Unveiling “real” retirement

All these years, I’ve been lied to.

Retirement, they said, as I slaved away day after day, would be the time to relax and have fun. No punching a clock, no following a schedule, just easy days of picking and choosing the distraction of my choice, to live off the fruits of all those years of labor.

I’ve been retired for almost two years, and now I’m getting the real story. Besides the fact that the fruits of my labor don’t cover quite as much as I had hoped and that I’m still fighting the battle of the buck, there’s a new war that’s just been declared: I’m fighting cholesterol.

Don’t roll your eyes and say, oh that, as if it’s nothing, as if it’s a minor irritation. Not only is this WAR,  it’s making fun of all those naive expectations of what retirement would be like.

It happens like this. You go to the doctor for a routine check-up and he, fiend that he is, casually suggests a lipid panel. When you get it back, you find out your good cholesterol is bad, the bad stuff is high, and something called triglycerides has them all trumped as the villain of the day.

So, you promise to do better. You eat more chicken; you don’t fry as much food; you eliminate eggs; you eat donuts only once a week; you switch to margarine; you eat “lite” foods.

A year later, you go back to the doctor and discover that what was bad is now worse, and the good stuff is barely holding its own. The doctor suggests a staten drug; your nutritionist exclaims against that idea in horror. Since you don’t want to cut those golden retirement years any shorter than possible, you retrench–and now you find out what retirement is really all about.

Those “lite” foods you were so proud of choosing? Full of sugar. And sugar, the doc says, raises triglycerides.

“If they take out the fat,” he says, “they have to replace it with something to enhance flavor.”

There’s sugar in peanut butter; there’s sugar in the cherry salsa I loved adding to my burgers; there’s sugar in catsup, sugar in the jam for my toast, sugar in the dressing I added to the salads I was so proud of eating. I now have to avoid sugar with the single-minded determination of a diabetic, even though I’ve managed to avoid that particular ailment.

I can’t even trust the labels on the foods proclaiming themselves to be healthy. No trans fat? Guess again. The law says if there’s less than .5 mg, they can say “zero.” Read the ingredients. If it says hydrogenated oil of any kind, it’s from the enemy camp.

All those recipes I’ve been saving to try when I had time? Forget it. They’re all mine fields of sugar and fat. Casseroles, so fun to assemble and smell as they brown in the oven? You got it. Cholesterol disasters.

I have been reduced to following the advice of my old doctor from years ago: if it tastes good, spit it out.

And that’s not all. One weapon against cholesterol is exercise. When I was younger, I walked as if I were getting paid by the mile, rode my bike as if there demons at my heels, worked out in a gym, did exercises in my living room. Now that I’m retired, despite a knee that’s had surgery, a bulging disc in my back and arthritis in my joints, I can banish any thought of “taking it easy.”

Nope, once again I’m pumping up my bicycle tires, strapping on my walking shoes, and heading out into in the hinterlands like those 20-something sylphs who glance askance as they pass me by.

I now know the truth of another old platitude I once laughed at: retirement isn’t for sissies. All those people who painted such a rosy picture of life after the work force must be laughing themselves silly from wherever they now dwell on high.

But now I’m prepared. They can’t fool me this time. Once I finally join them, decades from now, I’m expecting to be issued exercise togs and not wings.




About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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