After Back Surgery, Is Mom Depressed?

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Reader’s Question

My mom had back surgery that caused nerve damage two years ago, and since then she has left work. I think she might have a depression problem, possibly because of all the heavy medications she must take daily. She and my dad have now been having problems because she has no desire to “do” anything anymore. She is overweight, doesn’t workout, doesn’t clean, doesn’t do much of anything anymore, sadly. She wakes up late and gets dressed in the afternoon. When she does clean, it’s to please others, not herself. And if you ask her to do something, she’ll comply on the outside but will never actually do the task. I want to write her a letter to get though to her, but I don’t know what to say. Right now, my sister and I are her only motivation. We try to keep her active and doing stuff. But I will return to college in the fall and my sister is moving out in the fall too; my dad is at work all day. I am scared for her — scared that she will do nothing with her life, and slip further away.

Psychologist’s Reply

Undergoing a major surgery, that results in nerve damage (possibly permanent?) can be so devastating that the individual may find herself clinically depressed. This is not to say that your mother is one such person, but what you describe certainly points in the direction of at least getting an evaluation for her from her attending physician. Watching someone we love dearly suffer is one of the most painful experiences a human can endure. My advice would be to make an appointment for your mom, and go with her to the doctor’s office. This will serve two purposes. Firstly, you will allow your mom the opportunity to spend time one on one with you, which could prove to be extremely healing for her. Secondly, she will be seen by a trained physician in an effort to evaluate whether or not she is in fact depressed. She may not be clinically depressed. She may be experiencing negative side effects from one or more of the various medications she has been taking. As for you, find a way to give yourself a little compassion, and know that you are doing what you can for your mom. I think the letter is a great idea, but I also would invite you to speak openly and lovingly with your mom about how you feel. Let her know how much you care about her, how much you love her, and how much you wish for her to start feeling better. Your mom is lucky to have you, and that is a pretty therapeutic thing.

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