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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)

April 1998, No. 1

Dear Readers,

With the Easter Holiday and the Passover Seders just ending and with Spring in full bloom, the psycho-spiritual energy for rejuvenation, for exploring new direction in work and love is in the air. How can you pioneer or renew the commitment to your evolutionary path? For my article on "Rebuilding the Fire: From Burnout to Break Out," scroll down. Also, my Monday night "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL (See 2.a below) will address the same topic.

This newsletter is free. And, of course, please forward this letter to interesested friends, colleagues and family members, or send along their email addresses. (Also, if you don't wish to receive the newsletter, email me - stressdoc@aol.com .)

"The Stress Doc Letter" features and functions:

1. Psychohumor Writings. To provide you the best of my past and current online and offline writngs, including Humor From the Edge columns and America On Line/Online Psych special topical essays, e.g, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @ Online Psych</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:972.olpny3.1264502.565460680">Make Your Resolution A Habit With Help From Online Psych!</A>. For those not on AOL, if you'd like a copy of these popular series, just email - stressdoc@aol.com. Or check out my website - www.stressdoc.com - or my AOL/Online Psych Page - Keyword: Stress Doc, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A> .

And if you'd like a free subscription to Humor From the Edge (email me) or to "The Death and Dying" Newsletter, click here <A HREF="http://www.death- dying.com/">Welcome To Death & Dying...Where Life Surroun...</A> (See, this newsletter will make you die laughing ;-)

Finally, my writings now appear in Perspectives, the electronic magaine of Mental Health Net. MHN is a not-for-profit organization devoted to mental health information and education resources online. They are located at: www.cmhc.com/

2. Special Projects Updates. New or special projects that are flying around or about to be (or have been) launched:

a) I am now leading a twice a month "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City - Washington. We discuss stress and wellness, relationship and family issues, psychological growth, etc., the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month, from 9-10pm EDT. Next up is an hour on Rebuilding the Fire: From Burnout to Break Out...Monday Apr 13th. Here's the link: <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Chat with the Stress Doc</A> .

This group replaces the Frequent Sighers Club which never quite got off the ground. (I still like the name.)

b) The Practicing Safe Stress Program - successfully completed three lunchtime programs this past week for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the Army Materiel Command. For more info, please email.

c) The two all day Managing Stress and Conflict workshops for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on March 24 and 25 were a "home run." We're negotiating for followup teambuilding work. Will keep you posted.

d) The three hour keynote speaker/workshop on Thriving In Transition: The Art and Practice of Safe Stress for the Maryland Speech-Language-Hearing Association's annual convention, March 21, was a great success. Feel free to email Board Member, Teresa Dennis, Teaspl@aol.com for a reference. Another participant emailed these words: "I had the sense that you enjoy what you are doing and I hope that you know how much you have the ability to help other people. What impressed me the most about you and your presentation was that you genuinely seemed to care about a roomful of people you had never met before. I hope your journey continues to give you spiritual enlightment and joy." -- Judy

3. Stress Doc Calendar. To provide an up to date speaking and workshop calendar - what, where and when. Of course, if you know of an organization or a conference that needs a dynamic, thought-provoking and fun-filled program, my motto...Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!

Speaking of speaking, some upcoming events:

a) a recurring program, Rebuilding the Fire: Transforming Burnout Into Your Creative Career Path in the Metro-DC area at the National Capital YMCA on Sat. May 9th from 1-4:30pm and for four Weds from May 20-June 10. The YMCA is on Rhode Island Ave. and 17th St., NW, Washington, DC. For more info, call the YMCA Program Office - (202) 862-9649. Or, email or call me at (202) 232-8662.

b) Next up, on April 14th, a Managing Stress with Humor program at the headquarters of the US Postal Service.

c) Here's a heads up for folks in the Metro-Washington Area. Will be leading a workshop for New Beginnings called, 12 Keys to Purpose, Passion & Play on Sunday June 14th from 1:30-4:30. Discover the Four Faces of Anger Model and my matrix for the integration of love, work, play and wholeness.

d) A luchtime program on Humor in the Workplace for the International Personnel Management Association on April 27th. For more info, email me.

