A couple of posts back - it was the one about getting a ten-year plan in place - I said that entering a new decade of one's life was like turning a page, a fresh beginning, and it called for a new outlook. All true. I could also have said that I would now enjoy great personal empowerment.
When I retired early aged only 52, I felt terribly vulnerable to criticism. I was fit-looking, sprightly, and apparently idle, and yet with money to spend. Of course I was still living the Old Life, but even so, I was (and felt) gloriously liberated for a while. The Big Fact was that I would never need to work again; for me the War Was Over.
At the same time, I felt that at any moment I could be denounced in the street by stick-waving whiteheads as a Benefit Fraudster or Rackrenter or Shady Dealer or Pimp, because nobody would believe at a casual glance that I could possibly be self-sufficient on a government pension earned honestly over many years. I must be either On The Fiddle, or engaged in Criminal Activities.
I braced myself for verbal abuse. I was totally mistaken of course. The abuse never came, although I noticed many an appraising, possibly envious, glance. But I stayed on my guard, slightly on the defensive. As it happened, this was all good practice for when I really would become one of Society's Outcasts. It took the sweet edge off my early retirement though. I felt I might need to explain, or even apologise, for my situation, and account for it fully to any stranger who challenged me.
Clearly, my self-esteem had dropped, and - with time on my hands - certain personal issues, long suppressed, were starting to bubble to the surface. I never fell into a pitiable state, but I did feel a bit cheap and second-class. A person who had no moral authority, because I did not work, did not earn, did not suffer any hardship, and had no family responsibities worth a mention. I didn't even have a home of my own: I was staying with my partner. I was a drone. Later, I began to feel like a mere cypher, just someone who was there and always tagged along because I was one of a couple. And someone else ruled the roost.
I was anything but confident and self-assertive. I kept out of sight. The strains showed in a certain irritability. I might protest at some plan, but I'd back off. I had no fight. I just showed a readiness to 'go with the flow' on everything. Anything for an Easy Life, anything to Avoid Argument and Keep The Peace. In short, I appeased people even more than ever before: my partner, my parents especially. And officialdom. If I got a parking ticket I'd be inclined to just pay up, whatever the injustice. I could afford to. I didn't want to fight. But I'd let myself be pushed into mounting a challenge. I lost control of my life.
Mind you, those car parking challenges did pay off. I noted that: some fights were really worth it. I also noticed that standing up for yourself in any situation would usually wrong-foot people, making them consider your case more carefully, and that it paid to ask for stuff even if it wasn't clearly on offer. But left to myself I'd not bother, and lose out.
How I have changed! No wonder some people don't see anything much of the Old Me, the compliant easy-going me, in the person who now so confidently faces the world. But then I feel I have acquired moral force. It wasn't as simple as making a few lifestyle choices, and spending a lot of money. Everyone who goes through The Process has to do heroic things that no ordinary person would face up to. I'm proud to be one of that special sisterhood.
Socially, the transition process was in many ways no surprise. I feared that people would instantly withdraw from me, and mostly they did, in horror and embarrassment, aghast that I could 'do this' to parents and partner. I expected huge expense, and indeed I spent a small fortune, with lasting consequences. I also never doubted for a moment that - fearful and unhappy I might be about the dire damage that would come - I'd have to see this through for my own sake, and that somewhere down the line it would all seem for the best. And so it was. It was however shattering to discover that those closest to you might turn on you the worst. It was also heartening to see who your true friends were. The experience toughened me up, gradually made me stronger and more resolute, less likely to wobble and panic, much more likely to address myself to important one-way decisions. But for a long time, really until the Cottage was sold in August last year, I was still inclined to soft-pedal on how I needed to deal with situations. That's not so any longer. The dragon has emerged. It had to.
Turning 60 has done something to my mindset. I've gone through the Looking-Glass, and some have gone with me, others not. I feel that those who wouldn't jump through with me had best be left behind now. And I can't let myself regret it. I've got - health permitting - twenty active years ahead, then maybe ten more of slow decline. I really have to get the most I can out of all those years. It needs a no-nonsense approach.
I don't have to be selfish and all me, me, me. I can be caring and good company, and always willing to help. But I'm tired now of anything that resurrects the negativity of the past. My positive future began fifteen days ago on 6 July, and I shall keep my eyes forward.
Of course I won't be able to avoid some nostalgia for the Good Things of the Old Life. Happy moments at Happy Places. There were many of those. And I'll want to mark certain anniversaries. And, who knows, some still stuck in the Old Life may yet come to see me with fresh eyes, admit they were wrong about me, and follow me through that Looking-Glass and catch up. If they do, then welcome, but they will have to run fast with me in my race, to my rules.