Retired at 55!!!!

Life is strange. There have been many twists and turns through the years. Some unexpected, unpredictable. Some changes were abrupt and very far from welcome.

I don’t recall making any definite plan for my life when I was young, no particular ambition (perhaps I should have?). Looking back I largely seem to have gone with the flow.

Not successful for my first choice of career I accepted a job offer for one of the (then) regional utility companies and there I stayed, moving around the south-east as the company was privatised, locations closed, jobs disappeared, reorganisations, mergers. Moving from office junior to management. Jan 1977 to Jan 2015. I had expected to stay there until I retired at ‘normal’ retirement age. But fate or destiny had a different plan.

October 2013 saw the culmination of years of excessive work load take their toll. After a particularly nasty, personal abuse incident at work, which was very frightening, my health collapsed completely. It was late afternoon of a Friday and I managed to get myself home but was completely incapable of doing anything of value that evening or over the weekend. I was, to all intents and purposes, a zombie.

I had, overnight, developed a stutter or stammer, I couldn’t stop shaking and crying – the slightest thing set me off, and my brain would not function. Some months previously a rash had developed on my face which it turns out was caused by the anxiety that had been increasing inside me. The skin on my elbows was like an elephants hide: again a physical sign of the stress that I had been under.

On the Monday morning I was able to get an emergency appointment with my GP. My husband, thankfully, came with me. I say thankfully because I was unable to string words together to make a comprehensible sentence. My GP signed me off work and prescribed emergency medication. The medication was changed to a milder prescription a week later, and as the nightmare continued a further drug was added – I take both those prescriptions to this day. They keep the anxiety and the ‘black dog’ days at bay most of the time.

In my work I had dealt with complex negotiations and contractual documents. Suddenly I could no longer make sense of simple magazine articles. I had previously loved reading and would consume the printed word with a passion. I could no longer read a book. Well I could read but nothing made any sense and I would re-read the same page over and over again trying to understand. Answering the telephone or the doorbell caused me huge anxiety. Seeing anyone was traumatic – how could I explain what had happened? What did they think? I was ill but no one could see the illness, did they believe me? After all a short circuit in the brain isn’t visible like say a broken leg

Depression and anxiety, work related stress the nightmare of not being myself continued for 18 months and on some levels continues even now. The professionals have described my symptoms and condition as those of PTSD – this still surprises me; it’s not as if I’d been in a war zone! Or had I? Work had become a long round of trying to please everyone but still complying with ever increasing red tape. Internal customers shouting down the phone at me when they realised they hadn’t done something they should have and expecting me to find them a solution. Keeping sales on track, even without the proper approvals: my neck on the line every time I bent the rules and policies. Team members not meeting deadlines: my responsibility, if they couldn’t meet the deadlines then I had to. Working from 7 in the morning to (at it’s peak) 11 at night, plus weekends. Deliver this, deliver that, do it now…… and by the way Know this is not part of your job but deliver this too.

December 2014 still signed off sick. Still unable to comprehend simple documents / articles. Still stammering whenever talking about work.

BIG decision; actually HUGE decision: retire from work so that I can get fully better. Dilemma is this right? I feel like I’ve driven the car down a dead end with no turning space.

Jan 2015 55th birthday saw me retire and finally start on the road to full recovery.

However, I did not expect that retiring would leave me feeling so devastated, so empty. It was as though I were experiencing the grief of the loss of a loved one. I recognised the feelings from the loss I felt when my first love was killed on the Herald of Free Enterprise. My GP was able to put this in perspective: I was indeed grieving for the loss of someone: the professional me. Once I accepted that this was really quite normal, given the way my career had ended, recovery started in earnest. Almost overnight the stammer and the facial rash disappeared.

I have begun to find the real me, the creative side which has been buried for far too long. I’ve rediscovered my writing, my drawing, my needlework, my love of design and I have now taken two courses which have challenged me to gain new creative skills and meet new people. Meeting people has been particularly hard for me but self confidence and self belief are beginning to resurface.

I know I still have a long way to go but I am making good progress and, yes I am proud that I have come this far.

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