Depleted Mother Syndrome

Does this sound like anybody you know? Once you get the diagnosis clear, you can start on the treatment.

Prime the pump

It's hard to do anything when you feel like you do. People (including me) can give you lots of suggestions -- but miss the fact that our "brilliant ideas" are just more to-do items when you're already overwhelmed with things to do.

People that care about you need to walk a middle path between treating you like a helpless child who can't do a thing for herself (as men have commonly regarded women in distress) and treating you like a machine that just needs a new action program to get going. That middle path is a matter of tacking back and forth, like a sailboat, between either extreme and using feedback from you to correct course as we go. Please let me know if I err here on either side.

You sound terribly worn out, unhappy, and depressed. If you are depleted, you may have crossed a line like someone with hypothermia who can no longer generate sufficient heat from the inside, no matter what she does, but needs an external energy source. Once you get that first infusion of resources, though, positive cycles can start which feed each other and turn things around. For example, a break from the physical stresses might give you a chance to clear your head enough to initiate marriage counseling that leads to a change in his schedule which further lowers your stress, which . . . .

I bet that in your world is someone, something that could give you a little boost, enough to prime the pump. Who could come through for right now, at least a little bit? How about your own mother or dad? A sister or brother? Another parent who is further down the road? Maybe the most you can do is clip this column and give it to your husband. But there is something in your life that can catalyse the beginning of the end of your DMS, and you can find it.

Step by step

Space doesn't allow the long version of what you can do for DMS. That will appear in my next column. Here's the short version. Please read the suggestions below not as a checklist of to-do's but as the way you can move at many levels -- gently, naturally, continually -- toward your replenishment and healing.

Acknowledge how rotten things feel. Let yourself grieve. Comfort yourself and get comfort from others. Accept yourself; stop pushing down or disowning your experience or parts of yourself; don't smile when you feel like crying.

Take care of your body. Get a thorough check-up and begin a comprehensive wellness program with a licensed health practitioner. Eat better, exercise, be touched more, and experience more pleasure.

Get support, including more quality help with the children. Work on your relationship so that you become a team again; a counselor may help. Connect more with other parents, both informally and through community organizations like A.P.P.L.E.

Let go of unwanted feelings, past upsets, and relationships or activities that don't work for you. Take into yourself the good things around you and make them a part of yourself.

Above all, settle more into your essential being: always already aware, interested, loving, and happy -- in whatever form you experience it -- detached from the daily craziness, a refuge of nourishment and quiet humor, your own true self.

Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin.

Copyright © Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.