Perils of Divorced Pauline

The Names Have Been Changed, But the Story Is True


April 05
World-class gnarly divorce survivor. Custody Battle blogger with a sense of humor. Mom. Wife. Cat-Lover. Visit me at or on Twitter @divorcedpauline.


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OCTOBER 4, 2011 1:42AM

The Dark Side of 45

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Ever since I crossed over to the dark side of 45, all manner of indignities have assaulted my once invincible body, indignities that require MRIs and hearing tests and vision tests and ultrasounds.

Shot knees. Tinnitus in one ear. Benign breast tumors. Failing eyesight.

And then there is the matter of sleep. Every few nights I slog downstairs at 2:00 a.m. to deposit myself on the family room couch, channel-surfing for a Law and Order SVU episode to lull me back into a half-assed slumber.

These are just some of the issues that compelled me to take a day off from work last week to bounce from doctor to doctor like the medical slut I have now become.

The first stop was my psychiatrist, who told me I could take Baclofen, a drug that was designed to mitigate spacicity in conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, but also helps people stay asleep.

"It's non-habit-forming," said Dr. A.

"I'll take it!" I chirped.

If Dr. A had told me to head on over to the bus station and score some heroin, I might have considered it. Anything to get me to sleep through the night.

"And I think you would benefit from Prozac."


"It would help with your depression."

I stared at him blankly.

"You don't seem to be deriving much pleasure from anything."

I felt somewhat offended. I was not depressed because I had depression,for God's sake!

In fact, I was not even technically depressed. I was simply feeling a bit low because I'd gotten hammered by the past year's slings and arrows. I'd given custody of my son to my litigious ex-husband. My son had gone 'round the bend and was now in a therapeutic boarding school. My husband's business was getting squashed by the economy. And I was on the dark side of forty-five. This was hardly a prescription for pleasure!

And I told him so. He smiled patiently.

"You wouldn't have to take a big dose. Ten milligrams every other day."

I sunk down into his Eames chair and stared out the window at the $300-an-hour panoramic view. I loathe the world "depression." It is a dingy, unimaginitive word. Manic-depression, however--now there's a word! Manic-depression evokes genius and glamour. It's Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Round Table, whereas unipolar depression is Cliffs Notes at Motel 6.

Although I have struggled with mood issues my whole life, I take a certain false pride in being able, as my southern mother used to urge, to "rise above it."

Make your bed first thing in the morning. Put on some bright lipstick. Look people in the eye with a big smile and offer a firm handshake!

As a brazenly moody teenager, I found this prescription oppressive. But now, as a covertly and tidily moody adult, I catch myself nodding to my mother's voice in my head.

And the culture's voice as well. Sure, there are more celebrities who 'fess up to post-partum depression or mood disorders. And bloggers who blog about the same--in part, I think, due to the buffer afforded by virtual reality.

But in real time, isn't it still more kosher to broadcast our struggles with sleepless nights and torn minisci than to admit we have faulty brain chemistry? As parents, it's perfectly acceptable to be vocal about a child's autism or even cancer. But how many parents have you seen proudly marching at a rally for depressed kids?

All of these thoughts were zipping around in my head as I turned my eyes from the view, to the plush, geometric-patterned carpet under my feet, to Dr. A's patient gaze. I was already taking a mood stabilizer to regulate mood swings. And, now, apparently, a medication to help me sleep. But to add an antidepressant to the pharmaceutical combination plate?

"I don't think I need Prozac," I said with a sniff and a kind of I'll-show-you tone.

And off I went to Lens Crafters, to an open room bursting with patients trading gripes about their astigmatisms. A far cry from Dr. A's waiting room, a tiny, darkened cubicle offering back issues of The New Yorkerwith which to hide one's face.

