PRSD, Part II

As I began writing this, I was unsure about posting it. In doing so, maybe I’ll get feedback from others who are struggling with similar issues.

Since my first blog post I’ve written about the surprising challenges of retirement, especially for someone mildly obsessive-compulsive and mildly ADD. Well, I have an official diagnosis of anxiety disorder. I don’t know whether to be relieved, but I am a little surprised. Primary symptoms were sleep problems, shakiness and nervousness and start about midday, peaking late in the afternoon. Driving is more stressful and I’m somewhat agoraphobic. I do go out when I need to, doing errands, picking up my granddaughter, visiting friends and attending church and social functions. But the default, if I have a choice, is to stay home.

It started when I had cataract surgery in May. From then until I got my prescription, including three trips to EyeMasters for adjustments, I struggled with the changes and inadequacies in my sight. Then we took our trip to San Diego, during which I thought I might be truly ill.

I wonder how I managed a highly stressful job for 12 years. I was the public information officer (i.e. spokesperson) for the Texas Medical Board. My boss was a neurosurgeon; I worked with a board of 19 very high-powered individuals, 12 of whom were physicians. I dealt with the media, and anything I said could appear in the newspaper or on TV. A serious error could impact the agency’s legislative appropriation and/or cost me my job. I retired on good terms and helped select and train my replacement, who remains in the job nearly three years later.

I loved that job. Not every day. There were days that were boring and routine. But times when reporters called and deadlines loomed, even long board meetings and hearings, could be exciting and challenging. Being OCD and ADD actually made me good at my job! I juggled multiple emails and phone calls and interruptions and got bored when it was too quiet. I published a twice-yearly newsletter (which went to all licensed Texas doctors), something I enjoyed so much that I’ve started a neighborhood newsletter for our condo association.

How could retirement be harder than that? The main difference, I think, was that the job was structured, deadlines and priorities were clear, and I left it behind at the end of the day, with a few exceptions (yes, I did occasionally work from home on days off). Retirement is the opposite: every day is different, there are few deadlines (and most are self-imposed), and there is no boss to help prioritize. There is so much I want to do and never enough hours in the day, and I often feel I’m in a race with the clock.

The other wild card was the unexpected additional responsibility for my granddaughter. Eight months after I retired, my daughter quit her job and took Chloe out of day care in order to pursue freelance work as a fitness trainer and start an eBay business, which meant she needed a lot more help. I am grateful for the blessing of being so close to Chloe, but she is also high-energy and can be, like any child, stubborn, defiant and capable dramatic meltdowns.

I wish the new DSM V, when it’s released, would include something I call Post Retirement Stress Disorder, but I guess for now we’ll just stick to general anxiety disorder.

I know I’m not the first retiree to experience this. A dear friend had a major breakdown after he retired about 10 years ago and he has never fully recovered. I obviously don’t want to go down that path and I’m doing everything I can to get better, which is kind of funny: I’m applying the same get ’er done, in-control problem-solving that got me in this state to begin with.

I try to make sure I get enough fuel (my doctor said I was not filling the tank often enough, especially with protein), exercising, doing yoga, meditating—standard techniques for dealing with stress. The doctor initially prescribed clonazepam (Klonopin), which has helped with sleep but has too many undesirable side effects. Now he’s prescribed Prozac, while I gradually wean off Klonopin. It’s a low dose and we’ll see how it goes, but it can take weeks or months to show effects.

In the meantime I work with a wonderful therapist, who is helping me with coping techniques. She asked me how my husband might help. I know he’s been frustrated, and his responses have been along the lines of “lighten up.” Not helpful. I told the therapist that if I ask him to wrap his arms around me and tell me to breathe, he will do it, and it will help. But he’s directing a play right now and is totally absorbed. I try not to add any more drama to his life.

Even though I swore I’ve had my last tattoo, I’m considering one on my wrist saying simply, “Breathe.”

I am not totally incapable of lightening up. When my granddaughter got some new paints, the first thing she did was paint our faces.

NOT my new profile picture!

