Heyoooo! This is one more mini-episode where I am answering a single question rather than 3. If all goes according to plan, this will be the last episode of my paternity leave and I’ll be back to normal next week. Thanks for your patience!
I am a complex person. I’m 66 years old and am now retired having spent 47 years as a respiratory therapist. When I was 6 my father died from Hodgkins. Shortly before his death I was very angry with him (I have no memories of why) and prayed that he would just die. Well of course I blamed myself. I told no one about this for decades. I had a gun in my mouth when I was about 12. My mother died when I was 21 but by that time I didn’t think it was my fault. Then I went into a field that had a high frequency of trying to help dying people along with a lot of trauma. I’ve a long history of depression which now I take SSRI’s. They’ve been a big help! I’ve also seen a psychiatrist when I was in my early 30’s. My question is this: what would be helpful to decrease the load of trauma now that I’m retired?
This is a really good question. Sorry for what you’ve been through. That’s intense and you didn’t deserve for that to happen to you.
One concept that’s really important to remember here is that our memories are very inaccurate. They are alive and they change. When we retrieve something from our memory, we store it with new cues and tags. This provides a great opportunity for people with trauma because you decide the story and narrative that you tell yourself about your memories. That’s not being unrealistic or disingenuous, we all do this.
There is a classic study about how easily influenced our memories are where people watched a car accident and then were later asked about it.
So your question here is now that you have been through your career and these significant deaths were quite a few years ago, what can you do to move forward. I love this question because it highlights how at 66, you are still relatively young. You could have decades of life left and it is totally worth investing in that time.
Developmentally, you are also in a really important stage – you are now thinking about what comes next. What will my life be now that I’ve passed so many of these mile stones?
You have an opportunity to create a new narrative for this portion of your life and that’s powerful. So what can you do? Well it’s never too late to get into some therapy. It can be a good place to process things .You can do active trauma work if that is something that is really affecting you currently, or you can just use it as a place to explore issues related to your developing identity and this phase of your life.
You might also find meaning through new hobbies. Art is a great one, as is writing. Again we are getting back to that idea of creating a new narrative. An alternative to the upsetting narrative that you have been living with. Also indulge yourself. It sounds like you have lived a lot of your life thinking about or taking care of others. Maybe it’s time to just take good care of you. Be indulgent and a little selfish. If you can afford travel, do that. Or you could simply integrate more small activities that you love just for yourself. Movies, concerts, dinners etc.
If it nourishes your soul to give back and help, you don’t necessarily have to deny yourself that opportunity either. Volunteering can be really meaningful, for instance. Whatever you decide, just know that you have options and that you have done a great job getting through your life. Now it’s time to write and revise the next chapter. Make this on your terms.
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