There was one of those self-help books around a while ago entitled ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff (see right)’. I never read it, there was a time when I used to be an avid reader of such books and some of them I found helpful which fits with the genre. Most of them were thin (not literally unfortunately) and repetitive with just a couple of good bits in their 300+ pages. Anyway I haven’t read this one but I suspect that it is bollocks and I say that safe in the knowledge that the small stuff or the little things in life are the killers, psychologically speaking. Yes, it’s true I’ve given advice in these blogs before based on Thomas Gordon’s mantra about winners and losers in life and how the winners tease apart a problem into smaller areas that are actionable and losers roll little problems together until one big problem is un-actionable. I very much believe this to be true but hold to my premise that little things can be deadly, pernicious (lovely word) even.Let me try and justify this statement. Let’s take the simplest possible example – getting out of bed and getting dressed when you are a retired person or of a certain age. Let me say straight away, at the age of 67, I would find it easier to find parts of my body that don’t ache as opposed to those that do. This physical state is not helpful and sets a poor context for what follows. Many blogs ago I wrote about the new level of clumsiness I’m achieving in these retirement days. All in that blog holds true but I will try not to repeat myself here. From the first waking thought all is challenge or decisions. First thought, do I need to get out of bed for a pee before Mrs Summerhouse brings my morning tea (yes, I know, I know), I don’t know why I bother asking this question because the answer is always the same. I suppose I’m hoping it won’t be because I don’t want to get out of bed just yet. So I go to the bathroom and get back into bed. Then the questions of have I got my mobile? (to check emails while still in bed); have I got my glasses to read emails and have I got my diary and have I got a pen? because first thing in a morning is the time I fill in my diary about the day before or, optimistically, write down any great ideas I might have had during the night. If I do have any they’re mostly long gone by this time but you never know I might hang on to one or two. Most important have I got the remote control to a) put on the radio – Classic FM if you must know – and b) and most important to mute it when the bleedin’ adverts come on, which is often. Oh for more adverts like the witty Trebor mints advert, but I digress.
I know you’re saying well why don’t you organise all this stuff before you go to sleep? And I do but then the f—–g pixies mess it all up in the night. The point is all these little events have happened and I haven’t even properly got out of bed, which of course is when the real challenges begin. Something like this – as we walk the pups first thing in the morning, first question, where shall we go? Has it rained? Will the ground be wet under foot, should I wear my wellies or my boots, waterproof or fleece and then the far more difficult choice of what to wear at a general level and will I change after the walk or does the choice I make now need to carry me through for the whole day?
Decisions made, it’s no wonder I’m exhausted which puts me in a bad place for the really difficult bits – socks and underpants. How much smaller can you get? And yet these parts of the process completely finish me off. I am as they say ropeable by the time I have managed to get these items on. Socks, you say, what’s the problem? Well the first problem is which socks to wear, it would be different depending on whether I’m going to wear wellies or boots or even shoes. If I’m wearing wellies then you need a tight pair of socks but not thin. If they are not tight, you end up wearing pixie socks (them again) at the end of the walk, more sock off your foot than on it. A too thick sock and you can’t get the bloody wellies off at the end of the walk. Too thin and you’re uncomfortable and you get blisters as a bonus. This applies to boots also. I find socks hard to get on anyway, I can’t bend that far, even when I sit on the bed I find getting the right (or is it the left?) sock on particularly challenging and if the socks are tight socks well I’m wiped out and it’s only 8 o’clock.
Which makes getting my underpants on – you might want to skip this bit if you are of a sensitive nature – almost beyond my capabilities. I give myself some chance of getting both legs through the right hole (I don’t mean the same right hole, and don’t get me started on boxer shorts that Mrs SH bought for me last time I asked her to buy me some underwear and yes, yes, I know I should buy them myself) by leaning against a wall. The first leg mostly goes in OK but the second one? Be certain and take it slow or see the hole and go for it quickly hoping for the best. Either way I invariably get my foot caught in my underpants and would fall over were it not for the supporting wall. Even then I have been known to topple. Enough, you get the point. Just little events.
You see the trouble with the little things is that they tip a person, albeit to an often small, almost unnoticeable, degree, off balance. Then, while one is slightly off balance, along comes another little thing and tips you a bit further. Then somebody gets upset because the pups barked at them and an event of normally little significance becomes a major setback because you were off balance in the first place. Before you know those little things have stacked up and you’re leaning at 45 degrees waiting to be knocked over completely and wondering, because the process is so slight, why you’re flat on your face. How did this happen you ask yourself? And the answer is – well it was the little things (and the pixies).
Because this is a blog about retirement, although you say you would never know it, I must ask the question – is this being unbalanced a condition that the retired person is particularly prone to? I think if your default position on retirement is that it is not quite what you hoped for or anticipated, then you’re already off balance and, hence, prone to falling over (as with the underpants). Of course this is not to say that retirement is the only life stage where a person can be unbalanced by their general situation but I’m inclined to the view that those of us who thought that retirement life would be fab and find this is not quite the case, then we can find ourselves, as a natural ‘condition’, leaning away from the vertical without even knowing it and that’s when we get a bit stressed. It’s probably just me, I’ve always been a bit unbalanced. Retirement has just honed it to a finer art.