Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anxiety Attack

Trees at the front of our new house. 

I couldn't sleep last night. Okay, maybe it wasn't a full-fledged anxiety attack according to the clinical definition, but I laid in my bed awake, bombarded by one worry after another.

The date of my last paycheque is quickly approaching. I have worked my entire life since age sixteen, mostly full time, but always at at least part-time. During my university years, I worked in the summers to support myself over the school year, and generally also worked part-time during the school year as well. Many of those early jobs were minimum wage ones, and supported only the most meagre of lifestyles. But the point is, I always had a paycheque.

A wave of panic came over me. No more paycheques! No money! What am I going to do? And on top of that, our property tax is due July 1, the day after I retire. Rob's car insurance is due. I've run up a big credit card bill for work-related travel, which has not yet been reimbursed. And I have been financially helping out my two younger (adult) children as they pursue post-degree programs this year, which has made a dent in my savings. Once I retire, I'll have to pay for medical costs such as extended care, dental, and medical travel coverage, which previously have been provided by my workplace as benefits.

What if our house doesn't sell? It is a lovely house that should be attractive to buyers, but we are selling in a slow market. We have already bought another house, and we get possession June 30, the same day I retire. We will be responsible for the mortgage and closing costs, whether or not our current house has sold. Hyperventilating!

Not only will we be paying those costs, but also home insurance, moving costs, and utilities. (I had forgotten about utilities!)

We have decided that we will stay where we are in our current home, and not move until we have an accepted offer. This thought brings two additional worries flooding in. We haven't got quotes or made any moving arrangements yet because we don't have a moving date. What if the movers are all booked up and we can't arrange to move when we need to? Or if we only can do so by paying an exorbitant amount?

The other worry is about my office at work. As I will remain affiliated with my workplace after I retire, I have requested temporary office space after June 30. But what if I have to move offices, again, after just moving last year, to a dark windowless room in the basement? That would be unpleasant. But, digging a little deeper, it is not the possibility of having to move offices that is bothering me. The real thing I am worried about is that I am not 100% ready to leave. My career has been more than a job; it has been an avocation and a big part of my identity. Loss of an office symbolizes more than losing space at the workplace. It means that I am really and truly stepping away from the life I have been living for more than 30 years.

Well, good grief, what did I think retirement was, if not leaving the workplace and leaving my career???

Deep breath. By now, I have gotten up and gone out to the kitchen and made a mug of hot chocolate.

Of course I won't have a paycheque. Why would an employer pay me if I am not doing any work? I don't want to work so hard for pay anymore. That is why I am retiring. Just because I won't have a regular paycheque doesn't mean I will have no money. I will have a small amount of pension income plus the retirement savings that I have spent my whole life saving and investing so that someday I would be able to retire. I just have to wrap my head around the fact that I will no longer be putting money into those savings. Instead, I will begin drawing it out.

It is obvious. I know it intellectually. I have planned for it, and have run the numbers over and over again, just to make sure that I can afford to retire. But somehow, now that the moment has come, it is still hard to accept that there will be no more paycheques.

We have a new house! It is beautiful, and I am so excited about moving into it and making a new life for ourselves on Vancouver Island. It has space in it for me to have an office at home, and space to paint, and a beautiful workshop for Rob. It has lovely gardens, and best of all, it is near my kids, grandkids, and southern BC friends.

We have done the math. We wouldn't have made an offer on the house if we couldn't afford it. We have made financial arrangements and can cover the carrying costs while we wait for our house to sell. 

The backyard has a pond!

I am going to love being retired. I can write. I can paint. I will have time to garden and have outdoor adventures. I will not miss working my face off, and all the tiresome politicking of the workplace. If I really miss work, well then, I can take on a short term contract with my current employer, or one with a similar organization nearer to our new home. I have marketable skills that will continue to be in demand for some years.

Worry, worry, worry. Why do I do it? It serves no useful purpose. It just keeps me up at night, and distracts me from all the joys of finally truly having time to do what I choose.

18 comments:

  1. Hello gs, Thanks, at least now I know I'm not the only one who goes through these pre-retirement, how is this all going to work thoughts - and keep me awake some nights. We are months behind your imminent schedule, but can already see the increased levels of anxiety as the day gets closer. It's an unknown and for me, it will take me completely out of my routine and comfort zone, which I really like to be in. And like you, have run the numbers and am confident in them - it's just all of those logistical incidental things, even the little ones that don't seem to want to leave my head when I cannot sleep and it's 2:00 AM!

