Retiring and Rechilding

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“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.”

9 Responses to “Retiring and Rechilding”

  1. Leslie GIse

    I’m 70 and still doing what I did before. But its harder. I quit private practice after 30 years because of managed care so I have a job (easier). Everybody has to do their own thing.

  2. Steve Moffic

    So true, Leslie. My circumstances can’t be generalized, though the challenges of aging have some similarities for us all that can be shared, discussed, and studied. Humor, I think, even childlike humor, can help most of us.

  3. Carl Hammerschlag MD

    You can do it all Stevie, maturity offers a new perspective/another opportunity to be generative, intimate, and productive. Enjoy the journey and come play with me.

  4. Steve Moffic

    For any of you who also might be tempted to be a clown, or want some clowns to come to your institution, or just want to know more about the most creative psychiatrist I’ve known, look at Dr. Hammerschlag’s website at Inspiring buy not retiring (yet).


  5. Steve Moffic

    Let me take the unusual stnce of commenting to myself. Actually, it is sharing a comment a medical colleague of similar age made to the blog, but didn’t want to make a personal comment on site. It also relates to a subject that I don’t believe has been covered much in “Over 65”, but seems to become more important when we get seriously ill. That is religion.
    The comment was in regards to my becoming more child-like. Jesus said, “Except you become as little children you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. I hope this can fit me (and others), at least in a metaphorical way, even though I am not Christian.

  6. Ted Marmor

    Your commentary prompted me to reflect on the idea of an “encore career” that a former Yale management student Marc Freedman has written about. He has emphasized both the freedom that retirement confers and the opportunity, if one is lucky enough to be financially independent, to follow your wishes and yearning in a different combination than when in the middle of a professional career. Freedman emphasizes what such ‘encores’ can contribute to different communities and both your clown option and your gadfly moniker struck me as examples of such an encore.

    • Steve Moffic

      Thank you for adding the idea of an “encore”. For me, so far, that has been to actually continue what I loved the most at the later stages of my psychiatrist career, writing and presenting and, as you say, without the concern for financial compensation. I suppose that is like the “encores” pianists give at concerts, playing short pieces that they love (and hope that the audience does too).

  7. Dick Winslow

    What a great pleasure to read these wonderful and relevant comments about us psychiatrists who are now in the 70+ age group, as I am. What a pleasure to see that my dear old friend Carl is still working to combine as many aspects of the human experience as possible, and to see that his words and his spirit have touched others, as they have me.

    As I continue my modest but satisfying practice (white hair really seems to enhance my credibility with my patients!), I send my best wishes and thanks to Carl, and to Leslie, Stevie, Ted and whoever else is working to use our psychiatric experience to good ends.

  8. Kris Zwettler

    Dr. “Stevie”, Ever since I’ve come across your writings I’ve felt a ‘connection’ with you as our philosophies are so similar and your desire to also make the psychiatric field more in tune with the people they work with, a big thing for me is the recognition of each person as a person worthy of being treated with dignity. I’m the opposite of a psychiatrist, having spent two years in three different psych wards over a seven and 15 years later over a period of ten years, the last time, knock on wood, in April of 2001. What a difference FINALLY having the OCD and ADD diagnosed, then reading Michael Jenike’s textbook I stumbled across my hoarding diagnosis and when I described to a psychiatrist what pushed me over the edge in 2000,(it was NOT an attempt), I found out reading Jenike’s book that I could not have explained it to him any better than if I’d read it to him from a book I’d never before seen. Instead I was chastised by him saying, “Kris, if you really wanted your apartment nice, you’d have it nice!” and I really wanted to slug the arrogant prick, but after discharge I even gave him a chance to come around, giving him a copy of the chapter, I ended up seeing someone at UW Madison as could find nobody in the Oshkosh area, at least that would take my insurance and all Collette did was work with hoarders and I got the validation that I so sorely needed and some ideas before I had to quit cause of insurance and mainly the progress of getting it under control has been a result of my own brainstorming (I started ‘counseling’ myself at 4 or 5 years of age, as it was important for survival to try and understand why I felt the way I did) and blood, sweat, and tears, it’s under control unless I have a set back like recently falling and hurting my shoulder so now trying to play catch up. In the course of treatment, diagnosed “partially, as it turned out in 11/1968, with major depression; recurrent and dysthymic disorder. By July 7, 1975 when I had a cingulotomy at Massachusetts General by Dr. H. Thomas Ballantine Jr, with who I became lifelong friends, for DR. B had actually given me a LIFE!…………and months later my Jewish psychiatrist Dr.Frank Winston, when I told him I was getting married he said, “That’s a wedding I don’t want to miss………..and I have the picture of him at my Catholic wedding to prove it. In your comment about the quote you like quoted from Jesus, you’ve astounded my once again for that is a quote that I center my life around and I have no doubts that you meet His requirements. You’ve lived your whole life helping others get through the hell of mental illness. Most people have no idea how insidious a disease depression can be, my mother and my six siblings included so now that my Dad, the only one in the family who could accept me for WHO I AM, wherever I happened to be at at the time is now with God and playing with the two children I miscarried………God even gave me a vision of Grandpa playing with one as each knee, and having miscarried in the first trimester I’d never seen them as babies before. Adversity has its blessings is one of many things I’ve learned and I always try to remain open to when God might choose to speak to me again or have something to show me……….Dr. “Stevie” keep on writing, as will I and I actually have this dream that I’d love to write something in collaboration with you one day……….Kris