Saturday, May 11, 2019

May Day! May Day! May Day!

Starting on May 1, this repetitive phrase echoed in my head. These are words of a distress call, used since 1923 by radio personnel to communicate extreme danger. In fact, the phrase used has nothing to do with the month of May. It is simply the English transformation of the French phrase “m’aider” (literally, ‘help me’). That made sense to me.

As of May 1, I entered a phase of life that may present the greatest challenges yet.  I resist the word “retired“. It sounds too much like giving up. The idea of “Freedom 55” (or whatever) has always seemed to me like a nightmare more than a dream.  The word has so many connotations. Unneeded. Busy but barely useful. Easily forgotten. Irrelevant. Losing touch with what was important. Self-consumed.

The past six years have been a daily adventure. Energizing. Inspiring. Jam-packed with challenges. It was living life to the fullest, feeling fulfilled. But as of April 30, I am now more often than not characterized as retired” or “semiretired”. There is more fear than freedom in that label. While I have often yearned for more free time, it suddenly stares back at me from the empty pages of my calendar.

May Day! May Day! May Day! Help! How do I fight back against the impending sense of purposelessness?

The first day of May was the beginning of my post-President life. I am trying to relax, rest and recuperate from the busy schedule and mountaintop activities of the past few months. The farewell events, extraordinarily kind comments, new title of “President Emeritus”, and generous gifts were all gracious, if not embarrassing. But, as thankful as I am, those are now in the past. What do I do now?

This post, and my return to blogging under the label of “Positively Parkinson’s”, is my way of sharing the fears and falsehoods of this new chapter in my life. I anticipate this season will present a broad spectrum of experiences, from daring and dangerous at one end, to sadness and self-isolation at the other.

I have often recommended to people caught in the turmoil of mixed emotions to ask themselves question: “what are you afraid of?” So… when it comes to my current state of life, what am I afraid of? Here are my top three:

Getting old. While my Parkinson’s disease (diagnosed in 2006) seems to be largely under control, thanks to my body responding well to the medications, I am worried that the increased free time will simply mean more focus on the symptoms of my disease.

Irrelevance. For the past six years, I have been fully engaged in trying to meet the demands of a consuming job. While demanding, it was incredibly rewarding, and consumed all of my available energy. But now what?

Loneliness. While I enjoyed the support of an extraordinary woman, who has stuck by me for more than 45 years now, I have become accustomed to maintaining many relationships, in large part because of the roles I have played. Will these friendships dissipate over time?

None of these three fears is likely to be resolved easily. But, in the meantime, I also recognize I need to seek solutions that give time to self-care. Balance. Learning how to avoid reacting to every request with a thoughtless, “Yes”.

Perhaps, above all, I need to be willing to risk reaching out with a personal, “May Day”.

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