A Creative Antidote to Languishing

Small yellow flower in open hands

Written by Ruth Luban

August 6, 2021

A recent New York Times article discussed feelings of malaise induced by the pandemic’s shut-downs and consequent reduced social exposure as languishing.

“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” {There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, NYT, 4/19/21}

While many of us have adapted to working from home, or resurrecting long-ignored creative or fix-it projects to fill our time, others might welcome the forced time-out to catch up on sleep and seek new vocational directions. Some of us were induced into early retirement by the pandemic. Others took the opportunity to trim our schedules to reduce exposure to the virus. Regardless of the trigger, the staccato nature of our pre-pandemic (and pre-retirement) lifestyles are now being forced into slower modes. It normally takes time to recalibrate, often months or years, but suddenly we’ve been thrust into the slow lane; hence, we’re languishing during the forced adjustment.

For the newly retired, the pandemic-imposed lack of freedom to travel, attend cultural events or launch a long-planned retirement lifestyle has added insult to injury when it comes to languishing. This time-out with everything shut down or cut off was not part of our plan!

But what if this period of languishing could open the door to trying something totally new, something you may never have contemplated or maybe considered but were saving for much later in life — a Life Review.

Ellen, 67, spent 24 happy years as operations manager for a theater-supply company. She had no immediate plan to retire, but the pandemic forced the closure of theaters and instantly killed her company’s business. She received a severance in gratitude for her years of service, but she was left to languish with no obvious plan for her future. On top of this loss was the pandemic-induced restriction from seeing her grandchildren, now that she had endless time to devote to them.

Ellen jumped at the opportunity to engage in a Life Review. She thought it could be a gift for her grandkids, a way of communicating with them that would fill the void of their absence. Through three hours of dialogue, she retrieved stories she had forgotten. She saw the trajectory of her life in new ways that she called “cathartic.” And the process of dialoguing through her life journey, recording her story for the family, and coming out with a memoir she wouldn’t have taken the time to write…all were a joyful exercise that banished her loneliness. She came out on the other side saying, “I’m happy I’ve retired, it came sooner than planned, but I’m ready for the next chapter.”  And a few years from now, she plans to add a newly recorded segment to her Life Review.

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