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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

JUL 2001, No. 1

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Heads Up: Reprints; AOL/Digital City Chat

Shrink Rap: Declaration of Independence

Main Essay: Recovering from Dot.Bomb Burnout

Readers' Submission: The Men Who Ride No More

Heads Up:

 

1. Media Exposure: Two articles have recently reappeared in offline publications:

a) "Stress Survival Guide for HR Professionals," International Personnel Management Association News, June 2001 and

b) "The Four Stages of Burnout," On Point: National Capital Paralegal Association, July/August 2001

(Email stressdoc@aol.com if you'd like to publish any essays, past or present, in your online or offline publication.)

2. Chat Groups and Live Workshops

a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Support Chat, Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST DC Support 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.

Shrink Rap:

Declaration of Independence

Well July 4th is a perfect time to announce my new policy for the Stress Doc Newsletter. Both because of time constraints and health considerations, I will be sending out shorter newsletters. When the inspiration strikes and an essay comes to life, my little newsletter will be left on your window. Hopefully, I will spend less time in front of the computer and you will not have to spend as long reading the material. Perhaps this will be a win/win.

Have a wonderful holiday. To good summer adventures.

Mark

Mark Gorkin

"The Stress Doc" (TM)

Main Article:

The recent dot.com debacle has presently blown up the Stress Doc's publishing path. Grappling with the loss and strategically cultivating goals and desires is the formula for rebuilding the fire. Consider his five rejuvenation strategies.

 

Recovering from Dot.Bomb Burnout

Five Rejuvenation Strategies

The dot.bomb explosion and meltdown has set off a wave of aftershocks and yours truly is finally starting to recover. While not taking a direct hit, my dot.com publisher did. AdviceZone.com tried to integrate book publishing while developing a comprehensive online coaching website. And in the process of expanding their vision and visibility investment capital disappeared…along with the publisher for my finished manuscript.

I wasn’t totally surprised as the publication date for Practice Safe Stress with the Stress Doc: The Art of Managing Stress, Burnout & Depression had been pushed back time and again. Reassurances that funding was coming – venture capitalists to the rescue (better I should have waited for the US Cavalry) – encouraged a wait and hope position. But the responsibility buck also stops here: I was burnt out on the elusive process of looking for a book agent or/a publisher once again. But three months and a belated season later, hype springs eternal. I’m about to launch the writer’s quest for the holy grail. (Any literary agents or houses interested; just email stressdoc@aol.com .) Several factors helped in the recovery. Here are five rejuvenation strategies:

1. Anticipatory Grieving. During the past year’s conversation with my editor, the ever delayed then slowly disappearing publication date evoked a Kafkaesque association: a gang of vultures descending every couple of weeks tearing away pieces of my flesh and inner organs. (The editor provided a bimonthly update from the publishing brass.) Cautious optimism was finally replaced by resignation. Over the years, many hopes, dreams and ego fantasies had surely inflated my book publishing bubble. When the bubble finally burst, I was past being angry; there was only energy for exhaustion.

While not fully conscious of the process I had been reluctantly and gradually grieving the loss of this identity-related egoal. Despite the frustrating blow, I had not lost sight of the genuine effort invested and was able to maintain a basic belief in the quality of the book. With this perspective, I could grab hold of the lifeline penned by Nobel Prize-winning author, Albert Camus: Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain. And, in fact, new possibilities were lying in wait.

2. Refocusing Energy. An alternative rejuvenation source was consulting and workshop opportunities. At the beginning of the year contracts were hard to come by. While blasting out of the New Year’s gate is unusual, the fact that the whole first quarter was stagnant was disturbing. Besides the book remorse there was financial survival concerns. Still, this anxiously dormant period was not a fallow one. My marketing team and I had been planting marketing seeds, e.g., holding local public seminars, and by mid-Spring we started bearing some revenue fruit. Though the contracts were cherry-sized rather than melon variety, having workshops on the calendar enabled me to tolerate better this uncertain transition period. A sense of productivity along with a reaffirmation of my competence in and enjoyment for public speaking now took center stage. "If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with." Or, at least, value the healing and rebirth potential. As the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov (who was also a physician) observed, you can have more than one love without being unfaithful:

Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other. Though it's disorderly, it's not dull, and besides, neither really loses anything through my infidelity.

