In my book, Your Countdown to Retirement, I talk about the retirement experience sometimes being like driving a car through dense fog. There are times you cannot see the road ahead of you, the obstacles and dangers obscured by the fog, or the clear highway beyond the fog. What I forgot to mention in my metaphoric prose is that the fog can be a reoccurring phenomenon appearing suddenly and without warning.
Recently, I went through several weeks where I felt lost, uninspired, depressed, and isolated. With my father living with us, and with my husband being temporarily disabled, I have not ventured far from home. After all, two other people were depending on me and they needed me. What I did not realize was I was giving my time and my power to them. I made the choice to put their needs ahead of my own and I did not recognize how out of balance my life was becoming until I felt absolutely miserable. Like the aforementioned fog, I could not see my life path or the exit on it where a café was waiting for me to duck in and have a cup of coffee until the fog lifted. All I knew was I was miserable. But I did have an inkling as to why.
I needed to fill my soul so I had something to give to my father and my husband other than mounting resentment. In the new edition of my book, I include a “retirement toolbox” filled with tools that work like fog-cutting headlights on a car. Tools that work for me include listening to uplifting podcasts, journaling, being in nature, creating something, listening to music or playing the piano. To use those tools requires making time for me a priority and each tool has specific situations in which it is most effective.
While I enjoy writing, it is work for me unless my inner being is filled up and I am in the flow. When I am depleted, I have nothing to give and doing something I normally enjoy becomes burdensome. I am a “signs” kind of person. I look for signs to tell me I am on the right path. Whenever I ask, a sign appears but I often have to open up my awareness to see it. Far too often we blow right past the message from nature, from another person, or in an article whose headline catches our attention yet we ignore it.
It is easy to don the sackcloth of martyrdom and feel sorry for yourself in this situation. That is why you need a toolbox full of easy to access resources when things go sideways in your post-employment experience. It did not take long for me to regain my equilibrium once I realized what was causing my negative feelings.
When I accepted that I was responsible for my predicament, I negotiated more time for myself and spent several blissful hours working in my illustrated journal. When I need to process what is going on in my life, there is nothing that connects me more to myself than drawing and writing. Sometimes the pictures I draw say all that needs to be said. Other times, especially when I am in the flow, insights and information pour forth as I write to help me move forward. Sometimes it feels as though my journal entry is writing itself.
What I know for sure is when my creative energy is stifled and I have no “alone” time, I wither inside. Just as a wilted plan is refreshed by water, I am refreshed when I drink from the well of self-care and kindness.
When you feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, or isolated, what tools can you use to get yourself back on track? Try writing them down on 3 x 5 cards and put them in a box. The next time you find yourself in a fog, pull out your box and find the right tool to get you through.