Posts Categorised: Mid-Life Crises
It was the year 2001 and my youngest child was going to University. The nest would be empty. A mid-life crisis was pretty well compulsory; the concept was grasped by me with both hands.
I gave up my job, rented my house, bought myself a 60 litre ruck sack and away I went… to Guatemala.
Kelty, the God and Leader of previous adventure walks, agreed to take us somewhere in Central or South America and there I would remain on my own after the walk. He chose Guatemala.
WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW:
I knew absolutely nothing about Guatemala: not Asturias (Nobel Prize winning poet, diplomat, novelist, playwright & journalist) nor the bloody Civil War (1960-1996); I had not met a worry doll (to get rid of your worries) and I knew not about the United Fruit Company (baddies) nor the geographical location (borders on Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize) and finally the towering presence of majestic volcanoes hit me slap in the face. It was a clean slate and total ignorance of the country prevailed.
I spoke bad Spanish gained from working in a fisherman’s bar in Spain when I was 19. I could say things like, “cheers! Good luck with your sex life!” I was in possession of an A level with a shamefully low grade.
After very tearful goodbyes to my walking buddies I took a good long look at myself in the mirror. “What in God’s name have you got yourself in to now?” asked I to me.
The following months saw me installed in a roof top flat. Sink on the roof, tiny shower that gave me an electric shock every time I accidentally touched the spout and a view to die for of the volcanoes.
I worked in the mornings in Obras Sociales Hermano Pedro – a hospital for disabled orphans amongst other things. The nurses were mean to me. These were my duties: The most disabled were in a jumble in a sort of cage. I went in there with toothbrushes and brushed all their teeth. I was very frightened of them initially. Then the more abled ones were attached with a rope to the pillars of the patio where they could see what was going on and the others were put in wheel chairs and dotted around the patio. Then the cots were cleaned up and after that I was free to play with them. The nurses were mean to me because they were almost as poor as these poor children. I bought them a birthday cake on my birthday and bought presents for the children which they stole for their children. Compared to a lot of orphanages it was a well run and functional place. I grew to love this place and all the people in it. I was lucky to have found it and I knew it!
In the afternoon I went to the Christian Spanish Academy where I met the marvellous Zorie. She was my teacher for four hours a day, five days a week for two months. Mother of twins, scrabble champion of Central America and we shared a birthday. A new a beautiful soul mate.
Then there was the market where the ladies used large cabbage leaves for sun hats and I would buy handfuls of avocados, mountains of coriander, bags of tomatoes and a multitude of greens that I never quite identified.
Sometimes I had coffee or lunch in this little corner of heaven.
BLESSSED! BLESSED! BLESSED!
Every day that’s what I thought.
Articles about retirement are almost always about men and how they fill their time after retiring from their important jobs. This seems to me to be missing the point. Firstly, women retire too, secondly, you don’t have to have an “important” – i.e. high paying – job to suffer the horrible effects of feeling useless and thirdly, the potentially devastating effect of retirement is not resolved by “filling your time”, “keeping busy” – in other words waiting to die.
I retired at the age of 69. I worked for a local authority as an advisory teacher for the education of children in the care system. My entire job was doing the job – direct contact with children, teachers, foster carers, psychologists, social workers and so forth. I wasn’t particularly, important, well paid or high up the ladder. To a great extent I managed myself and my time. Half my waking life was spent in this environment.
I had absolutely no idea how devastated I would feel. The loss of contact with children, young people and the wonderful colleagues was overwhelming. I realized, rightly, that I would never see these people again, we didn’t socialize, we were bound by the work we did.
In one fair blow, my computer and my phone were gone – all the contacts handed over to an anonymous HR person. All the reports I wrote and all the materials I invented…gone. No more training, no opportunities for “professional development”. I was no longer a professional and no one wanted to develop me. I missed the meetings, the brainstorming, the problem solving, the magical moments when things went right and kids did well at school, I missed the challenges, I missed the definition of who I was.
Three months in and I still didn’t want to raise my head off the pillow in the morning. I felt a deep sense of shame and uselessness. Who would want to speak to me? I was a vacuous vacuum. I was a piece of unserviceable, redundant shit.
I had no problem filling my time. I moved house the same year and had a mass of things to do. I had my beloved grandchildren next door and constant contact with my family. My time was filled… I kept busy.
I had to peel myself back to my Scottish childhood to find out what my passage through life had been about and who I was. Reverting to my maiden name (sort of… the mechanics of doing it officially defeated me) but that really helped. Fifteen months on and I’m doing well. I’m a good way along the journey of what formed me, what I reject and what I’ll take forward, I’m cautiously stepping in to useful activities, I’m trying to beat down the shame of enjoying spending a day cooking for friends, playing tennis or getting up slowly in the morning.
The process of reinvention is started. I have 30 years to grow if I’m lucky, although my three year old grandson says I will be as small as his baby Roxy sister by the time he is fully grown.