About Those Stages of Retirement

We got our new wall clock on the wall the other day. It got me to thinking about how I view time and other matters now that I’ve been retired for about two and a half years.

I actually tried to ease into retirement by getting a 3-year phased retirement contract. I thought that might help me get adjusted to not being a fire fighter as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist. I don’t know how helpful that was.

So, I looked up the stages of retirement on the web. There are slightly different versions but most of them have 5 stages:

  • Realization
  • Honeymoon
  • Disenchantment
  • Reorientation
  • Stability

I guess I’m somewhere at the tail end of disenchantment and the beginning of reorientation. I have to point out a few things about me and the clock on the wall to help get my point across.

When I was running around the hospital, I used to pay a lot of attention to the clock. One example is how I helped medical nurses and doctors diagnose and manage catatonia. That’s a complicated and potentially life-threatening condition linked to a lot of medical and psychiatric disorders. It can make people afflicted with it look like they have a primary mental illness and they can look and act spooky.

Most people with catatonia are mute and immobile. They could also have wild, purposeless agitation but the mute and immobile type is more common. I would recommend administering injectable medicine in the class of benzodiazepines, often lorazepam.

Often the catatonic person would wake up and start answering questions after being like a statue only minutes before the injection. I watched the clock very closely, and the nurse and I watched the vital signs even more closely.

The recovery from a catatonic state looks like a miracle, which often made me look like a hero—despite the fact I could not explain exactly the mechanism of how catatonic states begin or how injectable benzodiazepines work to reverse the state. In most situations, on the general medical and surgery wards, the cause was not infrequently a medical emergency.

That made retirement difficult. I often didn’t notice time passing when I was working. In fact, my job as a C-L psychiatrist was marked by a series of emergencies, hence the fire fighter feel the job held for me.

Somehow, interrupting my schedule (if you can call firefighting a schedule), didn’t help me very much in my adjustment to retirement.

Right from the start, I noticed I missed being a hero. By the time I got to the first stage, Realization, I was already part of the way into the Disenchantment stage. I don’t really recall the Honeymoon stage.

Time passed slowly after full retirement for me. Not even the phased retirement schedule prepared me for it. It was excruciating. I have never slept very well, but my insomnia got worse after retirement.

I had fleeting thoughts about returning to work, and that’s the surprising thing. You’d think I would have just dropped the whole retirement thing and get right back in the fire truck.

But I didn’t. Part of me knew that the job consumed me and burnout was a consequence. My focus on work did not help me be a good husband. On the other hand, retirement by itself didn’t help either.

It’s still hard, but not as difficult as it was at first. I would say that I’m somewhere between the latter part of Disenchantment and the beginning of Reorientation. I’m not anywhere near Stability.

I have replaced my schedule to some degree. Most days, I exercise and practice mindfulness meditation. I have also recently taken up juggling, as many of my readers know.

But any YouTube videos of me “cooking” are bogus. Sena takes video of me messing around making pizza and whatnot as if I know what I’m doing—but she’s giving me cues every step of the way. I’m allergic to kitchens and I probably always will be.

Anyway, I have a different relationship with the clock nowadays. I’m still hoping that I’ll evolve into somebody who knows how to manage not just retirement better, but a whole lot of things in a more adaptive way.

I sure hope so. According to some statistics, at my age I’ve got a limited time to improve. So, I need to get busy.

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