And speaking of love…

3. Balancing Work and Love. In addition to cultivating a business upswing, I was also pioneering another, of late, uncommon venture – an increasingly intimate, romantic and committed relationship with a woman. Of course, few things are easy or traditional in the world of an "Online Psychohumorist."™ Despite having first emailed 1˝ years ago, we still have not met. This has less to do with us living on opposite coasts and more to do with the security-sensitive nature of her work. We connected initially when Miss B sent a brief note of appreciation about my website. Parenthetically, B. also mentioned a preference for chasing away the blues with old Charlie Chaplin films. Well, as many readers know, Chaplin is one of my cultural icons. Whether this woman was trying to bait me or not, I was hooked. And, like most potential prize catches, being hooked means the fight has just begun. Naturally, the roles of angler and fish have swung wildly back and forth many times. (Also worth noting, while B. insists she knew we were soulmates after our first email exchange, I was obtuse in this kindred realm for almost a year. And though there was something compelling about her, this discrepancy in intuition and readiness certainly created some relationship "T n T" – Trust and Timing "Sturm und Drang.")

From frequent emails and periodic IMs to weekly and, now, near daily phone calls – sometimes lasting for hours (thank goodness for 5 cents/minute rates) – the relationship has felt real, sometimes all too real. While not face-to-face, this intimate encounter has nonetheless challenged both of us to face long-standing issues – from obsessive jealousies (her) and commitment fears and addictive fantasies (me) to separating emotionally from judgmental mothers or internalized critical mother voices (us). Yes, romance and passion, and all its sublime and turbulent emotional spin-offs can live on a phone line…without calling a 1-900 number.

As a therapist I’ve often claimed, "A truly intimate relationship is hard work"; personally walking the talk is another matter. The real field of intimacy dreams is strewn with psychic land mines. It takes little for present conflicts to detonate past hurts, rage and shame when familiarity starts breeding intimate vulnerability. Contempt is more the defensive maneuver or cover-up for engaging the "Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure."

Learning to be increasingly aware, honest and open, even when fearful or enraged or when feeling diminished is an evolutionary milestone in intimate coupling. So too is the capacity for setting and respecting boundaries as well as avoiding passive-aggressive withdrawal or stony silences. One must invest time, energy and practice while often tolerating uncomfortable, if not critical, feedback for achieving meaningful growth as individuals and as a partnership. Intimate relating means challenging some personal habits and habitual ways of coping. Yet, if immature individual defenses and energy can be constructively confronted and channeled, the result is a unique synergy: a relationship whole that is truly greater than the sum of the individual parts. And a good relationship can be a true haven for weathering a career- or a creativity-related storm.

4. Getting Physical. Periodically and fairly predictably, under prolonged emotional stress or physical strain (too many damn hours in front of the computer) my body suddenly announces that there are consequences that can no longer be ignored. This past year the back has been lightning rod of choice. One benefit of lower back pain is being compelled to slow down; not an easy task for a Type A New Yorker who didn’t lose his racing stripes despite sixteen years of living in "The Big Easy." When Advil was insufficient for dealing with a back condition accompanied by radiating pain down the length of my leg, it was time for a visit with the doctor.

Alas, even the HMO physician’s recommendation of high dose Motrin and selected stretching was having limited effect. The radiating pain had ceased, but frequent pain in the left lower back did not. The second visit, despite the doctor’s skepticism (or could it have been his cost control gambit?) I insisted on an X-ray. And lo and behold, there is diminished spacing between the lower lumbar disk and the sacroiliac. (More than ever, I’m convinced that patient’s must advocate for their treatments in a medical system that prefers to err on the side of the bottom line rather than the human spine.)