I did not, as someone suggested, make this my profile picture, but I didpost it on Facebook.

Artist at work

New profile picture for Gary?

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4 responses to “PRSD, Part II”

  1. Katie says :

    I get the part about becoming slightly agoraphobic. Since my job loss, followed by serious illness and its inherent (but, thankfully, somewhat brief) period of incapacitation, I find that days can sometimes go by and I haven’t left the house or spoken to a single person – besides my husband, of course. The hardest part for me is the isolation and lack of daily routine or structure (though I admit that I sometimes cursed the artificial structure I endured in jobs I didn’t care to do). I think what you’re experiencing is a normal, but rarely discussed, and quite common response to retirement. And I think the anxiety disorder diagnosis is spot on. Structure keeps anxiety (for those most prone to it) in its place. Now, anxiety gets to come out and play with you any time it wants, and you now have the time to entertain it!

    Perhaps you still aren’t spending your time as a retiree in ways you had planned or imagined (are you spending more time doing child care than you are doing… I dunno… doing yoga or taking art classes, or whatever?).

    Anxiety needs to be shown the door, because you’ve no time to waste playing with it. Retirement is a second chance at childhood, where days can be either leisurely, or busy learning new things and meeting new friends. When anxiety comes out to play with you, acknowledge it but firmly insist that you are too busy for it — even if what you’re doing is reading a good book in your jammies! it takes practice and, like a caring for a child, sometimes you have to repeat the rules over and over before it sinks in.

  2. Diane Huska says :

    Jill has become my “community” of women at a certain place in life, stumbling along, sometimes feeling like we are blindfolded. I left every single thing about a life that one could have to relocate to BC Canada to care for my elderly mother and her older and more fragile companion. Think of everything you are in your world, every day, then just walk away.

    We were 3 in 2010. In 2012 we are just me. Strokes took Eric completely. Strokes have debilitated my mother to a form that is dressed and groomed, but she is essentially a shell.

    When the time arrived for me to pack and donate the belongings of others, it was not at all easy, and I was shocked at how affected I was by the tiny journals of WW2 that Eric had so carefully written and kept. The postcards he had sent to his mother from France. Paperwork and family history from his people. He had few items other than mementos, as he had been preparing for about a year to “lighten up”.

    My mother had things stashed in places that I did’t even know she could reach; lots of it belonged to my grandmother and her mother and so on. Personal letters mother wrote to my dad during the war….he was a cad, but she kept it all; the pictures, everything. Hats that she made for us all during one of those keep the housewives occupied classes at church. Long gloves from the parties. The paste jewels that I remember so well, blinding me on the party dresses that filled her closet. She was a meticiously groomed woman. A hard act to follow. All these things piles of clothes, everything, took up most of my living room for months…..packing it off was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I used more kleenex during those times than I have bought in years. When that was finished, and I did have the required medical intervention for panic and stress and being absolutely crazy..I did calm down. Then I ripped everything off the walls in both units so they could be remodeled and sold. They are 37 years old, and it showed. The mother suite sold in 6 weeks. I was incredibly grateful. Thank you thank you thank you.

    I now live in the other remodeled unit that Eric gave to Mother in his will. Mother is currently in residential care, as she was unable to walk, speak or feed herself after her last series of strokes. When she passes, I will need to sell the unit I live in now, as it is part of her estate, which must be probated and distributed according to her request. I will be homeless at that point. But that day is not here, at least not so far this afternoon, and I have made an effort to become prepared to do work that is not concious of age or gender. I need to her to hold on till April of 2014. I need to hold on till April of 2014.

    I left a vibrant little cummunity in Austin and it satsfied every human need I had. This rock island is the other side of the moon, and I struggle daily to make myself useful, learn something, join something, interact, else I too will stay behind that front door forever. Meds allow me to sleep and appear to hold up the side, but I am glued together by blood, sweat and tears. I’m the only one who can make it better. Retirement is different for everyone, yes it is.

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  1. PRSD,* Part the Third, and Finale! « wigginswordsandimages - October 22, 2012

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