How Am I Feeling?


October 22, 2014 by Jean

Recently, I was asked how I’m feeling about being retired. It turns out to be a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I’m not feeling the euphoria I expected, but I’m also not feeling the negative feelings (disillusionment, loss of identity) that some have described.

The best description of my emotional responses is that they are muted. I think this is mostly a reaction to the on-going construction project at my house. Living on a construction site can be unpleasant. I am living in limited space; it is difficult to keep things in order; the noise can be headache-inducing (especially for a lover of quiet like me); and I have not been able to invite friends over for months. You can add to these various temporary irritations the frustration at how slowly the construction has been proceeding; we are now in the fifth month of what was supposed to be a three-month project. I think muting my emotions has been a way to protect myself against the temptation to despair about the construction ever being done or the temptation to lose my temper with my contractor (which would not be helpful). But the downside of these muted emotions is that I don’t feel fully alive.

One way to get in touch with my submerged emotions is to consider the four aspects of life that I have long considered the pillars of happiness for me – meaningful work, connection with others, connection with nature, and connection with self.

  • Meaningful work: I expected this to be the most problematic aspect of building a happy retirement, but it has not been a problem in these early days. I have luxuriated in time for intellectually stimulating reading, allowing my developing interests to lead me as I follow the links from one book to the next. I am pleased with my decision to invest in a $20 annual membership at the Portland, Maine public library, which provides excellent access to books and other resources. I have also taken the first steps toward finding the right volunteer activity for me (more about this in another post). I did not feel even a slight twinge of regret or anxiety as school began in the fall.
  • Connection with others: This was problematic when I was working 80-hour weeks, and I expected retirement to provide me with the time to nurture old relationships and establish new ones. But while I’ve had time this summer and fall, living on a construction site means that I haven’t had a home I could invite people to. Not being able to invite friends over for lunch or dinner has definitely cramped my social life; and the stresses and uncertainties of the construction process have left me with less energy to initiate outings. I am not feeling happy about my connection with others at this point, but I am hoping to make progress on this front when the construction is finally done.
  • Connection with nature: I always feel more connected to the natural world when I’m in Maine than I did in Pennsylvania. (Indeed, this was a primary motivation for coming back to live full-time in Maine.) My construction project has had both positive and negative effects on that sense of connection. On the positive side, the construction noise during the summer and early fall motivated me to spend as much time as possible out on the deck and in the back garden. The weather and long hours of daylight in summer were also conducive to getting out for an hour-long walk several mornings each week, and those walks are always a time for me to drink in the sounds, sights and scents of my rural neighborhood. At the same time, I am aware that I’ve had relatively little interest in gardening this summer and that I have taken relatively few photos of the garden, signs that I have not been feeling the connection to nature as keenly as I normally do. Moreover, as summer has turned to fall and the weather has turned cool and rainy, I can no longer spend time out on the deck and I am aware of how the construction on the front of my house has cut me off from the southwest-facing windows that bring in light (and, on sunny days, warmth) at this time of year. I also miss the way that the southwest window in my bedroom allowed me to observe the night sky, connecting me to the phases of the moon and the changes in constellations as the seasons turn. Happily, when I am finally able to move into my new bedroom, I will have a huge southwest window wall to reconnect me to the night sky (an especially important link to nature during our long winter nights).
  • Connection with self: This is another area that I expected to improve with retirement. I was looking forward to having time for reflection, and I expected thoughts about my retirement experience to flow out of my fingertips and into this blog. That has not happened, and I am disappointed. Again, this may be primarily a result of the construction chaos, which is not conducive to quiet reflection, and the muting of my emotions, which cuts me off from connection with self.


So how am I feeling five months into my retirement? Neither happy nor miserable, but disappointingly flat. I suspect that this flat feeling is not a response to retirement, but to the chaos of construction. In many ways, I feel as though I am waiting for my retirement begin. In a few weeks, when the construction is done, and I have finally unpacked and moved into my new space, I am hoping that I will begin to experience the happiness of improved connection to self, connection to nature, and connection to others.

15 thoughts on “How Am I Feeling?

  1. Melanie says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and reflections, Jean. Hopefully the construction will end soon and you can plan for your spring garden!

    • Jean says:

      Thanks, Melanie. I’m seeing some progress on the construction front and still have hopes of moving into my new space by Thanksgiving.