Driving across town to my next appointment, I called Luca's therapist at boarding school for our scheduled phone session. The hope I had felt after Luca's breakthrough at wilderness camp began to slip away, like water through my fingers, as the therapist reported that my son's "honeymoon period" had come to a screeching halt, replaced by non-stop, turbo-charged, in-your-face confrontations with staff and peers.

The most recent resulting in a fed-up peer popping Luca one. A pop that was superficial, but which Luca milked, calling Child Protective Services when a Staff ignored his demands to ferry him to the E.R.

"He's extremely entitled," said the therapist.

The apple doesn't fall from the tree, I thought, but didn't say. Instead I said:

"But you have kids like this, right? Really extreme kids?"

Long pause. I could practically hear him thinking.

"We've had a couple of kids like him recently. But Luca's like them on steroids."

After a few more stanzas of this uplifting conversation, the therapist called Luca in and put him on the phone. Luca regaled me with his version of the altercation, which, he insisted, resulted in a "permanently punctured ear drum," "two felonies", and a "violation of the constitution."

Luca is nothing if not colorful.

"Well," I said. "It sounds like getting hit really took you off-guard."

Luca told me I didn't understand, but eventually settled down and allowed that boarding school wasn't quite as bad as wilderness camp.

After I tapped the "End Conversation" button on my dashboard bluetooth monitor, I took note of the whistling-teapot noise that has taken up residence in my right ear. Tinnitus is an annoying, 24/7 condition of uncertain origin that has made even the likes of William Shatner contemplate crossing over to the dark side permanently.

I deal with tinnitus by ignoring it. Reminding myself that the MRI proved I didn't have a brain tumor. Telling myself to "rise above it."

My mother, a compulsively organized private-school music teacher, managed to rise above a number of its after she hit forty-five. 

But she also had weekly meltdowns involving crying jags, bedridden afteroons, Bonanza reruns, and discarded, half-pound bags of Peanut M&Ms.

And, come to think of it, vials of valium in the medicine cabinet.

Perhaps, I thought, if my mother had found the right little helper, if Prozac had existed back then, I would not have had to spend so much of my childhood creeping ever so delicately on eggshells.


At a stop light, I tapped Dr. A's name on my iphone Contacts page and waited for his voice mail message to end.

Who says rising above it shouldn't involve a little Prozac?

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I think you're totally justified in feeling depressed. But I do worry, to be honest, since you're already taking two medications for mood swings. Each person is different and has to do what's right for him/her, and I'm certainly not your doctor - or you! I have to disagree with what you said about people and parents not being able or proud to admit depression in the family - I find it's something that people are very open about today, which is a great thing - the more we talk about mental illness and issues, the easier it will be for us to learn more about them and for sufferers to learn they're not alone. You're not alone, and whatever you need to do, I hope it works and wish you luck.
Of course you are depressed. You have gone through a divorce and an ugly custody battle with your ex-husband. You have my sympathy. But I would urge you to learn all you can about antidepressants before considering taking them. These drugs have been linked to a long list of side effects, including mania and suicide. Plus, they don't work any better than a placebo anyway.
Alysa -- I'm glad your experience is that people are more accepting of depression and mental illness. (I hate the term mental illness because it sounds like you're crazy if you're depressed). I guess, because my ex-husband has gone around telling everyone I'm crazy, I don't have the same sense of tolerance or understanding.

Neil, I sent you a PM. You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but you really DON'T understand this situation and I would appreciate it if you tone down your comments.