Anticipating the diagnosis I started swimming laps at the YMCA, but without the typical Type A statistical pressures – getting caught up in speed and distance. I’m counteracting the repetitive, if not monotonous, aspect of lap swimming by rotating four strokes – breaststroke, crawl, backstroke and sidestroke. All are performed at a leisurely pace.

Still my rehab has a compulsive quality. Feeling invigorated after the swim, why not push a little more. Twice now I’ve done stretching exercises to strengthen my back shortly after swimming. And both times the following morning I’ve awoken feeling worse. And just when I feel this self-sabotage is behind me, my girl friend sends me a double-ringed stretchable rubber thingy. And, of course, I’m stretching beyond my limits.

The moral here is clear; ignore "The Stress Doc’s Basic Law of Safe Stress" at my own peril: Do know your limits and don’t limit your ‘No’s! And my denial is the height of arrogance: my friend is a doctor who’s been warning me to take it slow. Alas, like Sinatra, sometimes I must stubbornly do things, "My way." Yet despite myself, I’m learning why patience is a virtue. So it’s back to the pool for my round of "S & S" – Swimming and Sauna – sans stretching! Nothing like a health crisis to get your attention and to invariably help mold our priorities and process. (Not to mention the feeling of "R & R" – Relief and Renewal – as you finally see results from your realistic efforts.)

5. Breaking Away. And the final strategy for recovering from loss – cook up your own gumbo of the silly and the sublime. For me, a recent working vacation in Vegas was just what the doctor ordered. Las Vegas Boulevard, aka "The Strip," is absurdly oversized or just delightfully absurd – from a 75 foot guitar outside the Hard Rock Café to an equally imposing faux Eiffel Tower. Shades of Mardi Gras parades past, except these desert floats are immobile and more monumental. (Of course, living in New Orleans you didn’t have to wait long for the silly and the outrageous to roll by your front porch.) And the beauty of laughing at the absurd is the distance created from the daily grind while placing your life in a lighter and brighter perspective.

Surely there is a dark side to Las Vegas. This fantasy world is heavily supported by folks with addictions – gambling and smoking, for starters. So as not to contribute to Darth Vegas, my risk-taking energy soared in another direction: a helicopter ride into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Luke Skywalker rides again.

I love helicopters; this was my inaugural ride, zooming at 130mph, ten yards above the Mojave Desert. Cocoa and cream-colored, checkerboard hills and ridges, cruising in and out of sun and shadow, the pilot masterfully speeding up as we approached a mesa ridge, not knowing what loomed ahead…then bolting skyward or suddenly descending into a spacious valley…Only to be confronted by the next video game trial. As I told the pilot, "This is even better than the 3-D IMAX rides." ;-)

I was so enthralled by my helicopter high (not to mention the added rush of having Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkyries" pumped in over the earphones at select moments) that I could not immediately partake in the state of humble grace for which this most wondrous of Natural Wonders truly deserves and usually compels.

Actually, my favorite "I can’t believe it" Grand Canyon story occurred over twenty-five years ago on a road trip originating from New Orleans. Passing stunning rusty red rock, soft forest green, sun-blanched cream mesas and canyons, the thought that crossed my mind was simple: "I’m sure the Grand Canyon must be awesome in light of the beauty of these formations. But how much grander can it be?" Well my education soon followed in a most dramatic fashion. As I pulled into the parking lot along the North Rim, a blue collar looking family was approaching the rim. Suddenly, the guy blurts out the most cogent comment I’ve ever heard about the Canyon’s majesty: "Oh sh_t, those damn postcards don’t tell you nothin!"

It is so true. Gazing into the world’s biggest hole in the ground and belatedly seeing this tiny blackish-blue snake, eerily still, you are confronted not just by an inconceivable sense of space but an unimaginable sense of time. That Colorado is certainly "the little river that could." Great things are truly accomplished with patience and persistence. And after a half hour of silent reverie, I sleepwalked back to the car.

