Firsthand—experiences with aging

Many of us retire at age 65 and live 15 to 25 more years, which has sparked a movement to put us back to work. The U of M, under the influence of sociologist Phyllis Moen, recently launched a new academic program called “Encore Adulthood,” which seeks to bring boomers back to campus to explore new ways of working and living. Another U program, “Encore Transitions,” aims to help retirees transition into post-career living whether through work, service, learning, or other meaningful activities.

When I retired 14 years ago, I felt pressured to keep my research and writing going full steam and do a lot of volunteer and humanitarian work as well. Societal expectations do not allow us to be relax at retirement any more. My retirement years have been filled with at least six PDGR-funded projects and publishing three books, plus a huge amount of volunteer work.

I could not complain as I have always been work-driven. That is, until three months ago when my doctors pulled the plug on a sleep medication I had been taking for 15 years. Within days I could not sleep, lost my appetite, got spells of chills with shaking, hallucinations, hypertension, dizziness, anxiety, and memory loss. I could not focus and had to give up writing. I did not know if I ever would recover.

But for two months I was freed from my compulsion to contribute, and I was forced to discover a meaning for my life that did not depend on doing things that helped others or was otherwise productive.

To make a long story short, the new year brought freedom from most of my suffering and I can write again, for which I am very grateful. And now I know that my life has meaning even if I can no longer work. I have nothing against “encore programs” as long as they help us derive meaning not just from work, but also from play and being still and just existing.

If you would like to share a firsthand experience related to health and aging, please submit a brief essay to Ron Anderson, UMRA Cares Committee, at [email protected].