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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

February 1999, No. 1

Dear Readers. By popular demand, here is your gumbo of the sublime, the spicy and the ridiculous: a tasty mix of my writings along with humor jokes, lists and other sparkling entities that have descended from cyberspace.

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST: Clickhere: Washington LIVE CHAT . It's a dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive problem-solving group. We raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other.

"Van Gogh, Prozac and Creativity: Part I and Part II" definitely stirred some neurotransmitters. So today we'll go with a variety of thought-provoking reader responses. First, this broadens and further personalizes the viewpoints on this poignant subject. Why should I be the only one spilling my guts! ;-)

Also, your responses give me more time to obsess on a future series -- the challenge of sustaining intimacy in a relationship. Some folks have gotten wind of the topic and are already free associating. Write on!

(Eds. Note: Here was the introductory blurb to the series. If you missed the two-part essay, email stressdoc@aol.com for a copy.)

A provocative lunchtime question concerning the impact of psychotropic medication on creative genius ("What would have happened to Van Gogh on Prozac?") triggers a thought-provoking essay on medication and mood disorder, artistic personality and productivity. The Stress Doc ebbs and flows between his study of Van Gogh and personal reflection on depression-driven creativity -- pre-and post-Prozac.

Readers Respond to Van Gogh, Prozac and Creativity

Based on the intensity, if not the frequency of responses, the Stress Doc's essay, "Van Gogh, Prozac and Creativity," touched some personal hot bottons. Here's a tasty gumbo of insightful, evocative and provocative emails from the intellectual heights and emotional depths -- from thoughts on sibling rivalry and the demands of genius to breaking through personal denial and the genuine connection between chemistry and happiness. Enjoy!

Thanks for the newsletter. Just out of curiosity are you promoting meds? From prior pieces I would have thought not. But I guess you're a good person to ask this question of: Can taking particular psychotropics (hope I spelled that correctly) produce psychotic episodes, hallucinations, etc. I've worked with a lot of kids all on different drugs, from Paxil, Zoloft, and Mellaril (seizure causing?) to Haldol and Thorazine. I often wondered if the medication as prescribed made some of them worse.

(Eds. Note: I agree, too many tend to idolize or demonize mood medication. The reality is that the effects of psychotropic medication are at times as much art as science. There can be individual variance in reaction. And close monitoring, preferably by a psychiatrist, the specialist most trained in such meds, is critical, especially in the startup phase. This said, when the fit between biochemical intervention and psycho-biochemical need is right, the impact can be startling. A person may be truly freed up and energized to confront long-standing emotional issues and energized into new, more productive behavioral responses.)

By the way, I myself recently committed an act of professional suicide. It's survivable. Van Gogh took the high road, and I'd like to believe that he knew what the personal cost would be. I don't believe that it was art or death. For him, art was life. While Van Gogh deeply resented Theo and his financially supported ties, don't you think Theo resented him as well? All the money in the world couldn't buy the innate talent and need for self-expression that Vincent possessed. Sibling rivalry, and misguided support mechanisms are not new features of familial constructs. With all the Van Gogh books floating around, I'd love to see an article (maybe written by you) on how the intimate struggles of children, parlay into the battles of adulthood. While not so obvious as the tortured artiste and business minded brother, and avoiding, if possible, concepts of basic good and evil themes, how about just a story of two young brothers. One with more talent than control, and the other more control than talent. The essence overcomes the myth, and the story, no longer so unusual, tells itself. But of course, should poetic license be evoked, I'd prefer if Vincent lived, at least long enough to buy out half of his brother's interests in his own work. In many ways, the story of the Van Gogh brothers can find reference in the brother's Grimm fables. Too bad it was real.


(Eds. Note: Based on my reading of Dear Theo, Vincent's letters to his brother, I think there was a lot of healthy and caring ties between the two, despite some of the inevitable rivalry and frustration around codependency.)

That was an interesting commentary on Van Gogh and medication. I get really tired of people writing or talking about the topic that don't get mental illness or medication.


(Eds. Note: I agree. See above.)