    It has been said that 90% of the things we worry about, never happen. Gee, if only I could figure out that other 10% so I could just concentrate on it!

    Best of luck!

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    1. Hi Scott. Thanks for commenting. Yes, retirement is a really big change to the routine, but I am confident that it will be a good one. However, a good change can be hard, especially when it has to do with how one spends the majority of their hours every day!

      I have looked at your blog, and am in awe about your walking goal. When you have retired, you certainly will have more time to devote to hiking and walking.

      Jude

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  2. Deep breaths, Jude. What you are feeling is undeniably awful, completely normal, and 100% inevitable.

    When work is a big part of your identity, and the paycheque has afforded a lifestyle that now feels threatened, retirement is one hell of an enormous life transition. Retirement is not for sissies, so good thing you're not a sissy.

    Count on these feelings to intensify, especially through the nights, and then to wane as things get resolved...and they will get resolved. (Your new house looks beautiful, by the way.)

    Was it one of your posts where I read about renaming retirees as PIMS - persons of independent means? I've held on to that and it has helped. Although I switched the order around and think of myself as an IMP - since I hope retirement also includes whimsy and freedom to be silly sometimes.

    I digress. This is a tough, tough time for you, Jude. Be good to yourself. Meditate, read, write, paint, go for long walks - whatever works for you as even the most temporary of relief. And keep reminding yourself of the meditation line - "All will be well" because it will be. When you get through this transition, which is going to take some serious time, all will be way, way better than simply 'well'. Life is going to shine for you in a way it never has before.

    Thanks for sharing your worries, Jude. Even two years and two months post-retirement, I can identify - and appreciate the opportunity to write advice that I will now try to take for myself. Told you the transition will take a while, but maybe you'll be a much quicker study than me!

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    1. Hello Karen, you IMP. (I love that!)

      All will be well, all will be well, all will be well....

      I really do know that all WILL be well, one way or another, so I do feel exasperated about all these worries flooding my mind in the middle of the night. Some people, like Rob for example, don't experience this stage of worrying about retirement, but just plunge gratefully into it without the angst. (Of course, he is not a Type A, under the illusion that he has to control everything.)

      It sure does help to realize that it is a transition process, and to read about the experiences of others like yourself who are a few years ahead of me in the process.

      Just for the record, I do not spend all my time worrying. Most of the time, I greatly enjoy life! It's moments like the 2 a.m. that I wrote about when the worries creep in that are so annoying. Telling myself not to worry doesn't work. I have to problem-solve my way through each imagined issue to find peace.

      Jude

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  3. I never realized what a psychological and security "fix" paychecks were until I retired, and they stopped appearing automatically in my direct deposit account every two weeks. The experience was something like withdrawl symptoms--anxiety--I need money--how can I get it. I found that watching financial account numbers dwindle, and never be restored bi-weekly, precipitated panicky feelings, even if I said in my head, "wait a minute, you HAVE money in retirement accounts--you're not truly in need." The regularity of the almost automatic fix was what I seemed to miss. This actually led me to file for Social Security about six months before I had planned. Ideally I should have been proactive and withdrawn from reirement savings to cover those six months, but that induced even more anxiety, the thought of those funds eroding. Once the social security checks starting being deposited automatically with regularity, panic subsided enormously, as did much of the anxiety about having to withdraw from retirement funds when necessary. When I started reading your post, I initially assumed it would be anxiety about a tree falling on your new house. Where I live, yard crews charge $1000 upwards, and usually upwards, to take out a fallen tree (which I have found out twice now).

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    1. Thanks for your comment, B. E. Yes, this worry about no more paycheques has taken me totally by surprise. I HAVE the money in retirement savings accounts, and I saved it specifically so that I could retire when the time came. It is good to realize that I am not alone in this response (even though I don't wish worrying upon anyone!).

      I guess the paycheque and associated benefits come to be taken for granted. In retrospect, I feel so grateful to have had that security for all these years. So many people have not had the security of regular paycheques or benefits. And I am so, so lucky to be able to retire. For me, that puts it in perspective.

      Wow, you've had the experience of two trees falling! How scary!

      Jude

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  4. Hi, Jude - Your worries are completely normal. They hit us all at some time, especially retirement transition time! Your intellectual side is correct. You have worked hard for retirement, you deserve this and you have, and will continue to have, options and backups. And I will be close by for coffee and yoga anytime!!

