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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

SEP 2002

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

Table of Contents

Offerings:      Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat; Thrifty Travel, U.S. News & World Report
Heads Up:      Dr. Michael Hurd Newsletter; Keynotes, Workshops & Retreat
Shrink Rap:   Balancing Reality and Fantasy in Year 9/11
Main Essay:   Survival Tips for the Vulnerable or Depressed Student (Sec. ll)
The "Tongue F
ooey" Award for Deflating an Ego-Maniac

A.  Offerings:

1. Training/Marketing Kit: Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind of speaking/training program?  Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both "how to" manual and articles and the opportunity for phone coaching.  For more info: 
  Training/Marketing Kit or email.

2.  Stress Doc Book:

From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995

A 90 page compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of psychologically humorous rap music - "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization poem and other humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management, creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make excellent fillers for newsletters.)

Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and handling)

Make check payable to:  Mark Gorkin

Send check to:

Mark Gorkin
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW  #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542

3. Chat Group:
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.

4.  Media Events.
A brief Stress Doc quote in the U.S. News & World Report article:

Up Scale, Down Fee
Christopher Elliott

This autumn is unlike any other in the travel business. A widely anticipated summer recovery in tourism appears to have fizzled, forcing hotels and resorts to extend - or even sweeten - existing specials. "There are more deals out there, and they're concentrated in the weakest parts of the travel industry," says Mary VanMeer, editor of the bimonthly online newsletter ThriftyTraveling.com. And weak spots are everywhere.

Details in US News & World Reports' Diversions at Click here: ELLIOTT.ORG: Up Scale, Down Fee or http://www.elliott.org/vault/usnews/2002/upscale.htm


Shrink Rap:

The upcoming 9/11 anniversary has the Stress Doc contemplating not only the horrific tragedy, but the battle for survival on multiple levels.  Ultimately, the year becomes a test of what is real, what is fantasy in the realms of work and of love.

The Critical Battle of Year 9/11
Desperately Balancing Reality and Fantasy

With the one-year anniversary of September 11th looming, my brainwaves are firing in kaleidoscopic fashion -- from dark to light, from array to disarray.  Yet each pattern, whether crystalline or chaotically colorful, holds a fascination.  The abstract, fleeting images, now like loose threads on a psychic loom, can finally be spun into a word tapestry.

Let me immediately state that I did not directly experience the horrific tragedy of 9/11.  The closest personal encounter was a cousin who safely escaped from the 62nd floor of a World Trade Center tower.  Yet, of course, none of us were left unscathed.  The shock alone of trying to embrace one's mind around the inconceivable leaves an indelible impression.  For example, my initial reaction to the announcement as seen on an opening AOL screen was believing it was a modern day reprise of Orson Welles' radio reading of the "War of the Worlds" space invasion.  9/11 could only be the stuff of science fiction.

Alas, it was all too real.  Then memories flooded:  living in Brooklyn Heights in the early '70s, leaning on the Promenade railing, with the newly birthed twin just a mind's throw across the East River.  The Brooklyn Bridge is in your right field of vision, the Statue of Liberty in your left field of dreams; the two towering additions centering that incandescent lower Manhattan skyline.  The land and mindscape are particularly memorable for the wildly impressionistic, multihued, golden orange and shades of purple summer sunsets.  Left on office lights become a techno-Van Gogh starry night.  A wondrous Hollywood-like set design pasted on the horizon, but more surreal, with the totality of light shimmering off the sawtoothed Manhattan Mountain range.  (So one redeeming quality of NYC air pollution is the outrageous visuals; another the hallucinatory brain states of some writers.)

And while living in DC since 1990, the local tragedy did not have the same existential kick in the gut.  For me, the Pentagon has always been a mysterious fortress (much like the Wizard's impenetrable castle in the Land of Oz) into which I have never set foot.  Actually, as a consultant for the US Postal Service and other federal government agencies, the anthrax episodes resonated and rumbled more deeply.  (Email for my wicked satirical poem, "Anthrax Scare.")

Perhaps the WTC's public nature also makes a difference.   Although three decades have passed, I can still recall the outrageous first tasting of Coconut Fried Shrimp, ambrosia on Mt Olympus, AKA, the Windows of the World restaurant. 

Being a native New Yorker, I had no choice.  Three days after 9/11 I'm walking around Union Square Park, seeing all the wrenching pictures of missing loved ones, candlelight vigils, intimate gatherings of hushed toned folksingers, reminiscent of the sixties (my Stuyvesant High School years, just a few blocks away).  Despite living outside the state since the mid-70s, the scope of the tragedy along with a deep-rooted mind, heart and soul connection to the city truly hits home.

