January 16, 2017 by Jean
My physical health definitely improved during my second year of retirement. With the help of good physical therapy and Esther Gokhale’s posture-based method for conquering back pain (see Steps to a Healthy Back), I said goodbye to the chronic pain and burning sensations in my left leg and knee that I had been living with for years. The improvement has been so great that this past year, I was able to prepare and plant more than 600 square feet of new garden and also stack my four cords of winter firewood without any ill effects. I have also embarked on a program for improving my balance, by standing on one foot twice a day. In the months since I began this practice, I have increased the amount of time I am able to balance on one foot from less than ten seconds to almost two minutes. I had confirmation that this has improved my balance when I recently slipped on a thin coating of ice and managed to regain my balance without falling and without dropping either the file folder I was carrying in my right hand or the travel mug of tea I was carrying in my left! The balance exercises have strengthened my core muscles, thus also improving my posture and further enhancing my spine health. Last week, I met with my primary care provider to review the results of my annual routine blood tests, and she expressed enthusiasm about my “great numbers.”
The only fly in the ointment of my good physical health is weight gain. Toward the end of my first year of retirement, after the construction on my house was completed and life became more restful, I lost 25 extra pounds that I had been carrying around for years. Alas, in my second year of retirement, I gained half of those pounds back.
I believe this weight gain is related to the other type of wellbeing I want to assess here, psychological wellbeing. When I am stressed, I tend to turn to food for comfort and pleasure. The major source of stress in my life this year has been the declining health of a close friend. My friend’s health has been on a downward trajectory for several years, and I have been providing her with health care support and accompanying her to all her medical appointments for the past two years. I find this situation stressful not only because it is difficult to see a friend suffering from poor health, but because she makes health decisions very differently than I do. This means that I find myself in a position of trying to provide emotional and practical support for decisions (and non-decisions) that I am frustrated by. My responsibilities and stress levels ratcheted up in mid-November when my friend fell and broke her leg. Since then, she has been first in the hospital, then in a skilled rehab facility, both about an hour away from my home. I have visited her two or more times a week, attended care-planning meetings with her providers, communicated frequently with her out-of-state brother, done her laundry, helped with practical chores like paying bills, and taken her to several doctors’ appointments. At one of these appointments, she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that explains many of her symptoms but also means that her health will continue to decline.
I don’t want to leave the impression that this has been a negative year for my psychological wellbeing. The stresses of my friend’s health situation were accompanied by some gains to my psychological health in the past year. I realized how important learning is to my wellbeing and have indulged my passion for learning with participation in the Senior College, the Master Gardener Volunteer program, the Maine Music Society Chorale, and horticulture courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. All of these learning activities have also contributed to my social wellbeing as they provide opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. I also found that having built-in social contacts during the winter months, especially my weekly dinner with my next-door neighbor, worked well for me.
In my third year of retirement, my focus for improving both my physical and psychological wellbeing is on stress management. Over the years, I have developed stress management strategies that work well for me, including physical exercise (mostly walking) and taking time for calm and relaxation every day. It is the time for de-stressing that has gotten away from me in the weeks since my friend’s fall. My conversation with my primary care provider brought home the realization than I can’t take care of others unless I also take care of myself. I have gotten back on the exercise wagon with an indoor step aerobics routine that can substitute for outdoor walking during the winter. I’ve also committed myself to protecting my morning time for a leisurely breakfast, reading, and writing. I’m trying to train my friend, her brother, and her paid caretakers not to call me before noon unless it’s an emergency, and I’ve figured out how to silence the annoying and impossible-to-ignore “voice mail alert” beep on my telephone. If these steps turn out not be enough, I may have to develop one or two additional stress-management strategies.
For the most part, I feel as though I’ve hit a “sweet spot” in my life, and I’m aiming for even better wellbeing at the end of my third year of retirement.