If you're a working woman with a spouse in the Middle East, you probably spend a lot of time just going through the motions, while well-meaning co-workers smile encouragingly and tell you endlessly that they know how you feel (they don't), and you're coping beautifully (ha!).
What you can't tell them (but your letters tell me) is that often you're too worried and distracted to sleep, eat, think, concentrate or focus on anything they say to you. You also often feel overwhelmed and all alone -- and sure that absolutely everyone else is coping with this crisis better than you are.
These feelings are both normal and to be expected, said Sydney Hickey, associate director of Government Relations for the National Military Family Association, in a telephone interview.
"It's perfectly normal for you to feel overwhelmed and depressed if you have a spouse or child in the Middle East, and to feel as if you're the only one in the world who isn't handling this crisis well 100 percent of the time," she said.
"Other common symptoms are a short attention span, sleeplessness, irritability and lack of appetite. Or you may find yourself eating constantly and/or feeling more sleepy than usual. You may increase your smoking or alcohol consumption, as well, or go back to smoking if you've already quit.
"You may actually feel ill because of the stress you're enduring -- have headaches, bouts of nausea or intestinal upsets. Or you may just feel generally run-down. You may feel as if you're on pins and needles, on the other hand -- filled with nervous, unproductive energy.
"You may hardly be able to move one day, and the next rush from one thing to another, never completing anything. You might have nightmares, feel paranoid ('I'm the only one who's feeling these things'), and ask (often!), 'Why me? Why do I have to go through this?' " said Ms. Hickey from her office in Alexandria, Va.
"What's important to remember, if you have a loved one in the Persian Gulf war, is that all of these worries and feelings are perfectly normal, and you should not try to do this alone. There are support groups for you on any military installation and in churches, hospitals and mental health groups in your community. Reach out for it!" she said.
"There's professional help available, too, through your nearest military installation, military hospital or the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, which your family physician, local hospital or health benefits adviser at any military hospital can tell you about."
Other advice from the National Military Family Association? Don't tie yourself to the television set by an umbilical cord. Instead, set aside several times a day to catch up on the news, then watch no more. Set aside a time every day to worry, too, then go on with your life for the rest of the day.
"Remember that it's perfectly natural and OK to cry -- and perfectly natural and OK to laugh. It's also normal if you're sometimes afraid that you'll forget what he looks like, or even what he smells like; these are perfectly normal fears."
Questions should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.