By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published December 1, 2016
For most seniors, retirement is a very happy and exciting time. After all, you have worked hard to get to retirement, and you’re now ready to enjoy a leisurely, fulfilling experience. However, a great many retirees may experience one unexpected downside to retirement. It was news to me that retirement could have a downside until I began to quietly slip into a state of mild depression.
The depression doesn’t have an official name. It hasn’t yet gotten onto the radar screens of physicians, psychologists and counselors. But I suspect this form of depression will be recognized as millions more baby boomers enter retirement. The main reason why this phenomenon has not achieved a higher level of visibility is due to a general perception of retirement. You’ve been conditioned to expect that retirement should be a psychological nirvana. If you aren’t happy, or retirement is not living up to expectations, you may be reluctant to talk about it for fear the people around will think you’re a little weird.
Since nobody has officially named this condition to my knowledge, I decided to call it the “Post-Retirement Syndrome” or PRS. The primary trigger for the syndrome is the sudden loss of your job and career and the satisfaction and fulfillment they provided. You wake up one morning and get a little melancholy thinking about what you left behind: your friends, colleagues, customers and clients, and the skills and experience that took decades to develop, including many things that created a feeling of pride and accomplishment. You can’t walk away from something you’ve been doing for more than 30 or 40 years and not feel a sense of loss. You’re like an athlete who retires and misses the sights and sounds of the arena.
With your retirement, your psyche has a sudden void as you no longer receive the positive reinforcement that your job and career provided. If you fail to replace this loss with other meaningful activities, you may slip into a state of depression, anywhere from mild to severe, that is PRS.
The answer obviously is to get off your couch, step away from your lounger, and stand up for action. Get engaged in something that replaces the psychological void that your retirement created. You may find that one of your greatest opportunities is to get more active in your parish. There you will discover a great many activities that will provide extremely high levels of fun, satisfaction and psychological and spiritual reward. Suggestion: Go talk to your pastor.
I don’t want to dwell on the psychological impact of PRS since I am not a trained psychologist or counselor. I’m only making the case for PRS because I have found it to be real. You need to be warned about it in case you experience an unexpected sense of loss or depression.
I’ve noticed that some of the things we do to compensate for the sense of loss are pretty funny.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy is famous for his one-liners about rednecks, namely, “You might be a redneck if …” I may not be Jeff Foxworthy, but I have some key questions that you can use to determine your level of PRS. Even if you are not experiencing a form of retirement depression, this checklist will be valuable to ponder because knowing about the issues may help to avoid them in the future.
All you need to do is preface each symptom with the following statement, “You might be experiencing the post-retirement syndrome if …”:
- You have qualified as a platinum level internet explorer and eagerly await your next 10-hour session in front of your wide screen monitor.
- You have worn out your brand-new recliner given by your spouse as a retirement gift.
- You bought a chenille pillow with the inscription, “Couch Potatoes Unite.”
- Your spouse has asked you to go back to work at least three times a day for the past year.
- Every day you have thought about playing golf, going fishing, visiting the mall, playing cards, working on your car, moving the furniture in the living room, clipping and filing coupons, organizing the family scrapbook … but you never got around to doing any of them, just too busy.
- You have befriended your mailman, garbage man, dry cleaner, UPS and FedEx driver, meter reader and anyone else who happens to come into the neighborhood.
- You have conducted time and motion studies on your spouse’s housecleaning routines.
- You have wandered around the house looking for something to do, anything.
- You have answered the phone on the first ring and talked for 30 minutes to a wrong number caller.
- You regularly talk to yourself, answer your questions and respond to the answers.
- You think the dog, cat and goldfish are conspiring against you and you have proof.
- Your neighbors duck indoors when they see you coming.
- You volunteer the time, temperature and weather because you memorize them daily.
- You break things intentionally so you can fix them.
- You find yourself reading content labels on cans and boxes for enjoyment.
- Your children and grandchildren are afraid to ask you what’s new.
- You have qualified for the Senior Olympics in the advanced napping competition.
- You have created a catalog to highlight your favorite senior moments.
- You regularly drive by your former place of employment just to make sure it is still there.
- You have watched the reruns of M.A.S.H. and Jerry Seinfeld so many times you mouth the lines before they are said.
- You think that daily showers and shaves are for the upper class.
- You can hardly wait to read the obituaries to see if you know anyone who has passed to the great beyond.
- You reinstated your phone number on the national do-not-call list and anxiously await the calls from telemarketers.
- You have been accused of being paranoid, but you have proof that “they” really are out to get you.
Seriously, the Post-Retirement Syndrome affects not only the retiree but also the spouses and families of unhappy retirees. When you suffer through a difficult adjustment period in retirement, you impact the emotional and psychological health of the entire family.
If any of these symptoms are familiar to you or your loved ones, it is highly likely that you have experienced PRS. But make sure you don’t rush out and tell all your friends and neighbors—they already know.
The sheer awareness that you are not alone is the first step to recovery. The next step is to find something meaningful to do that will help replace the satisfaction and fulfillment that your job and career provided. Let me know if I can help. Good luck.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.