A Year of Living Dangerously

But back to the anniversary.  While concerned about feeding the media frenzy, even if I would like to have a more personal, quiet memorial for 9/11, events and responsibilities make that difficult.  First there's a joint Practice Safe Stress program with the Philadelphia Chapters of the Professional Conference Management Association and the American Society of Association Executives on Sep. 12th.  Then I have an early October meeting with the administrative and secretarial staff of a large DC law firm to help personnel assess their post-traumatic/anniversary coping.  And there's a similar request from the training department of the National Institutes of Health -- more ongoing adaptation to a post-traumatic stress world -- for Jan. 2003. And with supervisors wondering via email what, if any anniversary effects to expect from employees, 9/11 will be a compelling image on my psychic radar screen.

Still, the upcoming anniversary has me reflecting on more than just the indelibly historic date.  The interaction effect amongst the economic slowdown on the heels of the dot.bomb meltdown, followed by 9/11 and its aftermath, like a grade 5 tornado spawning a prolonged drought, both suddenly and in relentlessly withering fashion, this post-Millennium cacophony nearly gutted my financial, social and psychic infrastructure.  And clearly, legions were struggling during this time of psychic regression and economic recession.

From mid-August 2001 through spring 2002, speaking and training work, the bulk of my income, practically dried up.  Work came to a screeching halt other than brief post-9/11 debriefings with a small law firm and at a federal agency center staff meeting.  Companies and government agencies started circling the wagons, drawing on in-house training staff and EAP (Employee Assistance Program) personnel.  The only other "business" was an annual International Personnel Management (IPMA) Conference in early October 2001 in Nashville.  I had agreed to this gig as a showcase and marketing venture, speaking for free and covering my own expenses.  In summer 2001, this seemed like a wise risk; now with little income coming in, a recent rent increase and higher medical insurance premiums, concerns about my ROI -- Return On Investment -- were ratcheted up.

A loan from a friend, deeper credit card debt and the power of the Internet just kept me off the street.  Then in January, riding in on her cyber-horse through the drought stricken dust bowl, was the new Behavioral Health Coordinator for the 300-person security/police division of the Washington Navy Yard.  A Reservist called up after 9/11, SK2 S. (or Rebecca) was tasked to develop a Wellness Program.  And bless her heart; the inaugural training was to be on stress.  (And these folks needed it with heightened security responsibilities and expanded hours.  Also economic tension was in play.  Would Reservists be encroaching on civilian and full-time military positions and job security?)

After doing an Internet search on stress management training in the Metro-Washington area, Rebecca decided "The Stress Doc" website had the most substance.  A lively phone exchange ensued, and by agreeing to a rate of $500/three hour training sessions, the first taste of heaven sent relief:  eight training sessions in February and March.

More Manna from Heaven or Momentary Bread?

And the small wonders continued.  The previous fall's risky, pay my own way investment began to yield dividends when the Virginia IPMA Chapter brought me in as a closing speaker for their spring annual.  Still, a couple of shower interludes do not wash away a long-standing drought.  Besides these two training gigs there was little on the horizon.  Spring appeared to be another season of discontent and financial angst…And then the phone began to ring:
1) A mid-June keynote and two workshops for Grants Management Specialists across all institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
2) Another ROI spinoff from the October gig; keynote speaker for the Florida Chapter of IPMA at their end of July conference in Orlando,
3) A quick turnaround from the NIH program was a conflict resolution/team building retreat for an NIH User Support Branch in Frederick, MD.  The new training specialist had worked with me two years before and had also mentioned me as a speaker for the Grants management Conference.  When she heard the raves about my recent keynote, suddenly a mid-August one-day crystallized,
4) And the next day had me doing two workshops at the Baltimore Convention Center for the "2nd Annual DOD (Department of Defense) Population Health and Health Promotion Conference.  The morning workshop, with nearly double the numbers expected, proved to be a raucous smash.  Five times someone from the program in the adjacent room asked us to lower the volume.  As someone said:  "You should have opened the (accordion) door and let the other folks in."  I'm confident this DOD tree will bear more fruit,
5) A keynote and two workshops at a Supervisors and Managers Conference at the Washington Navy Yard a week after the DOD Conference.  Following my work with Navy Yard security personnel, I call their HR/Training Department in the spring and submitted a speaking/training packet.  A good reference from my former "lady knight in military fatigues," the Health Promotion Coordinator, helped seal the deal.  (Also, the EAP Coordinator put in a good word as I have done several freebie trainings over the last two years.  So seeds do bloom; they just don't tend to follow the planter's timetable,
6) Still another IPMA spinoff.  An accounting executive for the York County school system who caught my Virginia IPMA workshop brought me in at the end of August to be the "Convocation Speaker" for 1200 teachers and administrators for a back to school welcome and health fair.  This number was four times larger than any previous keynote or workshop audience.  And I discovered size isn't everything.  (About time, my father would say, considering I'm into my fifth decade.)  It's what you bring to the performance that counts.  1200 seemed like 120 or even 12.  Once I got past the sitting up on the stage, waiting to be called heart palpitations, I was centered.  Once I started moving around, getting folks interacting, it was still my playground and these were my guests.  And,
7) Perhaps most important for long term business stability was hooking up at the Navy Yard Conference with the woman in charge of Business Development and Marketing for Total Learning Solutions (TLS), a growing training company in the DC area.  TLS has national aspirations, and I'm to be a part of their select stable of training specialists.  The prospect of some steady work to balance my own web-based and word-of-mouth-based marketing is music to my psyche and pocketbook.