This time I experienced the enclosed part more than the expansive whole. Landing on Indian Territory on the banks of the river, we were surrounded by four towering red-green rock faces as if caught in some mythical labyrinth. Walking away from the group to a slightly higher vantage point, I’m still encompassed by the rocky skyscrapers and the infinite sound of silence. One is alone with oneself, with nature and with a profound sense of mystery. For me, it doesn’t get any better -- more spiritual or more rejuvenating -- than this.

Conclusion

Five strategies have been posited for helping you experience rejuvenation, if not rebirth, after a powerful loss: 1) Anticipatory Grieving, 2) Refocusing Energy, 3) Balancing Work and Love, 4) Getting Physical and 5) Breaking Away. While passion and pleasure are key restorative ingredients, perhaps the healing foundation is honestly confronting your mind-body pain:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire.

And this poetic aphorism is surely a guide to help us…Practice Safe Stress!

Reader's Submission

A friend and colleague Tula710@aol.com in her WISDOM SEEKERS DAILY QUOTES recently had a poetic gem:

Dear Readers,

Joel Nelson spent his entire working life breaking colts for

the big ranches in the southwest and Hawaii. Joel is up

in years now, and after visiting some old friends in nursing

homes, he realized the time was fast approaching when

he must face his own mortality. He put pencil to paper and

wrote something that I'm sure will become a classic. This

poem won the Gold Medal in the talent division of the State

Senior Olympic Games, held recently in Las Cruces, NM.

It was sent to me by a friend who himself was a "cowboy"

in his youth, and who has now retired to New Mexico.

Although this is poem speaks of a particular group of people,

it has far reaching sentiment, and I thought it worth sharing.

 

THE MEN WHO RIDE NO MORE .....

 

by Joel Nelson

 

"Bronc to Breakfast" calendars hang fading on the walls,

The lost and aimless wanderings through corridors and halls.

With slippered feet they shuffle on a waxed and polished floor,

The vacant stares of emptiness of the men who ride no more.

 

Men who once rode proudly, men with long straight backs,

Men who covered hills and plains with steel horse shoe tracks.

Now spend their idle days in rooms with numbers on the door,

With orderlies and nurses for the men who ride no more.

 

Time was when spur rowels jingled, and boot heels bumped the floor,

Dawn with black coffee and saddling up at four.

Their feet in tapaderos and a bronc between their knees,

And silken neck scarves snapping as they turned into the breeze.

 

From full blown living legends true and riding for the brand,

To scarcely mediocre who could barely make a hand.

But they gathered at the brandings and the round-ups in the fall,

Now it's walkers, canes and wheelchairs in this antiseptic hall.

 

Oh, they all have their mementos on a table by their side,

Like a cracked and faded snapshot of a horse they used to ride.

Or standing with the wife beside a thirty-seven ford,

With a high-heeled boot hooked nonchalantly, on a muddy running board.

 

Just instant frozen from the past that somehow give a clue,

To who and what they were before their riding days were through.

Horseback men and horseback rules from horseback days of yore,

Their one and only wish, would be to ride again once more.

 

To rope one more soggy calf and drag it to the fire,

Or long-trot for half a day and see not post or wire.

To ride a morning circle---catch a fresh mount out at noon,

And ride on in when the day is done, to the rising of the moon.

 

To have one more day on horseback and just have one more chance,

To ride home to a pretty wife, and drive her to a dance.

Then take her hand and hold her close and waltz across the floor,

Before it's time to join the ranks, of the men who ride no more.

Email Tula if you'd like to receive your daily dose of wisdom.

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is an internationally recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! The Doc was recently featured on CBS TV's Newspath segment -- Workplace Violence and in Biography Magazine. He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ leading a chat group for AOL/Digital City -- http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr . Check out his USA Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com. Practice Safe Stress with the StressDoc: The Art of Managing Stress, Burnout & Depression comes out in 2001. For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c) Mark Gorkin 2001

Shrink Rap ™ Productions