Embracing retirement

AFTER MUCH resistance I have finally accepted my need to embrace retirement and adjust to the changes it brings. This move has not been easy, made even more difficult because of the many complex challenges I have experienced throughout the seven decades of my life. However, I am at peace with this phase of my life and with the older woman I am, notwithstanding the profound sadness embedded in my soul that remains unresolved despite my many feeble attempts to address it. Whether that will ever be settled depends on others, and ultimately upon God.

As I reflect upon my life and the incredible journey I have been on, the places where I’ve lived – Darwin, Papua New Guinea, Israel, Outback Queensland – and the experiences I have encountered along the way as a writer, and social worker in a variety of settings including mental health services, palliative care and in the Outback, it would be so easy to dismiss the decades of intense psychological distress and resultant psychiatric care I went through for me to become the person I am.

Despite increased media attention in recent years, mental illness remains a taboo topic, shunted away in society’s psyche, its stigma preventing those experiencing it from accessing the support they need as they confront one of life’s greatest challenges. Regrettably, many people with mental health issues choose not to speak of them preferring instead to pretend all is well when it is not.

For me to “forget” my dreadful difficulties would be to present a picture of an idyllic, hassle free life, which would be a lie. To remember is fraught with its own challenges, not the least of which is to be misunderstood and judged by those whose lives have been relatively simple and problem free.I simply am2

Throughout my life my heart’s cry has been that I want to be real. And to be that I must accept my whole being, warts and all. Not perfect, by any means, but at the very least a person of worth and value – just like everyone else.

Just write

EVER SINCE I was a kid I’ve had the urge to write, putting pen to paper to try to capture my thoughts and share them with others. When I was eight I wrote a poem about autumn leaves, though there was never an autumn in the tropics where I lived. Like many kids of my era I belonged to the Argonauts Club, a national radio program presented by the then Australian Broadcasting Commission as part of their Children’s Hour.

My prize, 1956

My prize, 1956

The Argonauts Club was open to children aged from seven to 17 and was hugely popular with a reportedly 100,000 members in 1950. Members took on the name of an Argonaut—I was Abaris 19—and sent in contributions of writing, art and music that earned points towards a book prize or advanced certificates. I still have the book I earned—Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land—something I treasure to this day.

Over the years I dabbled with my writing co-authoring several autobiographies then gaining my Bachelor of Arts with majors in Journalism and Studies in Religion before taking up the role of Communications Officer with the Baptist Union of Queensland and being Editor of their monthly publication, The Queensland Baptist. In that role I encouraged readers to get off the pews and be Christ in the community. Sensing that God wanted me to do the same, I gave up my writing and went back to university and studied social work.

In my early years as a social worker I struggled with the traumatic consequences of an extremely abusive childhood.  My world centred on admissions to a private psychiatric hospital and all the hell that went with that. It took years of extensive psychotherapy before I regained my sanity and peace replaced my inner turmoil. During my first attempt at retirement, in 2009, I self-published my autobiography, Peace and Freedom are My Names, a story described as ‘riveting reading’, and one of hope, healing and wholeness—the ongoing theme of my life.

Now once again retired after a three-year sojourn back in my social work career, my love of writing is bursting out of me. This has not been easy. Thoughts of unworthiness and lack of confidence, not to mention awful memories stemming from childhood and writing for different churches, have stymied my every attempt at writing.  But the urge to write wouldn’t go away.  Just as I was wondering what to do about this blockade a friend directed me to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative living beyond fear. This book has been extremely liberating and has enabled me to challenge the myths that have prevented me from enjoying my true vocation.  In a nutshell Gilbert says, ‘Just write! For goodness sake, Irene, just write!’

And my response? ‘Yep, I’ll do that. I will just write.’  And I plan to keep on writing as often as I like and as much as I want to.  After all, that is what I’m meant to be doing in this latter part of my life: Just write!

The last post … for 2016

2016 brought with it many enjoyable experiences mostly related to my role of Senior Social Worker in Outback Queensland, a position I held since June 2014. In that position I was based in Charleville and provided an outreach service to Morven, Augathella and Quilpie, my favourite town in the South West.

As a generalist practitioner I worked with people of all ages, all having to address diverse needs and issues. Together they represented the complexity of life in the Outback and the challenges with which people are consistently confronted. As with much of my Social Work practice over the years the most I could offer was my presence, simply being with people and providing a safe place for them to work through their unique circumstances. To have been part of their lives has been a privilege. To see people gain some sense of equilibrium as they dealt with their challenges, often growing through their troubling times was satisfying.

All of that has now come to an end, at least in the role of Social Worker. Late November I retired from Queensland Health, seven years after my first attempt at retirement. This time I was more than ready to move away from fulltime employment.

Now, as I come to the close of 2016, I do so with much gratitude to my Heavenly Father for all he has led me through over the past 12 months. I thank him for how he has been teaching me more about his unconditional love and acceptance of me – and of all people whether they know him or not – and for teaching me patience as I await the unfolding of his plans for me for the next phase of my life. I am encouraged by the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”   (Jeremiah 29:11).

And these words expressed by Toby Mac:

I heard your prayer – trust my timing.