Patrick -- thanks for your concern.
I totally agree on all counts. After 45, our bodies don't make enough of that stuff to keep us in balance. Even the Tao allows for chemical imbalance. Wait until you cross 60, it all gets better.
rated with love
Actually, once you hit over 60s I think stats show people get happier. Hope that helps.
While I'm not a Prozac fan, I'd absolutely look into other options. My mostly female team of doctors (primary, OB/GYN, and the occasional therapist both physical and mental) seem to understand the relationship between real life, hormones, pain, lack of sleep, etc. The men SHOULD (aren't some of them married?) but never mind. Look at a simple serotonin to boost the levels and meanwhile, be as pissed/depressed/irritable, etc as you like. You're in good company over here ;-)
I was on Prozac for a while. It's OK for getting out of a hole if you're in really deep.
The judicious use of cannabis works for me and a lot of my friends. It's not a panacea, but it's not still around and in use for no reason. It sure helps with my sleep patterns.
Good luck to you.
PS...Lea is turning out to be right...
Pauline--parenting is a grind, no two ways about it. Sometimes more, sometimes less. We all do what we can, and make the best of the various hands we've been dealt. If Prozac helps you figure out how to play your cards, take it.

Blessings. I have your back.
Great story! It's interesting to me how the worst stuff we go through in life is often the best writing material
As one of those bloggers who used cyber-space to make my own confessions regarding depression, among other things, I think it does take courage to admit when we need a little help. I tried my best to soldier through, but it didn't work. "Reaching for help when you need it most isn't's wisdom."

I know you'll be wise about your decision to try Prozac. If it doesn't help, your doctor can find something else. It's worth a shot, though, if the alternative is to live like your mom did. That wouldn't be fair to yourself or those around you. Best of luck! Having been there so recently myself, I feel you.

Um, and the dark side is coming for me this week. I better get an MRI scheduled, right? :-)

Also, I had to chuckle at the use of PM. For me, it means Tylenol PM or ibuprofen PM. Thought maybe you and Neil were trading pharmaceutical jokes for a minute...
I experienced a sort of mid life "mania" at 44. I too have special need kids, but something just clicked and when I realized there was little I could do to control things.I lost 50 pounds in six months and started focusing on myself. I can't explain it -perhaps divine intervention. I am still feeling the high at 48. Releasing worry and learning not to give a shit helped. Good luck.
You certainly have had your share. So much of what happens we cannot control, so that part we need not stress about. Turning fifty for me was a huge thing and life is now only better since i've begun to fully understand some truths about what we can and cannot control. Letting a lot go was a huge help for me. Have you tried meditation?
I had tinnitus and had every test in the book. In fact my inner ear was so messed up that I had bouts of vertigo which had me reeling and spinning. They though I had Meniere's, which would mean hearing loss in the long run. But my hearing tests were fine.

Then I weaned myself off the mood meds I was taking at the time and it totally went away. That ringing in your ear could be your meds calling. It was Effexor, by the way.

At one point I tried Prozac - uh, if you have any interest in sex that ends in . . . something . . . then this is not the pill for you.

I see you mentioned your (current?) husband. Imagine how you'd feel if you had all this body falling apart mood swing crap and were still hoping to meet someone . . .
So brilliant and true. I know some of what you write (I'm 47). Rated!
I'm probably talking to a brick wall, but here goes anyway...

There’s an answer to all your problems: depression, benign breast tumors, and everything else (with me it was my feet that were shot, not my knees). When I hit 45, my world came crashing down–my mother died and I became primary caregiver for two difficult relatives, plus more. Stress and more stress. Luckily, in my fifties, I discovered (or rather started believing in) a message that had previously gone in one ear and out the other. Now I’m 68–depression gone, no foot problems, the breast tumors are still there but haven’t grown, bones are healthier, eyesight is better, more stamina, even my periodontal disease has reversed. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

So what am I talking about. Faith healing? Nope. Alternative medicine? Nope.

Diet and exercise. Yep. Get with the fruit and veggies. Get rid of the processed food. Run or do some aerobic exercise several times a week. Start gradually, and when you see it really works–you’ll never go back to pills. It’s so, so simple. And people don’t believe it. You’re in a box and all you need to do is climb out. (It didn’t cure my insomnia, but that’s the only thing that isn’t much, much better.)
Hi BetsyJ -- you're definitely not talking to a brick wall. I think I started feeling worse when the knees gave way because I had to stop jogging, which I'd done religiously for almost 30 years. I ride an exercise bike, but very erratically. And now that you mention it, I'm not eating nearly enough fruit and vegetables. Thanks for the reminder!
Prozac never did a damn thing for me.