I just want you to know how very much I enjoy reading your newsletters, and most especially the ones you have done on depression. This is a subject I notice people seem to ignore, more than likely it is a denial of some kind, or we seem to fear the subject. A counselor told me in 1979 that he suspected that I suffered from a longtime depression and needed to resolve it. It was almost 10 years later that I even attempted to resolve any of my problems. The first counselor was indeed correct, depression had set in at a very young age because of the violations by my father and a mother who allowed it and threw in her own violations of another kind, both were alcoholics and churchgoers to cover it all. Through counseling I have pretty much retrieved a life. But, depression continues to haunt me and probably will for the rest of my life in one way or another, it is just one of those things I have to live with and adjust to, much like what you describe. This morning was one of those mornings where I felt like there was no hope-----after a few hours it dissipated and it has lessened. After reading your newsletter today, I feel like I must do a little better with just giving in to the mood and understand that it will lessen in time and then go away. By this afternoon I had a feeling of well being and a sense of joy returned to me, the depression just hits me and it is like I just can't understand why it is there, I'm not sure how long it will take before I can just say, ok, this is just one of those days and it is because of the past, usually, and it will probably pass in time. I won't go into it any more, I just wanted you to know, it makes me feel better to realize I am not the only one in this world who has this problem to deal with and it will be ok. I was on medication for a year just to help me get into a sleep routine, am now sleeping on my own and doing very well most of the time, there are bad nights just like the bad days. I will be glad when I can finally express it and have an outlet for it as you do. Keep up the writings, they are much appreciated.


(Eds. Note: Seems to me you already have a thoughtful and inspiring outlet. Write On!)

(Eds Note: Here's a vivid letter from an artist who also grapples with meds, depression and creativity.)

Mark, I just wanted to tell you I enjoyed your newsletter...Art and depression....an area I can relate to.

If I remember Van Gogh from reading...and don't quote me....I believe he suffered from self-mutilation (cutting his ear off) and he also hullucinated....Hmmm, I think he needed more than lithium. They said he suffered from seizures also. Mark, if u said something besides lithium, then I apologize...I read your article hours ago, and my er, elephant memory is falling asleep.

(Ed Note: Actually he sliced off his ear lobe, not the entire ear.)

My very favorite artist was Dante Gabriel Rossetti....Painter and poet. In fact, he used to paint his poetry right on the canvas. He painted tall, beautiful, thin models. His later works were oh so beautiful. He fell in love with one of his models....the first model was his wife...but then had an affair with another model....a friend's wife....for years and years. After his wife died after only 2 yrs of marriage, he had a breakdown.....suffering severe depression.....(papers had said she committed suicide) and he was guilt riddled.

So, Mark....I will stay on Paxil!!!! My personality without it is too "primary." Too Red...Too Yellow...And much Too Blue....But when I am on the antidepressants, they don't take my creativity away at all...it just brings my personality to the secondary colors....Well, that and the Klonopin.

Sometimes I wonder about those great artists of yesterday...the fumes they were constantly inhaling...painting in those little rooms without great ventilation or none whatsoever. Between the paints and the turps...


The article on Van Gogh was very thought provoking indeed. Very well written.

Tell you my thoughts later. Genius is Genius and maybe with the right treatment and medication, he would have been more of himself to give us more paintings and even insights into his life. Also perhaps he wouldn't have taken the final step at 33 and ended his life. He probably had to struggle with both, the illness and his talent and artistic personality. I wonder if maybe he would have had more time to do what he loved and had a passion for if he didn't have to take time out just with bouts of his illness. Haven't read about him lately, been awhile...Could get into quite a discussion over Van Gogh. Tis the way of life is it not? Mayhaps to help us all learn more about ourselves and the way of the world we live in. Tis a struggle for one with such an artistic passion and genius to conform, for he probably seen the world thru different eyes. Not a good idea for all to be conformists, Tis because some even tho ill are above us common folks somehow. Make us see things we ordinarily wouldn't.

Very impressive article. Genius in your own way, Mark. Doubt you can see that

though. Need to remind ye. (hug))


(Eds. Note: Now, of course, I should have deleted the closing sentences, but being the narcissist that I am...Who am I to quarrel with such a perceptive point of view! ;-) Actually, Van Gogh did take genuine pleasure upon receiving encouraging feedback from people whose opinion he valued.)

(Eds. Note: In the original article, a reader's laments her lack of happiness despite taking medication. Another reader opines.)

Yeah, but you make you own happiness or unhappiness....the drugs just keep your brain on an even keel.....I don't think they were made to make you "happy," just to correct chemical imbalances that keep you from having a normal state of mind...Once you attain that normal state of mind, it is up to you to make yourself happy or miserable. The most normal brain in the world if attached to pessimistic personality rarely achieves happiness. That is where counseling comes in.....to help a personality see what it is doing to itself. It's more than chemicals......you can't loose sight of that fact...There is more to the brain than the chemicals......there is personality and intelligence and abilities, too. At least that is MHO....Ann

(Eds. Note: MHO = My Humble Opinion vs. HMO = Who Cares What You Think!)