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    1. Donna, I am glad to hear that this is normal. I was beginning to think that I am some weird hyper-worrier. And maybe Rob isn't the best comparison. He took early retirement eleven years ago, and possibly doesn't remember whatever angst he experienced back then.

      I am looking forward to getting together with you for coffee and yoga, walks or whatever!

      Jude

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  5. Dear GS - you're facing a huge transition; of course, you're worried. "All things are difficult before they are easy; difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage." I trust you will settle in to your new lifestyle. I have a retirement pension that's direct deposited. I checked my account regularly for months before I could trust that it would be there. Like you, I had earned my pay since I was 17 yrs old. Now 4 yrs into retirement, I'm much more settled and enjoying the freedom of being the CEO of me. I like what Karen said about being an IMP. It looks like you will have lots to do in that beautiful yard.

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    1. Mona, that is a terrific quote. It sums up so well life's ups and downs. And I also love your comment about being the CEO of me! We are both eager to finish up our lives here and make the move, but it all depends on selling our house. So we tiptoe around our tidy house and wait for appointments for showings, then, clean, clean, clean again. I have been through this all before, but it doesn't seem to get any easier. But, as you point out, it is temporary, and I will just keep my sights focused on the new place that we will be moving to soon.

      Jude

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  6. The thought of the paychecks stopping is stressing me out a little right now too! My last one comes on 7/15! And we are in the middle of two house renovations (one to move into, the other getting ready to sell). Your new house looks SO amazing, Jude! You are going to have such a wonderful time there once everything settles down. I'm just trying to take things day by day. This is a process, not an event for us. And deep breaths and a glass of wine help too!

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    1. No more paycheques - it's funny how that seems so much more concrete than numbers in a financial plan. You and I are both on the same trajectory. It is a process, and I am sure that the retirement lifestyle will suit both of us well. So, in the meantime, deep breaths and glasses of wine!

      Jude

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  7. While the paycheck is consciously thought of primarily in financial terms, their cessation also psychologically represents the severance of connectedness or connections--to work itself, perhaps to an institution, to interactions with colleagues or students--even if plans are to continue some of those in reduced fashion.

    It took me quite a few months to "trust" that my social security check would be deposited. It is strange that I never doubted that my paycheck would be there.

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    1. Hi B.E.
      You are right about the psychological aspect of having a paycheque. It symbolizes belonging. In our society, it is considered normal to work for a living, and a career can also confer status, influence, and connectedness, as well as one's very identity. When the paycheque ceases, not only does the money stop coming, but it is a clear signal that those other aspects of work are over too.

      For me, another part of it is that I have been focused on saving all my life, and watching those savings appreciate. I am loath to take the money out and watch the balance dwindle, even though I saved it for retirement in the first place! The saving habit might be a hard one to develop, but it is also a hard one to break!

      Jude

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  8. I stayed home and raised our 4 daughters until the last one was a senior in high school when I accepted a teaching position in the elementary school the girls attended. I quit last year to stay home and take care of my first grand baby while her parents work. I had only been in the system about 8 years so my retirement fund was not going to be effected and the husband said it would be fine. But I do miss that pay check so I started an Etsy shop and hope it will bring in money for me. I had no idea how much I liked having my own money. LOL I really miss the other teachers but we are still in touch and see each other from time to time. It's that daily interaction I miss. I hope you'll end up loving retirement!

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I have always worked outside the home even when my three kids were little, so have always had a paycheque. I didn't anticipate that it would be hard to no longer get one!

      How wonderful for your grandchild that you are able to be such a big part of her life! I looked after my two grandsons for a week recently, and it was exhausting! It's great that you are able to stay in touch with your teacher colleagues. So often those work relationships fade away after you leave a workplace.

      Jude

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  9. All the angst is oh-so-normal ... and you've compounded it with selling your home and a major move! Small wonder you're leaving a little wound-up.

    It took me about 6 months before I stopped waking up in the middle of the night obsessing about work stuff. It takes a while to let go, but eventually you do ... and it's wonderful.

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    1. Hi Joanne - I'm glad to hear that this kind of worrying is normal. I don't know what I was thinking to buy a house that closes on the same day that I retire! Retirement, buying/selling houses, and moving: those are three life events that are high in stress quotient. I should have spaced them out a little.

      As for letting go, I am glad that I have had a period of leave this past year. As I have just been responsible for some flexible project-based work, it has given me a chance to gradually begin the transition to retirement and letting go. I do think it will be wonderful, but I can't quite picture it yet.

      Jude

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