Maybe it will help you instead.

I prefer to be my real self, moody and not depressed, and happy that way.
I feel with you. I am with snarkychaser on this one; learning how to not give a shit helps. I, too, had to learn to just say "so what?" to those things I could not control, and it helped. I also decided to just take the word "worry" out of my vocabulary. It works. It took me about 3 years and a wonderful therapist to learn to really do that and believe it at the same time, so be patient with yourself. I know the arguments well in the Prozac debate, and I have been taking 10 mg daily for the last 8 years. For me, it stops the "ticker tape" in my head from constantly rolling by. Thanks for the honesty of the words. Keep writing.
One quick thing. Prozac killed my sex drive. Stone. Dead. And I don't think I'm the only one...
"Manic-depression evokes genius and glamour. It's Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Round Table, whereas unipolar depression is Cliffs Notes at Motel 6." I laughed out loud. Excellent!

Just be careful and take care. I love my anti-depressant, but it's the only drug I take.
I'm closer to 50 now than 40 and have had a few episodes in my life that have really made me wonder why I keep trying. Details later if you want them. Over the course of learning to live again, I have tried three different anti-depressants including Prozac. That one had me failing my classes. Another one, Celebrex?, had me leaning on walls to walk, and the latest, can't remember what it was called, had me blacking out while driving and after one week I had a mild withdrawal.

I finally feel good now thanks to talk therapy and changing my diet. Food is drugs. That's all there is to it. Good nutrition = healthy body and improved mood. I've gone vegan and mostly unprocessed, which can be extreme, but I feel better and am sleeping really good for the first time since my mid thirties.

I hope things get better for you soon.
With 45 a distant memory, I can say it gets worse and then better. But bi-polar disease runs throughout our family, so I'm on board with trying reasonable meds and finding exercise you can do safely. I want to also mention that Neil is a really good guy who survived a childhood from hell and more. When he has something to say, I am always better educated. I do feel your pain and wish you a much better future. Especially because Lea is always right. Good luck.
I took Prozac for a few months, to try to control migraines. It didn't help with the migraines, but it made me feel weirdly cheerful and I lost a lot of weight because I had very little appetite while on it. Sigh. Good times.
I can relate to what you're going through, Pauline. I just hit the big 50 and the hot flashes have already begun and my moods are very changeable and terrifying, at times. I wish you strength and remember, you are not alone.
Pauline: I have so much empathy for you. I have a sense you are in a very long term struggle to help your challenging son and what sounds like a still-destructive relationship with your ex-husband. I really hope you can get beyond the stigmas of depression and craziness, and find some tools that will help you not just cope, but really thrive. It's not socially unacceptable to have a mental illness anymore. We know so much more about the brain and the body than in your (and my) mother's day. It doesn't much matter if it's drugs, herbs, diet, yoga, exercise, religion, therapy, free writing, making art, or whatever. It's whatever works for you to be able to move on and be happy. I'm 45, and I've tried just about everything, and will continue to work on a daily basis to keep feeling good.
Drop the prozac. Try lexapro, very low does, say 5-10 mg (I break them in half). Then exercise after dinner, walk 20 minutes no matter what. No alcohol, sugars or caffiene after 7:00 p.m. (remember, even fruit and milk are high in sugar). Try a small amount of cheddar cheese with the low fat triscuits for your 10 o'clock snack, no more than 2 oz cheese and three crackers. You'll be surprised how it kills the hunger once you get used to such a small snack. Take the lexapro with the snack. Then turn off the TV (DVR those evening shows or wuit watching them altogether), brush your teeth, and read your book in bed until you get sleepy.

I'm 51 soon and it does get hard to sleep, and I don't have to deal with pre-menopause like my wfe. My system works well for me.