Getting By With A Little Help
I think I’m that woman. You know, the modern day Anna Karenina. It rings so true for me (except, sadly, the torrid affair bit). And it feels good not to be alone. In mid-life I find myself getting through unexpected challenges that seem to have arrived together in a neat little insurmountable package--the shit is hitting the fan. I believe that is the technical term. I even have a My Shit Is Hitting The Fan List. Deep down I know I have it easy. There is far, far worse in life to handle. But, and it could be a character flaw, this is the stuff that has turned me, quite frankly, into a screaming banshee at times, a control freak at others, someone who often wakes in panics about how to handle the next day and who frequently looks at her husband and wonders who on earth he is and what he is doing in her living room. So here it is:
My Shit Is Hitting The Fan List – in no particular order:
- Three teenage daughters. Enough said.
- College tuition for one of them, two more to come and expenses going through the roof (where IS the money coming from?).
- Career to get started again. Freelance isn’t cutting it. Need full time job with 401k.
- Arthritis (OMG, really?) in shoulder.
- Menopause or peri-menopause, who knows.
- Mid-life ring-o-fat appearing on waist (is this why older women never seem to have one?).
- Husband who I’ve lost touch with and with whom I haven’t made enough time for sex or anything else in way too long.
- Sudden onset of, good grief, white (WHITE!!!) hair on chin.
- Aging parents
- Retirement (our present 401k looks set to leave us homeless and living on $5/day -- a shared Starbucks perhaps?).
- New fabulous boots (where did THAT money come from and shouldn’t I return them?).
- Three teenage daughters (they impart enough stress to warrant two mentions).
Of course there are many sub-shit-hitting-the-fan items within each point listed here, but an overall review would seem to reveal five main categories: money, aging, job, marriage and kids/parents. The white hair deserves one all to itself. And personal fulfillment? I need a whole other list for that. When I write it all down, I know it’s not terrible, but it doesn’t alter the fact that, coming all at once, it has been hard to have a good, cheerful perspective.
So many things in life seem perfectly planned. Puberty for instance. We get through all the hormone issues, the spotty skin and foul moods, just in time to leave home and make a good impression on friends, potential lovers and employers with our new bright and breezy personalities (and clear skin). And those perpetual bad moods help us see, with unmatched clarity, how moronic our parents truly are and give us the singular drive to leave home as soon as is humanly possible. But having menopause and puberty coincide at the same time in a household has got to be one of the universe's biggest jokes. I’m surprised evolution hasn’t bred it out. Isn’t the predictable trajectory of such a scenario mother and daughter killing each other? And the fathers. Darwinian theory would suggest that they grab their things and run for the hills should such a collision be playing out in their homes. Come to think of it, that’s just what a lot of them do.
It also doesn’t help that at this time in a teenager’s life their minds are perpetually on the other sex and no doubt they are being courted (is that even in the teenage vernacular? Should I say texted?) and walking around in a fog of lust and love. They are on the rollercoaster of relationships, blossoming into beautiful women and we sit there thinking, I want that. Am I truly beyond it? An old bag with a bulging waist line and white (WHITE!!!) hair on chin?
And so, if you are like me, we develop strategies – things to help dilute the rising anger, anxiety, broken sleep and, yes, feelings of loss for not only the passions of our early married years and lives, but for our cute little sweet kids who have been transformed into these possessed teen beings.
So I have my ways.
My Ways to Cope With Shit Hitting the Fan:
- Create endless lists. It really helps.
- Exercise. 3-4 mornings a week go to gym and join women, who don’t know that I know, but who just have to be going through the same stuff as me. The way they grit their teeth and push themselves even further on the hip abductor says it all.
- Starbucks. There is something about buying a cappuccino, in treating myself, that has me feel good. I see people I know and feel like I’m taking care of myself, even if I am ingesting 200 additional calories, most of which are from fat. Obviously this habit will have to stop once I retire and am homeless and living on $5/day.
- Kings/A&P. I know that I’ll bump into someone somewhere in aisle one and maybe in aisle four too. Just seeing someone who knows nothing of my stuff, with who I can have a laugh, can bring me out of a funk.
- Being outside as much as possible. The sun, the trees… it all sounds a little nature gal-ish but it makes me feel grounded, like it reminds me there is a bigger picture to all this. I remember sitting on the beach as a kid and being told that maybe the whole earth is a grain of sand on someone else’s beach. That helps.
- Friends. What would I do without them? Sharing totally honestly with friends is just the best, best, best. What did our mothers do when they had to keep up the front and pretend that everything was so perfectly lovely always? AND they had to wear pantyhose every day.
- And… my piece de resistance…A teensy little dose of…um, Wellbutrin.
Am I cheating? It’s my little loosely-kept secret. A couple of friends confided they were taking a ”helper”, and I thought how great it would be to feel peppy and happy (and rested) and to be able to shrug my shoulders at everything and say “oh well!” A daughter could tell me she hated me and I could say brightly “Oh well!” The checking account could be down to $89, and I’d toss my hair, “Oh well”. That little white chin hair could grow back with a vengeance overnight and I’d say “Oh well!” I could be some hip TV mom who just rolls her eyes at her kids and forgetful husband and then delivers a smile and clever line that makes everyone love her just that bit more. I thought it would be good to try this, if only for an experiment. At the very least, maybe I would get a full night’s sleep.
Of course, you have to find the right one. On various different drugs, one friend lost half her hair, another lost her sex drive and one got fat. I just wanted to be a TV mom. I tried Lexipro which by all accounts would do none of the above but was completely unable to sleep for a week. Bleary eyed, shaking, feeling every bit as rough as I did in the weeks after giving birth to my first child, I gave up. In fact lack of sleep made me scream at the kids on a fore-to unknown level. I could have landed a place on the screamers gifted and talented program.
On the advice of a friend I tried Wellbutrin and warily took the lowest dose. From day one I slept through the night. Nothing more happened that first week, nor in weeks two or three but during the fourth week there was a little miracle. One of my daughters was in the middle of throwing a teen tantrum, something I had no doubt cultivated through my willingness in the past to jump right on in and join her, when I found myself calmly saying, “When you want to talk, let me know, but you can’t scream at me”. I left the room, not before seeing her mouth fall open. In that moment, it was everything I’d ever wanted. A line in the sand had been drawn and we had entered new territory. Could it be the“oh well!” land of bright cheeriness, happy disposition, and perfect parenting? Well, it wasnt quite that but I credit the antidepressant for drawing that line in the sand in a lot of areas. The small amount I was taking, seemed to help me take a step back from the intensity of my life and enjoy it more. I felt less worried, less stressed, was happier and sleeping more.
So, do I love being on something? No. I truly hate to take any medication. Did I ever think I would be? Not in a million years. Will I go off it soon? I think so. But has it helped? Yes. Unfortunately I have not turned into a perfect TV parent or anything like it. No brilliantly funny quips have rolled off my tongue and transformed the sibling food fight at the dinner table. But for now it is one of the ways I bring some peace as I handle life’s little mid-life thrills and spills. With any luck, it is well before they hit that fan. Anna Karenina should have had it so good.
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