Office Tales: What I Miss Most

I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. Adjusting to retirement presents more challenges, sometimes, than I’d anticipated. I have so many hobbies and interests that I can always think of something fun and engaging to do. And with a home, a kitchen, and a garden, each day falls into a natural structure around useful activities that contribute to the health of our household.

And yet, I felt something missing. I read a lot of Eckhart Tolle and breathed and centered myself in the now, and I just felt off. I felt like I do when I don’t get enough exercise, only in my brain. Something was off in my form.

I also had this odd feeling of not being satisfied or fully engaged when doing something I loved–playing the piano, it was like I was holding back, going through the motions, but keeping myself from fully getting into it. I’d get fully into cello practice, but then it was over, and then what?

Did I always feel like this? Was my mental health off? What’s missing? What was wrong? I tried to be patient, gentle, realize that this is a transition, and transitions can be rough. I kept up good habits of eating, exercising, gardening, music, writing, and other activities I love.

I thought of abandoning this blog series, Office Tales. I couldn’t really imagine continuing to write it because I feared that in the writing, I’d change it. I’d spoon it into a narrative structure, make it a story, leave out bad parts, or focus too much on the bad parts, and the experience would change through the filter of the telling. So I just let it be.

My first few months after retirement, I processed the hard parts of the job: the stresses of overwork, especially this past year with the pandemic, but also the previous five years, as expectations had built and support had diminished; the difficulties I felt with a boss who misunderstood me, always casting what I did in the worst interpretation; a group of co-workers who excluded me, through their ageism and ableism, and who gossiped hurtfully about other employees, and, I’m sure, about me, too, for no one was excluded from gossip, excepting their own closed circle. I had been on the brink of autistic burnout, and retirement gave me a needed way out. So, while I was doing the mechanics of life and adjusting to this new life chapter, I was also processing all of that.

The other evening, with my brain feeling slushy and wanting a relaxing game to zen out to, I downloaded NeuroNation. I’ve been playing Lumosity for over a decade, and I love it–I’m also accustomed to it, so I wanted something different. Playing NeuroNation gave my neurons what they wanted! My mind sparked and felt good! So some of what I had been feeling was lack of mental exercise. Even though I’d played music and challenging video games, wrote daily poems in April for GloPoWriMo, and kept up with teaching activities, I still lacked the intensity and duration of mental activity I had while working.

This morning, I woke up happy, remembering a feature I’d loved about my workaday life: Every workday, I’d drive into the office and have 15 minutes in which I was completely alone. I could sing, laugh, cry, listen to music, prepare for the workday, and I could do so in complete solitude. Then, on lucky days, I would have the office to myself, at least for a few hours, and I could go into total concentration without interruption.

And most days, I could take a long walk, alone, in the middle of the afternoon.

This uninterrupted time of solitude, engagement, and alternating mental focus and relaxation provided me with an essential daily ingredient for 23 years of my life.

I’m not sure why remembering this makes me happy. Maybe it’s because, while I was processing all the hard parts, I’d begun to wonder what the job had offered me, and I felt, perhaps, like I’d wasted or misspent decades of my life in a situation that was harmful.

But it wasn’t always–It was often wonderful, and in addition to a salary that allowed us to purchase our home and that gives me a good pension for life, it also provided a day-to-day experience that I often loved.

And maybe I’m also happy because I’ve identified this feature, of immersion without interruption and time alone, and I know that I can find ways to work this into my life, even living with someone (for he loves his solitude and uninterrupted activities, too).

I remember that there were days at the office when it seemed unreal to me that I was getting paid to do this, for it felt like a privilege and a treat to sit at my computer and work on the website for hours at a time, and my mind thrilled with the detail of coding HTML and the pleasure of routine details to concentrate on. It was like oxygen for me.

I also loved my chair. (Yes, object attachment is a real thing for autistics!)

Anyway, remembering all of this, today, has brought me out of my funk. My life wasn’t a waste–it makes sense. Without discounting the hard times, remembering the things I loved and that were good and healthy for me brings me a feeling of wholeness and self-respect. I didn’t slave away at a job I hated, with people who disrespected me and treated me badly, for 23 years. I had some challenging times of overwork, too much change, too little accommodation, and co-workers and supervisors who didn’t get me. And I had a lot of really lovely, wonderful, exciting, engaging, rewarding, autonomous, structure-filled and freedom-laced moments, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years, and even decades, when work was a joy. And it brought in a salary and, now, a pension.

It’s pretty miraculous, actually.

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