Early Retirement

Serious athletes train their entire lives to make it in the big leagues. They spend years working on their craft, always striving to be better, stronger and faster. But their own bodies can sometimes fail them, requiring surgery, time in rehab and months on the disabled list. Even if an injury doesn’t sideline an athlete, after 35 or 40 years old most are unable to perform like they did in their 20’s. So what do they do once they get passed their prime or an injury forces them out of the game early? They retire. In comparison to the rest of us, retiring at 30 years old seems too good to be true. But what exactly are they going to do with the rest of their lives? It’s got to be difficult to transition to a life without their sport 24/7.

I may not be a famous athlete, but I find myself in the same boat. I’ve only known one career. I started in banking at age 17 as a teller. I went to college part-time while continuing to grow in my profession. I climbed the ladder and eventually became the youngest vice president in my company. I loved my job, which isn’t something a lot of people can say.

At age 30, I was a veteran in the business, with 13 years of experience. I never imagined doing anything else. Then the record stopped. Like a linebacker who suffers a serious injury, I was forced on the bench. My episodic Migraines became Chronic almost overnight, with no warning. I wasn’t quite ready to give up my dream job so I suffered for two years trying to do my job just as well as before. It became quite clear that I was not the same person. As I searched for an answer to fix my headaches, my work product became sloppy and I was unreliable. The brain fog and exhaustion were too much. My company generously worked with me to adjust my schedule and lighten my work load, but my health continued to deteriorate.

So a year ago, I decided to put myself on the DL list, hoping that my health would improve. I planned to be out for 3 months, however new health issues arose and I extended into long-term disability. But I had always planned to go back to the profession that I loved so much. I worked hard in my time away. I went to the Jefferson Headache Clinic, I tried new meds, I changed my diet, I exercised, I did yoga and meditation. After two long hospital stays I was better equipped to deal with the pain, but sadly my condition did not change dramatically.

My company graciously kept my job open for me during this time. After a year away I knew I needed to give them an answer on whether I would return. I consulted with my doctor who said I needed to show more progress before jumping back into work. I had a frank conversation with my boss about my limitations. Board meetings, networking and paperwork seemed daunting. Concentrating for longer than an hour or two without needing to rest was not conducive to this work environment. Although my boss wished I could return, he understood.

So at the ripe old age of 33, I formally “retired” from the only profession I ever knew. I grieved for a week or so. It felt weird not to have that safety blanket anymore. Even though I had been at home for over a year, it suddenly became real that my life was changing. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I chose to get excited about the possibilities the future had in store. Early retirement from my career in banking didn’t have to mean that I was forever banned to a world of living in a dark room and succumbing to the pain. This is my chance to reinvent myself within the limitations of my illness.

Plenty of athletes go on to have successful lives off the field after they are forced to retire. Howie Long played 13 seasons in the NFL before he turned to acting and now he’s an analyst for Fox Sports. Jesse Ventura, professional wrestler, went on to become Governor of Minnesota. Bernie Williams, an MLB outfielder, earned a Latin Grammy nomination for his album. And who would have thought that Michael Strahan would have replaced Regis Philbin?

I probably won’t become a sportscaster or a politician, but like these athletes my life isn’t over. After a few months of being out on disability, I was searching for purpose. I had always enjoyed writing and thought it was something that I could possibly do on the good days on my own schedule. Migraine.com had been so helpful to me in my health journey and I thought that maybe I could help others going through the same thing. I was blessed to be offered a writing position and find it extremely fulfilling work. And it’s so much more than blogging. I’m slowly getting in the world of Migraine Advocacy. Who knows where writing and advocacy can take me?

I may not ever be able to return to a 60-hour a week corporate job, but that doesn’t define me anymore. I can still live a fulfilled and happy life within the confines of my illness. I’m not suggesting that everyone should try to write, but I encourage everyone to find a passion that they can enjoy on the good days. It could be crocheting blankets for the local homeless shelter, designing the programs for church, taking up photography, learning a new language or making jewelry. Migraines can be so lonely and depressing, but having a hobby that gives you purpose will only help your daily quality of life. What have you found that helps you? Or what have you always wanted to try?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (4)
  • 5 years ago

    Congratulations on your new career in migraine advocacy Katie. May it be a long and fruitful one!

    My transition from a full-time career in the entertainment industry, to working part-time, to not working at all because of my migraines, took more than a dozen years to play out in my case. But even though my migraines are very well controlled now, I doubt I’ll ever go back to my former career.

    Through the years since I stopped working, I’ve developed a very satisfying avocation as a volunteer naturalist at a local wildlife preserve. I now help create and run educational programs and exhibitions. It has become one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done and I feel very lucky to be where I am now. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying “I owe it all to migraine!” But when I was struggling to live with daily migraine pain, my volunteer days at the preserve were the one thing I was not willing to give up.

  • MigraineSal
    5 years ago

    I haven’t had to retire ( thankfully ) but I have reduced from full-time hours to 4 days a week and friends and colleagues have all said how much better I look for it. It isn’t easy on the old purse and means holidays are a thing of the past but my health had to come first. Having the time to pace myself to get jobs done over a 3 day weekend, rather than rush everything in a 2 day one and having time for me has been key to a better life with migraine and CS disease. Interestingly however . . . the more days off I have, the less jobs I seem to get done but that is due to knowing and accepting my limitations . . . if I feel well enough I attempt a household job, if not I leave it !

    I have also found a creative side as a positive out of suffering with migraines and other health related issues. Rather than toss and turn on insomnia nights I got up and started doing things to entertain myself . . . I got my sewing machine out / started knitting scarves last winter ( I have a whole rack of beautiful colours to match any outfit for this winter ! ) / I baked and decorated my wedding cake and the one I have kept up with for pleasure is creating individualised hand made cards with hand sewn envelopes to match . . . it initially kept me entertained in the wee small hours when I couldn’t sleep and gave a bespoke personalised card for family and friends. Finding my creative side is a positive to come out of the poor health that kept me awake . . . it started off as a way to beat insomnia and has now turned into a nice hobby and my friends look forward to seeing what envelope design they have got, as much as their card !

  • tishamingo
    5 years ago

    This could be my story almost. I worked my way up from a bank teller while going to college furthering my education. I became a Branch Manager/President of a bank. I worked there for 27 years. I have had migraines since I was in my 30’s but they increased dramatically the past 2 years. I struggled to work and keep up the pace but I could not. I went on Short term disability December of 2013 and am now on LTD. I went to University of Colorado Hospital neuro dept and to Mayo Clinic and still do not have a solution to chronic migraines. It has been such a shock from working all my life to being at home. It is good to know I am not alone in my struggles and there are others out there who know what it is like to live a life like this. Thank you for writing this article.

  • migrainestl
    5 years ago

    The emotion I feel reading this is indescribable. I too had to “retire” at 33, but at the time I just thought it would be a short break. Now 1.5yrs later I realize I may never be able to work like I did for the 10yrs before that. It’s disheartening & I’m struggling w/ feeling “worthy” at the moment. Reading this & realizing it’s not just my story, I’m not alone is helpful.

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