Thanks all for sharing your gifts!

The Stress Doc Newsletter

The Higher Power of Humor Section...

The second section will consist primarily of humor material that filters down from cyberspace. The first is a poignant poem that has particular relevance to the tragedy and triumph of the Van Gogh story. Then, carrying on our spiritual theme, some religious-ethnic humor with playful and clever twists and turns. Enjoy!

The Touch of the Master's Hand

By: M.B. Welch, 1926 From: MissPastel

Twas battered and scarred, and the Auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste time on the Old Violin

But held it up with a smile.

"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,

"Who will start bidding for me?

A dollar, a dollar" - then, "Two! only two?

Two dollars, and who'll make it three?

Three dollars once; three dollars twice:

Going for three - " but no,

From the room, far back, a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow.

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As sweet as the caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said "What am I bidden for the Old Violin?"

And he held it up with the bow.

"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?

Two thousand! And who'll make it three?

Three thousand, once; three thousand twice;

And going, and gone!" said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

"We do not quite understand

What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:

"The touch of the master's hand!"

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scattered with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine;

A game - and he travels on.

He's "going" once, and "going" twice,

He's "going" and almost gone."

But the Master came, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul, and the change that's wrought

By the touch of the Master's hand.

-- Myra Brooks Welch

The Barber

From: Bogie 361

A priest goes into a barbershop, gets a haircut, thanks the barber, and asks how much he owes him. The barber says, "Father, you're a holy man, a man of the cloth, I couldn't charge you, it's on the house." The priest says, "Thank you very much," and leaves. The next day, magically appearing on the doorstep of the barbershop are 12 gold coins.

A few days later, a Buddhist monk goes in for a shave and a shine, and when the time comes to pay the barber says, "No money, please, you're a spiritual leader, a man of the people, it's on the house." The next day, magically appearing on the doorstep are 12 rubies.

The following week a rabbi comes in, gets a haircut, goes to pay, and the barber says, "No, Rabbi, you are a learned man, a wise man, I can't take any money from you, go in peace." And the next day, magically appearing on the doorstep of the barbershop are 12 rabbis.

If PC's Were Jewish

From: cberlin@wave.tcs.tulane.edu

Forwarding a [new] Jewish operations system for the electronic age:

If Microsoft Were Jewish

1. Instead of getting a "General Protection Fault" error, your PC would get "Ferklempt" or, "All screwed up." (Eds. Note: Occasionally you will find Yiddish terms or sayings in this list. The beauty of Yiddish is that the words are so evocative and expressive, further translation is rarely needed.)

2. When you fill up your "C-drive," you will get a "Hard Drive is Shtupped" message.

3. Hanukkah screen savers will have "Flying Dreidels".

4. Your PC shuts down automatically at sundown on Friday evenings.

5. CD-ROM's would be rendered obsolete with the invention of high compression DVB's (digital video bagels).

6. Your "Start" button would be replaced with a "Let's go! I'm not getting any younger!" button.

7. "Abort, Retry, Ignore" would be replaced with "Stop it already -- You're killing me! You vant I should try it again?...I didn't hear that!"

8. When disconnecting external devices from the back of your PC, you would be instructed to "Remove the cable from your PC's tuchis".

9. Your multimedia player would be renamed to "Nu, so play my music already!".

10. During Passover, your PC would not be able to read "leavened floppies".

11. "Microsoft Word" would be renamed to "Microsoft Kibbitz."

12. Microsoft Office would include "A little byte of this, and a little byte of that".

13. When running "ScanDisk," you will be prompted with a "You vant I should fix this?" message.

14. When your PC is working too hard, you would occasionally hear a loud "Oy!!!".

15. A "monitor cleaning solution" from Manischewitz would advertise that it gets rid of the "schmutz" on your monitor.

16. After 20 minutes of no activity, your PC would go "Schloffen" (i.e., go to sleep).

17. Computer viruses would now be cured with chicken soup.

18. Solitaire would be replaced with on-line "Bingo"or "Mahjong."

19. Internet Explorer would now have a spinning "Star of David" in the upper right corner.

20. After your computer dies, you would dispose of it within 24 hours.

21. You would hear the tune "Hava Nagila" during startup.

22. "Year 2000" issues are replaced by "Year 5760-5761" issues.

23. Bill Gates' official theme song would be "If I Were a Rich Man."

You could die from such cleverness! ;-)

Seek the higher power of humor...May the Farce Be with You!

And, of course...Practice Safe Stress!


(c) Mark Gorkin 1999

Shrink Rap Productions