What Price Integrity?

Actually, earlier this summer I nearly committed to another training group -- Golen Seminars -- who tout themselves as the nation's largest provider of smoking cessation and weight loss seminars.  They expressed some interest in expanding their program offerings to include stress management.  So I went up to New Jersey, did a dynamite program for 70 staff members (just about the whole company).  Once completed, I went into a business lunch meeting with the President and two honchos.  (I should have known something was amiss when they had a lot of fried food and other high fat offerings on their buffet table.)  In the lunch meeting, Head Honcho emphasized that selling back room products was their driver; the quality of the training seminar was secondary.  I had an involuntary gulping reflex.

This Soprano wannabe basically made me an offer that I definitely should have refused:  for promoting me as their stress expert (including on cable shopping channels) Golen Seminars would retain total proprietary control of all that I had developed as a speaker and writer over many years; they would own all of my intellectual property.  Also, this Golen guy had me a bit incredulous when, right after my seminar, he told his employees not to worry about the stuff you can't do anything about.  When it comes to dealing with stress, the only thing you do is keep attacking.  The company definitely had a cult of personality.  Everyone sat on hard, skinny folding chairs except Dr. Soprano who had a big leather chair. 

While the decision was obvious, the trauma of the past year brought out some codependent tendencies.  Still feeling financial insecurity, I was considering the offer.  Would this damned Yankee betray his soul, if not to the devil, then sell out to the "golem" (a robotic demon of Jewish folklore).  Fortunately, they got me out of purgatory by putting stress management on the back burner.  Finally, I could see the folly of this option, especially in light of Total Learning Solution's recent upfront declaration that I retain all proprietary rights to my material.

So on the brink of the 9/11 anniversary, with an upcoming season in the air, the Jewish New Year Holidays just days away, critical learning and evolution has occurred regarding past, present and future.  Having survived the meltdown and drought, I now see how thin the survival threads onto which I was clinging.  Yet there's also affirmation regarding an ability to commit to a passionate belief and goal.  Borrowing money, going into debt is not easy.  Feelings of shame and failure still surface.  Bur I know I did this both for me, and for my twin babies, that is, my business, and for sustaining the career path/creative journey.  I couldn't bail out because my essence breathes and soars as a speaker, trainer and writer…and I'm addicted to the endorphins.  Okay, and a little to the adulation.

When Romantasy Meets Reality

Still, life continues to remind that the glass is half full and half empty.  There was a personal and poignant casualty during the months wandering in the desert.  My two-year, long distance relationship partner, with a woman not yet met (because of the CIA-like security nature of her work) while an oasis at times, ultimately proved to be a mirage.  Bea, a former musician, now research physician; brilliant, arrogant, demanding, absolutely convinced of her Queen Bee status.  She could shift from rigidly domineering and intimidating interrogator to innocent child in the burst of a string of expletives.  This is a woman who's alleged actions ranged from planting antiterrorist chemical weapons overseas to supposedly pouring a cup of hot coffee in the lap of a bank vice-president in response to his verbally predatory behavior.  And having experienced on the phone many times Bea's tough as nails side (covering of course a vulnerable underbelly) all was conceivable.

