What is it about Retiring…?

From the New Yorker April 21, 2018

Immanuel Kant noted a connection between the sublime and terror. When I think of retiring I can relate to exactly that. I’m a former psychiatric nurse currently working in a medical center as a utilization review nurse, reviewing charts for insurance purposes and writing appeal letters for insurance denials of care. Eight hours a day, four days a week on the computer in a small office with two other nurses doing much the same thing. The work is tedious, the company enjoyable–there are four of us who’ve been together for about fifteen years, all most likely retiring within the next year.

My co-workers are psyched for retiring–counting down the months, weeks, days. I am too–sometimes–and other times I’m fraught with an inexplicable fear–a hollowness in my gut, an unrelenting voice in my head warning that I’ll be alone with nothing to do 24/7. I’m single, an introvert, and although I have plenty of friends and lots of interests, I also have a history of addiction (bulimia, which I’ve thankfully been free from for over ten years thanks to Twelve Step programs) and I worry that too much time to languish and obsess could just do me in.

Unlike the sun, my current job is not life supporting in any way. He dutifully, and I hope, proudly, keeps us warm, helps us mark the passage of time, and brightens our days. I am easily replaceable, don’t even like my job that much, and when I allow myself that clarity, I know it’s time to retire. Except that I do like the twice monthly paycheck and the daily banter with my co-workers. So it’s a constant back and forth.

A year or so ago I decided I’d become a dance gypsy in retirement–finding workshops taught by my favorite dance teachers around the world and taking myself to those places to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. I still find that a compelling idea, but I need other things. Writing, sewing, art-making could be other regular activities, maybe even another book, but I have to regularly convince myself that making art of all types is a worthy endeavor. I’m certain it is and I even embrace it, but at these times when I think about letting go of my day job–the one I’ve brainwashed myself to believe is the ‘real’ work–my certainty is suddenly on shaky ground. And what about the pleasure of being free of schedules and responsibilities? Is there ever really such a thing?

Happy I wrote about this today, and I hope sharing it will take the dilemma out of the dark recesses of my private sphere and expose it to the light of the early rising Mr. Sun. I’ll end with another New Yorker cartoon…


Are Secrets Really Secret?

…or are there any secrets? Do I merely soothe myself by believing there are things no one knows about me even if I’ve told them?

These last few weeks I’ve been obsessing about why I didn’t say more about my relationship with E&T, aka bulimia, in the initial launch phase of my book, Joy Ride: My One-legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. And today, for the first time in a couple of months, I took a look at my website, karenwittdaly.com, and realized there’s not one word about my forty-plus year relationship with E&T, despite it being a major part of the journey I catalog in the book.

Am I still hoping to keep that part of my life a secret, even though it’s openly discussed throughout the book? It’s a puzzling revelation, especially because I was proud of how honest I was in describing the way bulimia affected every aspect of my life. Maybe I thought it was a secret that readers who knew me would discover for the first time. Or, maybe I thought potential readers would be turned off by the topic of bulimia – another story of addiction and recovery – and not even consider reading the book. What I see now is that opening up about difficult, shameful things is a gradual unveiling, a process that’s more about how I think and feel about myself than about how others might see me. I suddenly have a desire to change up the website and some other writing to more accurately represent the various aspects of the journey I wrote about.

This reminds me of a quote by Richard Brautigan I recently came across:

Are You the Lamb of Your Own Forgiving?
I mean: Can you forgive yourself / all
those crimes without victims?

It seems forgiveness, of others or of oneself, is impossible when that which is to be forgiven remains a secret. But, if I don’t make space to forgive, I continue to blame myself (and maybe others). To what end? Sometimes stories we continue to tell ourselves just reinforce things we need to let go of. I now know (from reading some of the reviews of my book) that my years of bulimia were not a secret. People close to me knew about the behavior, even though I told myself they didn’t, while knowing deep inside myself they did. And, although I did my best to keep it a secret from myself by denying it was a problem, and rather considering it something I was destined to do, to purify myself or cope with difficult things–I always felt the shame of it. Maybe only now–after having published a book that on the cover doesn’t even mention bulimia, but on almost every page makes reference to my E&T ritual–I am releasing the secret and beginning the journey of forgiveness.

Life is such a surprise – every day there’s something I was sure was behind me that pops up right in front of my face to remind me it’s not over yet. And, then, I have the great good fortune to dig a little deeper, clear out more of the muck, and make room for even more joy.

What could be better than that!

Bravado, Shame, or Seeing Things as They Are?

The “happy gene” chatter in my last blog seems to have caught up with me. This week I’ve been restless and in a bit of a funk. I’m certain the happy gene is holding it’s place, just hanging back so other, equally important “seeing things as they are” genes can make themselves heard.

Last week’s blog about my present eating routine got me wondering whether it would be good to talk more about bulimia as a second, major theme in my book, Joy Ride. This notion came up originally before a book reading event I was part of in early March. Sarah, the organizer, asked if she could make reference to my bulimia history in the press release about the event. I said sure, and sent her a copy of a press release noting the bulimia that my editor and I wrote for other media events. Sarah never mentioned bulimia – instead she said something about behaviors I’d struggled with, something like that. I think she wasn’t sure how I really felt about having it show up in the newspaper.

Since then it’s been bugging me, and I’m wondering if maybe she was picking up on my discomfort with it – although at the time I didn’t think I had any discomfort. Today, though, I’m pretty certain I do – have discomfort.

Here’s my shake-out about that. I’m wondering if my writing about my relationship with bulimia in the book came from a place of bravado – wanting to shock people from a distance. Throughout the book, I fondly and disgustedly called it E&T (eating and throwing up) before I was able to see it for the multifaceted addiction that it was. I never used the word bulimia until the epilog when I wrote about finding my way to Twelve Step programs, and finally letting it go. So many aspects of that addiction feel shameful: the gluttony, the head in the toilet, the wasting of food, the stealing that accompanied it, the lying, hiding, what it did to my teeth, on and on. And yet, as I lived with it and wrote about it in the book, I was thankful for it, even sort of worshiped it, felt proud that I had figured out how to continue it, seemingly without notice (although I was always wondering who knew).

As I step back (or maybe it’s that I’m stepping closer), I see this vacillation between a kind of bravado and an overwhelming shame. Maybe it was a dichotomy that had to exist for the secret of bulimia to continue, and for me to continue functioning.

Today, as my head spun, throbbed, and tried it’s best to rid itself of the reality of this funk, something shifted inside and I began to see how bravado and shame are my concocted stories about me and my past. They are characteristics, loaded values and judgements I’ve attached to a behavior. I can accept the behavior and it’s 40+ year history without naming it shameful or bravado. I might understand bulimia as an addiction, a coping mechanism, or something I had to do, and I can talk about that honestly, while remembering it’s simply one part of a story of a life.

I was lamenting today about how this process stuff gets old. It seems everything I do – writing a book, or a blog post, or going to a workshop, or even having a conversation, or going swimming – leads to some new self-awareness that then challenges my identity, my joyfulness, my very fragile self-acceptance.

Here’s a quote from David Niven that makes me chuckle.

“Keep the circus going inside, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.”

Is this what a joy ride is all about?