  2. Jean says:

    It seems to me that you haven’t really started your actual retirement yet because living in a construction zone is still part of PREPARING for that retirement. Your time might not be dictated by your teaching schedule but it’s still dictated by forces somewhat beyond your control. When the workers all leave and you start setting your house in order, doing things whenever and if ever you want to do them, then you can say you’re properly retired. I’m guessing that ‘muteness’ or flatness you’re feeling is just you being in a holding pattern, waiting so you can start writing your next chapter.

    My parents, in the six months before they retired, they winterized and rehabbed a cottage for year-around living, so I can see some parallels and differences in your experiences. The biggest difference being that the week they retired all they had to do is move their clothing into the cottage.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, This is exactly how it feels to me, that my retirement is on hold waiting to begin when the construction is done. The point that my life is not under my control was brought home to me this morning when I came in from my morning walk to find the drywall installer working in my bedroom and a power drill sitting in the middle of my unmade bed. LOL; at least I wasn’t still in the bed!!

  3. I am glad you have only a few weeks to wait until you can fully move in and enjoy retirement. I also feel the 4 pillars you articulated are important to me for retirement…not great with the outings due to health but getting back out in my garden…gosh there is lots of work to do inside and out so I will be busy. But feeling a bit restless too after 9 months of retirement and being cooped up.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, Let’s hope my “few weeks” estimate is not overly optimistic. I’ve also been feeling cooped up, although in a different way than you. I can get out of the house when I want; but when I’m in the house, I’m confined to 2 1/2 rooms and am always looking for things that I don’t have easy access to.

  4. Here’s hoping for an end to a long construction project so that you can start a new schedule that doesn’t include hammers and drivers. 🙂 The local library is such a wonderful place that there aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. It is easy, cost effective, no storage needed, and when you do run across that occasional book that isn’t quite what you thought, you can just take it back. Can’t wait to hear all about the move.

    • Jean says:

      Judy, I’ve been a library lover since I was 4 years old and learned to write my name (the prerequisite to getting a library card). One time when I was checking out of the Gettysburg College library with a stack of books so tall I could barely carry it, I enthused to the startled student working at the circulation desk: “This is so great!! It’s like shopping in a fabulous bookstore, only you don’t have to pay anything when you get to the checkout!”

  5. Carole says:

    We lived through a major construction project when we were both working, and it was depressing. I’ll never forget the noise, the mess, the intrusion etc, and this is even though I was gone for most of the day. I swore I would never do it again.

    In the trades industry they joke about promise them the world, and then do what you want to do, when you want. Nine years ago we decided to build a house. I thought it would be better, because we wouldn’t have to live with the day to day mess and intrusion. They started in June and said we would be in our house by Thanksgiving. Ha! Then it was Christmas, then Easter. Finally in July of the following year the house was finished. Another example of where they tell you what they think you want to hear, so that you will sign the contract 😦

    I am certain your feelings are directly related to the construction. Especially for someone like you (and me!) who value quiet and privacy. I hope for your sake that it really is only a few more weeks. Stay strong, and know that when it is done you will have such peace and contentment in your new digs!

    • Jean says:

      Carole, Sounds like my experience is a walk in the park compared to yours! I don’t think anyone has intentionally lied to me to get my business; but, as a former student who is a housing contractor in the San Francisco bay area explained to me, “All contractors are optimists.” Interior painting will begin this week, and I might get back access to my living room and be able to move in my new furnishings in a couple of weeks.

  6. Diana Studer says:

    renovating is still … in limbo … waiting … changing.
    In a few weeks, you’ll be done, and we will be just starting.
    Get the plans passed, find a contractor. WAIT WAIT WAIT, but one day it will be done.
    It’s maybe also a little bit of rebound for you, as you recover from the stress of busy working life?

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I didn’t realize you had construction ahead of you at False Bay. You have been in limbo for such a long time waiting for your house to sell; I don’t envy you another bout of a new form of limbo. I’m looking forward to the first day that I don’t have to worry about whether I’m still in bed or in my nightgown when someone shows up to work.

  7. maureen says:

    Hi Jean,
    Enjoyed reading your blog for first time. Your insight regarding feeling flat and suppressing emotions are interesting ones. So hard to not have control over things which I know can be so frustrating. Our kitchen renovation took much longer then we expected so I can imagine how when such a large project as yours gets behind how difficult life can get. Hang in there, it will get done and you will surely love it.

  8. […] major house construction. In October 2014, before my retirement had officially begun, I reported (How Am I Feeling?) that I was feeling emotionally “flat” and attributed this to construction that had now gone on […]

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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