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Ah, the last days of summer! Up here we’re having very mild temperatures and lots of sunny days ahead. Lots of choke cherries and blackberries to gather for winter sweets. A few red maples are starting to turn color at the tips of their branches, a preview of foliage season still 6 weeks away or so. And the days are getting shorter. Is that the source of my mood change in retirement?
Lately I have been a little less euphoric overall. Now that I seem to have settled into some kind of routine, and the newness is worn off, I am no longer walking on air. I feel a little off balance. Things are affecting me differently. The retirement honeymoon is over, or will be soon.
It’s not just the settling in. I’ve noticed some irritability. Well, so what’s the big deal?
First, retiring is a big deal all by itself. It’s a life changer. You go from familiar life to uncharted territory rather quickly. Getting reorganized is only one aspect of retiring that is difficult. Losing old roles, expectations, and contacts isn’t easy. You feel like you have to reinvent yourself. Just the level of activity is different. If, like me, you’re diligent at work, you may find you drive yourself to be active in retirement too.
Now add the fact that I have a chronic depressive disorder, with recurrent bad episodes, and I’m also sensitive to lack of sunlight. So summers are easier than winters, the South is easier to live in than the North, that sort of thing. I live halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. It gets dark up here in winter.
So when you get a major life change and an episodic depression and winter’s coming, it can get dicey. I’m watching for signs of mood change and using countermeasures as needed. Don’t want to spend this winter under a blanket!
Experiences with mood change
Fortunately, I have experience, being older now. When we moved here thirty years ago, I went from a high-pressure lifestyle in graduate school to country life with no job. I was terrified that if we left the house for a day trip it would burn down. At night I was afraid of the house being broken into. I crept off to the bedroom for hours and just sat under a blanket. It was over a year before I settled down.
Before that, I was laid off once. They gave two weeks notice. I almost fell apart over that one, guilty, unstructured, and hopeless. That was harder than moving. I wept constantly till I found something else to do. Even after restarting college I struggled because I was ten years older than the other students, more a peer of the professors, but to the profs I was a student. I skipped opportunities because I was terrified that I couldn’t do what was asked.
So it makes sense that this transition will have some challenges for me. In some ways it’s like getting out of the Army. They brainwash you in the Army so you’ll fit the lifestyle there, and when you visit home and notice that nobody scrubs the bathroom floor with a toothbrush, you’re kind of at sea. Reversing some of that so you can live normally in the real world again, doing everything for yourself instead of relying on an institution, takes some work.
Problems and solutions
Here are some signs of mood change that I’ve had recently and what I do about them. If you have them and want to work on them, go for it. You don’t have to have a full-blown episode to improve your mood!
Irritability, as I said, has started to pop back in periodically. Sometimes it’s because of being hungry, tired or achy. Other times it’s from feeling rushed. I hate being rushed. But I’ve caught the thoughts behind the feeling being territorial or critical, like my husband is butting in or criticizing me, instead of being helpful. When that happens I have to force myself to re-interpret the feeling to something more positive, and let the feeling go.
Another problem I encounter is feeling unproductive. It’s hard to relax when you think you need to do a lot of things. But having a lot of things means you’ll always forget something and be guilty later. I have to keep reminding myself I’m retired and very little is time-sensitive now. So I pick out some things to prioritize and put them on a short list before bed each night. The next day, I do them.
Feeling restless or sleeping too much get in the way at times. If I get restless, I find something to do that takes movement, like vacuuming the house. For the sleeping too much I find something fairly mindless and slightly physical, like prepping food in the kitchen, till I get a second wind.
Organizing my time has been a challenge lately. Coming from a pressurized job, I need to accomplish things, but I don’t have many things that require accomplishment at home. I still have many things I can do, though.
So I’ve revived my recovery plan from the last crash. Every day I do my basic self-care, check the weather and make sure I do what I set myself to do. (When I was sick, I required one thing; now I’m asking for four.) Then if other things come up, I deal with them. If not, I can do something else from the everlasting list. Or take a nap.
Sometimes I put things off because I have a meeting, or my husband and I go shopping, or my friend suddenly has a fun idea. But so far nobody here has died because I bought groceries on a different day, or done the laundry later than usual. After all, there’s generally laundry accumulating, and we’re eating groceries daily.
Dark thoughts, scary thoughts
My husband and I exchange comments on the news quite often, and we find lots to talk about in politics. He’d taken a conservative viewpoint, so I argued from a liberal one. Exasperated, I babbled off an outrageous paranoid/hysterical argument. He looked at me hard in complete silence. I realized he thought I wasn’t doing well so I hurried to make a joke of it. But it sounded too much like my dark and scary side.
So I’m working on thought-monitoring again. I challenge the ones that appeal to the dark and scary side of me, the thoughts that feed the black dog of depression. Brainwashing in the service of sanity, yes, but it works if you keep at it.
Sometimes the thoughts come to you insistently. It’s best not to get hostile with them. Just thank them for their input and say you got it. They can go away now. If they come back with the same old stuff, send them away with an invitation to return with new information later.
For someone with depression, it’s a way of life, but it’s useful for people having situational mood changes from a big change in life too. What, if anything, have you noticed about your mood early on in retirement, and what do you do for it? Comments please.