An incredibly passionate woman who's behavior during our most intimate moments made me believe, as claimed, that she was still virginal despite being in her mid-30s.  Let me fill in some background.  Born in Budapest, Hungary, schooled at the Franz Liszt Academy, Bea became a US Citizen in her mid-20s when she came over to work for "The Organization."  (Upon seeing "The Beautiful Mind," about the brilliant and tormented bipolar mathematician, recruited for espionage decoding by the US Government, Bea saw the hallucinatory segments about being tracked by government agents as all too real.)  Violently anti-Communist, her surgeon father had been imprisoned for ten years for political reasons before her birth.  And during her childhood, was still periodically removed from the family for weeks at a time for indoctrination purposes.

All this impacted her driven, conrolling personality and our manic-depressive like relating.  Miss Bea played by her own rules.  Either she was the greatest storyteller I've ever personally known or she truly was "sui generis" (one of a kind) living a life that led me to dub her, La Femme Beakita.  Either way, perhaps also because of my hunger for escape from adversity, I became more and more entangled in her/our alluring and amazing web.

One critical problem:  Bea kept putting off our meeting, for seemingly plausible reasons (assuming you accepted her incredible biography and itinerary.)  Tension increased when a desire to control my social life was paired with a ferocious jealousy (which she admitted was in her blood).  I could never live up to her standards of purity; and, at times, I was not fully candid.  (The latter was less out of furtive affairs and more out of defying her insistence on knowing and controlling my thoughts and actions.  I'm sure issues of abandonment come into play.  So too her actual role as a relentless interrogator of organizational agents.)

Ultimately, and maybe a sign of health, Bea could not tolerate the stress inherent in our virtual romance.  (I was holding on for a planned August meeting.)  We both had been under the illusion -- because of the kindred connection despite all the fighting, our psychological needs and the frequency of communication -- that what we shared was totally real despite a lack of face-to-face connection.  She claimed that our tension had contributed to the appearance of a "hard tissue" tumor in her breast, and then backed off the blame game.

One Must Begin to Separate...One Must Be Separate to Begin

But this was perhaps the beginning of the end.  No doubt my financial pressure made it harder for me to tolerate the constant cycling along with her questioning my maturity and manhood for not taking a regular job during this recession.  Whatever the array of dynamics, the reality-romantasy drama ended with a phone slammed down in my ear.  Recent brief, angrily detached conversations reaffirmed the irreparable.

After several months of painful grieving, I'm gradually placing this mysterious Cyber-Hari behind me.  Not meeting, not injecting an essential level of reality into our evolving and entangling encounter, makes the process of letting go particularly difficult.  (Bea is better than I at slamming the door shut on her emotions.)  For me, still, imaginative images and memories cherished are encased in a virtual armor that dampen penetration by the dysfunctional realities in our relating, realities that would provide needed contradiction for my self-constructed and self-destructive ideal.

Yet, as I've penned:

Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and the quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

And, in fact, I've signed up for www.match.com…with one caveat.  I will not correspond with anyone longer than a month before a live meeting.

Obviously, to return to my opening purpose, I cannot contemplate September 11, 2002, without placing it in the context of an incredibly painful, powerful yet, ultimately, hopeful year.  As I wrote after the breakup of a New Orleans romance years ago in a poem called, Fallout:

As the hot air lingers…
The downfall of New Orleans:
A friendship changes seasons.

The summer passion fading
A coolness in the air.

For the moment
The change of colors is a drab
Mix-up of mellow and melancholy.

Thank God for cycles!

©  Mark Gorkin 1986

Perhaps I will approach the 9/11 anniversary as a psychological blend of images, emotions and visions crystallizing over time, only now gaining some meaningful clarity and broadened perspective from many dark night of the soul encounters.  And perhaps, I've emerged both exhausted and enlightened from the desert trial, ultimately surviving to share the tale.  And providing, hopefully, conceptual images and personal lessons that help us all…Practice Safe Stress!

Main Article:

Survival Tips for the Emotionally Vulnerable or Depressed Student; See Sect. ll

Reader's Submission:

The "Tongue F
ooey" Award for Deflating an Ego-Maniac
From: sue123@twmi.rr.com

An award should go to the United Airlines gate agent in Denver for being smart and funny, while making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as cargo.

A crowded United Airlines flight was canceled. A single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket on the counter and said "I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS." The agent replied, "I am sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to
help you, but I've got to help these folks first, then I'm sure we'll be able to work something out." The passenger was unimpressed.

He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?"  Without hesitating, the agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone, "May I have your attention please," she began, her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal.  "We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to Gate 14."

With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the United agent, gritted his teeth and swore "F*** You!".  Without flinching, she smiled and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that too."

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, an international speaker and syndicated writer, is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ The Doc runs his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City DC Stress Chat .  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage (recently cited as "comforting" resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses").  Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c) Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap ™ Productions