UM psychiatrist offers advice for coping with life changes, including Ripken's departure
It's hard to image Cal Ripken Jr., doing anything but playing for the Baltimore Orioles. After all, between May 30, 1982 and Sept. 20, 1998, Ripken never missed a day of work. His streak of 2,632 consecutive games, compiled over 16 seasons, is one baseball record that will probably never be broken. It's that commitment and dedication, that willingness to play through pain and adversity that perhaps best defines Ripken, who told a reporter way back in 1983 that he wanted to be an Ironman.
On October 6, Baltimore's Ironman will take the field for the last time in his legendary 21-year career.
Retirement at any age is a difficult and stressful transition for most people, regardless of profession. Psychiatrist Eric Weintraub, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, offers practical advice for dealing with retirement and other life-transition issues -- as well as for those struggling to say goodbye to Ripken -- in the following interview.
What advice do you have for people approaching or thinking about retirement?
I recommend that people plan ahead and not have the idea that 'I'm going to have all this free time and life is going to be wonderful.' Doing nothing gets boring quickly and is unfulfilling for most people. Those who have outside interests and hobbies while they are working are going to adjust better to retirement. For individuals whose whole lives are consumed with work, there will be a sudden void when they retire. For many, work is where much of their identity and satisfaction is obtained.
Does that fact that Cal Ripken's a celebrity and used to performing on such a public stage make his transition even more difficult?
I think for an athlete retirement is particularly difficult, because they're in a profession where they get so much adulation and positive feedback that it's difficult to replicate that situation somewhere else. Why is Michael Jordan coming back? Why did Muhammad Ali continue to box well past his prime? I think there's a feeling of needing to be in the center of things that's irreplaceable.
Cal's retirement will have a large emotional impact on baseball fans in Baltimore. What would you say to fans struggling to accept this?
People need to remember that these things happen all the time. I was born and raised in Baltimore, and people like Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas and Jim Palmer were icons that you could argue were as popular as Cal. I think the whole process of Cal announcing his retirement early was done to give fans a chance to say goodbye to him, and that makes the process easier.
You mentioned Cal's giving fans a chance to say goodbye. How important is it for fans to take advantage of this opportunity?
The ability to say goodbye and express your feelings is an important process that we all go through in a situation like this. When someone retires somewhat abruptly or unexpected for whatever reason, there's a lot of unfinished business. Giving the fans a chance to express their feelings for Cal is important for the resolution of their feelings about his leaving.
Retirement is just one of many life transitions people face. What are some other common transitions people often have trouble coping with?
Transitions by nature are always very difficult. Even so-called good transitions like the birth of a child, buying a home, getting a new job or going to college cause a lot of change in a person's life, and change is stressful. The key to dealing with transitions is to be as flexible as possible. Anytime you have a significant change in role -- such as returning to work after raising children -- the ability to adjust and assume another role in society is very important.
What impact can these changes have on our health, and what are signs that we should seek medical help?
We do see a lot of examples of people undergoing transitions becoming depressed. When this happens, their energy levels and motivation decrease, and they may even have problems with their sleep and appetite. When these symptoms persist and people find they're preventing them from actively participating and enjoying life, that's the time to seek help.
Be sure, though, to give yourself a little time. For most people after you retire there's some initial euphoria about not having to go to work, but if several months into retirement you find yourself struggling and feeling depressed, it may be time to seek help. Sometimes just talking to someone and getting an objective opinion about what's going on can help people sort things out in their mind and will help them formulate a plan to help adjust to their change in role.
Do you have any final thoughts or suggestions?
Planning ahead and trying to take control of your circumstances are the important things when going through major changes such as retirement. Having a concrete plan with specific activities to help replace work will assist maintaining one's self-esteem and sense of satisfaction.