quite the same, at least not as I knew it the only time I experienced it after 4 family deaths piled on top of me in just over 2 years. I suppose there are elements to this that feel similar, but I'm certainly not overly concerned that I'll need to seek therapy like I did back then, so anyone that finds him/herself worrying right now, please stop. That said, I am wise enough to recognize that this is a grief of a new sort, and as such I'm certainly struggling with the resurfacing of some of the same old grief related feelings and their resulting challenges. Oh grief, you draining, heavy, life-sucking booger, you do have such a clever way of sneaking in back door unnoticed and wreaking havoc on motivation, energy, desire, and self-worth.
And I don't know about you, but when I start to grieve, it can feel as though my whole world is at risk of crumbling because everything I've ever grieved seems to suddenly want to make a grand reappearance. It's as if every old grief feels left out and is demanding to be grieved all over again. It can turn into a giant, tear-filled, spiraling whirlpool trying to take me down under, hard! And the icing on that giant grief cake? Missing my mom because I need her, and she isn't here to help me through this new unknown territory with her amazing perspective and wisdom. It always felt to me like she sailed effortlessly through every stage of, and trauma in, her life. Do we ever stop needing our mom? Psssst, just a heads up for those of you who haven't yet lost your mom... the answer to that question is NO! UGH!!!!!
Ok, ultimately it seems I'm a bit of a hot mess, and, clearly, I'm in a not-entirely-unfamiliar-to-me place, for even though every grief is different they absolutely share similar traits in terms of the impact they have on your daily functioning and the steps you can take to help with your healing process.
So, first, I remind myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, or as my dear sister-law says, "You just have to keep walking through it." This doesn't mean I intend to totally ignore or bury the feelings at play, but there is always comfort in feeling as though we're moving in a forward direction - that one action leads us to another, and that each day brings us closer to the next and then the next and eventually to that place where the fog starts to lift, things start to flow again, and life starts to feel a little easier. By getting up each day and going through the motions of life, we self-soothe with repetition. We rock our aching heart with the rhythm of time and the patterns of movement, so when we busy our self with the tasks of daily living - even when we're doing it more slowly, more unconsciously, or more haphazardly than we usually might - we are allowing the processing in baby steps of what is often too overwhelming to take in cognizant chunks. I've said many times that if there's one thing I learned during my most drowning, grief-ridden moments, it's that the audacity of life to move on when you feel stuck in the moment that changed your life forever, is actually a blessing in disguise (though it certainly doesn't feel that way when you're in the thick of the trauma, I know!).
Second, I remind myself (over and over, actually) how important it is to get outside into nature - to listen, to touch, to smell, to be, to feel. When you immerse yourself in the beauty and magnificence of creation, you find comfort, you find peace, you find design, cycle, season, rhythm. You find mood-boosting endorphins. In a nutshell, you find God, and when you find God, you ultimately find the answers you seek. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I feel as though I've found the answers to my most challenging life difficulties in the comfort and awe of God's majesty. It's hard to want to be outside when it's this HOT, of course, unless you're swimming or on a motorcycle (LOL), so if you'll listen closely, you'll hear my spirit screaming, "Come on autumn!!"
Third -and this is a hard one for me- I tell myself to stop being so danged hard on myself...to give myself some grace....to allow myself the time and space to really rest so I can figure out what this new way of being looks like for me. Hard working, determined, get-it-all-done-all-the-time women like me are not accustomed to much down time. Whether we create or allow that circumstance to be as such for our self, or whether we actually are that busy is a topic and debate for another time. In any case, we tend to not relax particularly well (one reason why writing and motorcycle riding are both such good fits for me!), and also to be very hard on our self when we do.
I don't know about you, but I seriously hate feeling like an unproductive vegetable! I feel better when my days are a balance between fun, work, and productivity. So, for me, this lack of productivity of late is really pulling me down. I'm simply not very adept at cutting myself some slack when I spend long days with nothing significant to show for them...with no yield! I know I just retired at the end of May, but it FEELS longer than that, and these days of no structure and no real routine are making me feel like a lazy blob! "Give yourself some grace, Chris...one day at a time," I tell myself, but then I panic and start questioning if this is my new forever and whether the belief that I have something else meaningful to contribute to this world is actually really just a crock of crap. Then comes the whole self-worth thing again, and, well, you get the picture. YIKES!
