Post retirement confusions, identity crises, and depression
All of that time for gardening, cycling, circumambulating, and prostrating may not be enough
We usually associate grief with death but we can grieve many life changes, like when a home burns down, or when we lose a job, or a family member, even a pet. We can also grieve when we retire. The loss of work identity is huge.
I have lost my job after 12 years of employment. In , the same month, I lost my paternal grandfather. Soon after I resigned, the company I worked for promoted and placed an existing staff in my place. I kept thinking my successor would need to call me with questions that, of course, only I would know the answer to. But she never called. The company seems to have operated just fine without me. It turns out I was not indispensable. Even outside of work it seemed I wasn’t very important anymore now that I didn’t have a job.
Although it wasn’t a retirement, I have gone through a painful period. Some 40 days between I lost my job, and found another a new one seemed like ages. I know the pain. And can I feel for the civil servants, dashos, private employees, and politicians, how they may feel when they suddenly lose their identity, their patang and the kabney.
You retire or resign from a job and suddenly : You you have lost lose your identity, who are you are. ? You have all this free time, time with no commitments, something you waited for all your working life, but you are not happy; your head is running in circles, anxiety run amuck, never ending questions with no answers; and you do little all day, every day, bored, lazy, and you hate being like this.
Often we don’t even realize how much of ourselves is tied up with our work status but life revolves around work. Relationships – we think coworkers are real friends – often revolve around work too. My resignation from the job, which I loved most, was a life-changing transition period. No job. No status. No identity. No friends. No SMS. No social media likes. No comments. No money. No coffee. No outing.
When you don’t have a job, freedom doesn’t feel so good any more. You have a job today and you don’t think of retirement and suddenly you don’t have to go to the office tomorrow. Everything feels so mundane and you are bored, depressed, and anxious. Nobody will seek your help because you are not in power and position; nobody invites you for a lunch or a launch because you are no more saleable; nobody knows that you exist except your relatives from whom you have borrowed money. They want their money back, at the earliest, before you finish up the little saving you have had and the benefits you have received from your employer.
Research says that people who have a very strong identity that is linked with their career – once their career is over – it can lead to depression and can even lead to thoughts of suicide and suicidal behaviour. This is particularly applicable to our young Members of Parliament who have started their career from the Parliament. Same with those MPs obsessed with the title of Dasho and entitlements. Many older workers look forward to finally being able to focus on the things that give them greatest pleasure – freedom from the work. Yet, according to a study by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up by about 40 percent after retiring.
Forty-four years after the establishment of Royal Civil Service Commission (Department of Manpower in 1973, that became RCSC in 1982), the Commission has finally realised that many of its employees are ill- prepared to deal with financial, psychological and emotional challenges that accompany separation from the civil services. The commission has thus started Retirement Planning Scheme – one of the activities under the civil service wellbeing programme, one of the five reforms currently being undertaken under the current Commission. It prepares the civil servants for life after retirement by setting their retirement goals and objectives and stimulating a positive attitude towards retirement. The retirement planning is an initiative to help civil servants plan their years for a better future. It is aimed at preparing civil servants – mentally and financially – for a better life after superannuation. It is a positive initiative that the RCSC is undertaking. But maximum of working people are outside of the civil service. They too are aging and they too are ill-prepared.
The RCSC will implement the project titled Civil Service Reforms for Excellence in Public Service Delivery from July 1, 2017. That’s for the just handful of retiring Bhutanese civil servants. What happens to those working for the private sector, CSOs and international organizations? Who would take care of them and their psychological wellbeing?
The well-known phenomena of comparative loss of identity following retirement or loss of political position are social questions of huge magnitude especially to Bhutan where hierarchical system is predominant. Where we identify the rank of an official with the colour of kabney they wear. You may be Dasho or Lyonpo today, and you are nobody tomorrow. People who would bow down to their toes today would ignore your presence tomorrow. How would you overcome such situations?
Bhutanese society is seeing a sea of change. With it filial piety of Bhutanese cultural expectations that adult children should care for and support their aging parents is diminishing. Today, retiring, aging parents can’t expect too much from their children. Blame the technology that connects the world but disconnects you with your family. And partly blame the education system, which is more or less based on the western education system, the alienation has started between the aging parents and their western educated children.
Last year Bhutan consecrated His Majesty The King’s Tshamkha Project – a retreat centre for the elderly in Wang Sisina. His mMajesty has commanded that several retreat centres will be built for needy senior citizens in various parts of the Kingdom. This is the most enlightened move from the throne. Such centres should not only accommodate retiring civil servants but all the needy senior citizen of the country.
In large part, that’s because work, whether we realize it or not, provide many of the ingredients that fuel happiness, including social connections, a steady routine and a sense of purpose, I pray that all the retreat centres be equipped with counselling facilities for the newly retired.
And the bottom line is retirement should be a time to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. However, happiness can be elusive unless you have a plan to keep yourself occupied mentally, physically and socially. Retirement is not all of that time for gardening, cycling, circumambulating, and prostrating. It is more than that and preparation should start today.