Retiring and Rechilding

“You’re not a psychiatrist anymore,” my wife has told me over and over since I retired from clinical practice on June 30, 2012, our  44th wedding anniversary. For a while, I kept protesting that conclusion. Wasn’t I writing as a psychiatrist more and more? Still presenting papers? Still serving on professional boards? Surely, not seeing patients was not the only criteria for being a psychiatrist, right? Didn’t people still ask me psychiatric questions, maybe even more than they used to? I could still focus on psychiatric ethics, even branching out into general ethical and moral theory and behavior, that most serious of topics.

Now, possibly, I was in denial because I was missing the essence of my 40-year career of caring for others. In transitioning from being a surgeon to a writer, perhaps Sherwin Nuland, M.D. put it best when he said that doctors who retire must accept the pain that they will “no longer be seen as anybody’s healer.” Fortunately, my family doctor eased the pain and guilt by telling me: “You’ve taken care of others for 40 years. Now it’s time for you to take care of yourself”.

Of course, maybe my wife was really saying that my priority now was her. But it always was. Now there was just much more time to be together.

Consistent with her statement, over time I had begun to notice that I was less and less referred to as Dr. Moffic or even just “Doc.” More and more, it was Stevie, not even Steve or Steven. Most did not even know that I hadn’t used my real first name, Hillard. However, Stevie was the name I always liked best.

What, then, is this name changing meaning to me now? I think – and my wife does too – it reflects a kinder, gentler version of myself. I tend to get less angry and less frustrated now. Like a child soaking in new learning, as I once did before concentrating on psychiatry, this current Stevie is wide-eyed at new experiences, especially the opportunities to travel more.

It is the Stevie devouring books just because I am interested, sometimes leading to one related to another. And, so, I just finished reading many books related to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in  South Africa from 1996-1998, right before I went there to present at  a conference and tour. Along the way, I came to especially admire Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as models for successful aging and continued contributions to society. Mandela seemed to use much reflection in prison to come up with practical solutions, whereas Tutu used humor to help achieve forgiveness for the horrors of apartheid.

This is the Stevie that can so readily identify with the development of my grandchildren, aged 9,7,5, and 3, as well as to worry about the impediments to their future well-being. As a parent, I was too
absorbed in the development of my own career to see this so readily.

But no means, I hope, is this a reflection of childlike silliness. Nor, I hope, is it reflective of the “second childhood”  of the elderly who get more and more childlike and need more and more care. Nor does this seem like the Freudian regression under the service of the ego. I am also not getting more and ore in touch with my “inner child,” as I believe that I never had difficulty keeping in touch with my childlike qualities.

So, what’s important enough about these musings on my name to take up this time and space? Erik Erickson was possibly the leading theoretician and writer of books on the psychosocial aspects of one’s
identity. I had always wanted to progress through his psychosocial stages of development successfully. I just finished “Middle Adulthood,” covering age 40 to our cutoff age of 65. “Generativity” to family and work seemed to well outpace any stagnation for me. Now is the stage of “Maturity,” age 65 to death, where the task is to reflect on one’s life, perhaps also leading to more wisdom. So, how can I be feeling more in tune with a childhood name when I am supposed to be becoming more mature?

The answer to this paradox seems to lie in the backward reflections that come with the addition of all that has been accomplished along the way: mentally back through generativity, intimacy, identity, and
industry. That provides new richness and depth, depth that can include childlike aspects.

Just recently, I received an offer of sorts to become a psychiatrist clown, as described in the article “Psychiatry and the Art of Listening” by Carl A. Hammerschlag in Clinical Psychiatry News last November. Stevie the Clown, maybe. This stems from the work of the physician, Hunter Doherty (“Patch”) Adams, who has spent 40 years developing his Gesundheit! Institute, based on free medical care, fun care, and care of the staff. Whether this was a serious offer or not, it’s intriguing to think about incorporating more laughter and fun into new ways to be a psychiatrist. Instead of becoming a child psychiatrist, maybe this is more of becoming a psychiatrist child, if there is such a thing.  A retiring into a rechilding?

Despite all the serious issues in the world and in our aging selves in this age, do we need more laughter as we work on the solutions? So-called laughter therapy and exercise seem to offer psychological and
physical benefits at low cost. For the over 65, it can be a helpful antidote to increasing aches and pains. Most children love clowns, but some are fearful of them. Can even ethics by funny? Let me know
if this leaves you laughing at me or laughing with me.

H. Steve Moffic, M.D., 66, recently retired from clinical practice. He identifies himself as “psychiatric gadfly.”






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