The Dark Side of 45

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 Yorker with 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?


About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
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11 Responses to The Dark Side of 45

  1. First of all, I’m all for drugs.

    Life sucks, get used to it. Easy to say, not easy to do. Yes, we all have hardships, but can we all be like the British?

    Keep Calm And Carry On:

    However, as I wonder about the quality of life while asking myself “Is this it?”, I am reminded of this old saying:

    We’re all going to go through life once. We can go kicking and screaming but we’re going through this once.

    Remember that song made famous by Peggy Lee in 1969: Is That All There Is?

    Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball

    Well, isn’t that pretty G.D. depressing. Excuse me while I go poke myself in the eye with a pencil. 🙂

  2. WQB, I always love your comments and your take on things. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Genius! Funny and true!

  4. I’ve been offered anti-depressants as well. But I haven’t taken them. I don’t know what my issue with them is because I don’t think badly of anyone else who takes them. I just don’t want them. It’s weird. The story about Luca’s pop is pretty hilarious. I think he’ll settle down eventually. It looks like the school knows how to deal with him– kind of.

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  6. All I can say is I hear you. Crossing over the dark side of whatever age starts ringing in their little terrors sucks. I repeat: sucks.

    That said, we sometimes forget the upsides, and there are some. Self-acceptance. Realization that we know little and will always be able to learn more. Letting go of some things that once seemed terribly important and when it comes to life and love and contribution – they aren’t, at all.

    As for the Prozac-etcetera, I have my own views on that, but believe that to each his own. Then again, it might be nice if we lived in a country which afforded a variety of health care choices to all its citizens, not just those in a position to avail themselves of its options.

  7. phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    Hell, I just turned 60. No problems; it’s better than the alternative. I suppose I’ve NEVER had trouble adding a year because I have two older sisters and a lot of friends who are older and THEY didn’t fall apart, so why should I? I’ve had good role models as I’ve aged. And, being the youngest of three girls, I always wanted to be “one of the big girls”! I can never seem to quite catch up…

    I have found, seriously, that I’ve basically enjoyed whatever age I was at. I had a bad marriage for the last ten years of the 20 years I was married. I’ve been divorced 15 years and have a very amicable and harmonious divorce. My ex and I are good friends and we raised two wonderful sons together – mostly after we divorced! He was a verbal and emotional abuser when we were married, but stopped when we separated. I can’t explain it except to say a good divorce is better than a bad marriage.

    I’ve never wanted to go backwards; at 60 I wouldn’t even want to go back to 59. Onwards and upwards, always onwards and upwards.

  8. Rachel says:

    Your essays always hit me in the gut – always. The way you portray things with such a combination of humor and pathos and authentic detail just hits me the way the best writers do. I am sorry that these things are true; I am thrilled that you have the talent and presence of mind to record them so vividly. (Write a book!)

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