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.