I'm happy to report that more of me believes, deep within, that God has put me here in the deafening quiet of solitude and uncertainty for a reason...because there is something more I need to learn in order to do what I am next meant to do. Fortunately, too, I rarely find myself questioning whether I made the right decision; I know you can miss something but also not want it back because you know it's no longer meant to be. I just didn't expect that it would be quite this hard for me to find my way, especially not this early in the process! It's like my whole persona is unraveling and I'm back to being a lump of unformed clay, but right now I'm in the hands of a 3-year-old so I'm going back and forth between looking a little bit misshapen and feeling like a whole lot of catawampus unfinished-ness. Ha-ha...
But maybe misshapen and catawampus isn't such a bad thing (can you tell I'm trying to self-talk myself...lol) because the other thing I know about grief is this: When you're at your most broken, that's absolutely when God works the biggest miracles in your life. That's when you learn the most about yourself and what you're truly made of. That's when you grow the most emotionally and spiritually. So, though I know this new journey will be wrought with struggles that will undoubtedly make me squirm with uncomfortableness and perhaps even slip me temporarily back into old habits, I also know it will be filled with the self-discovery and learning that is going to grow me into the next best version of myself. (Notice I said 'next' best, not better, because just to be clear, we are like a fine wine and do continue getting better with age!)
Though this knowledge doesn't necessarily make me feel better in this exact moment, I know from experience that the more I let go and stop trying to control every little thing, the more the pieces will fall into place in the most perfect way and with the most perfect timing, because, well, that's the way the universe works. When we stop trying so hard to micromanage life, and when we relinquish control to God through faith, that's when the broken, misshapen, and catawampus pieces suddenly begin to reveal how they actually all fit perfectly together into a beautiful masterpiece....one we never could have envisioned in our limiting mind. The struggle is how to be patient in the process...how to allow the blossoming to happen when the conditions are ripe for it...how to trust that God's timing is always better than our own. Despite the patience that one might think a lifetime spent teaching and working with children implies, patience for not knowing...for not having control...for waiting for the right moment...for going slowly...has notoriously not been my strong suit. Ok, my husband would likely tell you that's a bit of an understatement... Ha-ha!
So, for now, I'll baby step my way into some kind of new routine that includes trying on what will likely be ill-fitting and unfamiliar-feeling suits, including the suit called, 'what it feels like to really listen to one's body.' Do I have a lot of energy today? If so, let's GO like a energizer bunny! Let's tackle that big project, or take that hike, or play hard with the grandkids, or work hard in the yard, or clean the entire house. And if not...if today feels like a blah day, or a hurting day, or a lackluster kind of unmotivated day, I'm going to try to be better at allowing myself the down time and stillness of rest -in whatever form that looks like- without thinking of myself as lazy and worthless and unproductive. I'm determined to make a dent in changing this problematic mentality of mine!
Maybe I need to start by recognizing that I've had years of abusing my body by pushing it beyond its limits and not listening to the aches and pains of too much and the whispers of enough, so it only stands to reason that my body might not trust me entirely and is therefore taking this opportunity to rebel by insisting I listen more closely. So, I intend to listen. I intend to try harder for balance...for understanding that there are times when less is more, and other times when a lot more is ok...for being truly ok with my house not being perfect, with saying no when it feels like too much, with riding the lower waves, with everything not having to be over-the-top, with not worrying so much that everyone is judging me and trying hard to care less when they do. Good Lord, this aging thing is not for the faint of heart! My mother warned me...I just wasn't ready to hear her. And this is barely the surface we are scratching here! "Scotty, beam me up!!"
In closing, I suppose we can all benefit from the reminder that change of any kind is almost always hard, and the reassurance that it's absolutely true that the older we get the harder change can feel. The processes involved in adjusting, adapting, restructuring, and recreating can feel harder as we age too.
But the reality is still the same either way regardless of one’s age, the timing at play, or the planning or surprise involved - change is challenging, and challenges take time to work through and resolve. They take patience and perseverance. Sometimes they take trial and error. Sometimes they look like two steps forward and one step back. And sometimes they require us to take a giant step back while time works its magic, OR, alternatively, to take a giant leap of faith when we are uncertain of the outcome (which is what I did!). What we do have control over is our attitude toward the change, the vision we hold for the other side of the change and its challenges, the faith/patience we carry for seeing it through, the joy/fulfillment we take from the journey itself, and the daily choices we make to that end.
Good stuff to chew on, don't you think?
I'll get there. I know you will too. See you on the other side. ;)
Sending love to everyone who is struggling with any kind of change and/or grief.
August 2, 2022