4. Online Coaching/Training. To promote my Coaching for Consultants and Entrepreneurs Program:

Special Announcement: I am starting a Multi-Media Coaching for Consultants Program, especially (though not exclusively) for allied/mental health professionals, organizational trainers and consultants, counselors and educators. For information on the products and instructional services, including one-on-one online consultation and particpation in a bulletin board and chat/support group, email me at Stress Doc@aol.com. With questions, call (202) 232-8662 or mail me at:

Mark Gorkin Stress Doc Enterprises 1616 18th Street, NW #312 Washington, DC 20009-2530

5. Award-Winning Website. To remind you that there is a lot more material on my award winning, USA Today Online "Hot Site" website. It's also just been acclaimed a 4 Star, top-rated site, by Mental Health Net, the largest review guide of mental health, psychology and psychiatry resources online today. Go to www.stressdoc.com or <A HREF="http://www.stressdoc.com/">STRESS DOC HOMEPAGE</A> . Also, check out my AOL/Online Psych Page, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A> or Keyword: Stress Doc. Over 100 articles are arranged in 15 different categories:

Stress Doc Bio and Philosophy Stress and Burnout Managing Anger with Authority Power Struggles: Individual/Systems Teen Depression, Parents... Cyberaddicts Anonymous Good Grief Searching for Love Career Transition Humor: Art and Science Creativity Unbound Achieving Peak Performance Spiritual Exploration Readers/ Submissions

6. Readers' Platform. Please submit questions, comments, criticisms, cutting edge information as well as stories about how you've used humor to help relieve a client's, family member's or your own stress. I will gladly print your offering and credit you completely. (And thank you for using your spellchecker.)

REBUILDING THE FIRE From Burnout to Break Out

Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc"

During this season of regeneration, a variety of spiritual and visual symbols of death, rebirth and liberation invariably float to consciousness - from the resurrection of Jesus to Passover liberation, including the Angel of Death and the parting of the Red Sea. But the symbol that sings to my springtime soul most deeply transcends traditional religious faith; it exists on a more mythical plane. I'm referring to that paradoxical creature, the Phoenix. This mythological bird soared to new heights after being consumed by it's own destructive flames.

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

A Poignant Paradox of Peak Performance

Recently, I received a compelling email from a reader concerned that his ambitious fire and desire were going out. He was grappling with questions of burnout - a symbolic psychic death - and with setting new goals, that is, rising once again. But the reader provided an ironic twist. He now felt trapped by his peak performance. T. had achieved a status of martial arts champion at the Taekwando World Championships. In his field of business, he was one of the top leaders in his state. (I must admit, I'm experiencing some envy as I write this.) He had climbed to the top of more than one mountain, deservedly basking in glorified and rarefied heights. Yet, T. is left asking, "Have I reached a level of burnout due to...'what's next?!' What could I possibly achieve next?"

Our reader has an advantage over many: "(He) will not be terrified of future success or failure." And he knows "there are many goals out there." But ironically, this last piece of knowledge may contribute to his being stuck. And it may also be the key to discovering the pass in the impasse.

Mid-Life/Career Passage: Three Keys

Many undergo a "mid-life" or "mid-career" crisis. (And some who are precocious may start it prematurely.) Like our email protagonist, these individuals feel a sense of ennui; something's lacking. Their life does not feel genuine; the career no longer fits their professional and personal skin. Does one risk shedding a once bright coat of armor?

These folks may be experiencing a fate similar to Bjorn Borg, the late '70s- early '80s tennis great. Borg, after a nearly invincible five year run, dramatically burned out on the circuit. Perhaps one can only win the French and Wimbledon Championships back to back so many times. Maybe it's the endless hours of practice repetition. Or does the large ego bruise easily because you can't beat "Mac the Brat" at the US Open? Whatever the combination of factors, despite the money, travel and glory...there's the Bjorn Bored Syndrome: when Mastery times Monotony provides an index of MISERY!

Your niche of success has you now feeling stuck in the ditch of excess. It's definitely a critical crossroad, if not a "crisis." And as the Chinese symbol visually affirmed long ago, crisis is double-edged: you are enveloped in "danger" yet "opportunity." So here are three crisis keys for descending from the peak, retreating into your passionate shadows - in the most spiritually profound sense - and preparing for a renewed transformational journey.

1. Pursuing Life from the Inside Out. I suspect some of our reader's dilemma stems from a desire to fall back on a familiar problem-solving strategy -- "looking for the many goals out there" that he can master. Sometimes a personal inner search must precede passionate seeking and goal setting.

Gail Sheehy, in her bestseller, Passages, about transitions throughout the life cycle, had a chapter on "The Mid-Life Crisis." She posed four vital questions for assessing vulnerability and the intensity of the need to engage this mid-life, multidimensional maelstrom: a) Ideal vs. Real Self. How wide is the gap between self-aspiration and self- definition? And is this discrepancy a window for motivation or a black hole of depression? b) Security vs. Danger. What's the ratio between the predictable and the unexpected in your life? Does security yield confidence or ennui? Does danger mean challenging excitement or anxious despair or rigid constriction? c) Time Sense. Is time running out or does the horizon seem limitless? Of course, the former can propel you into goal-seeking while the latter may induce languorous inertia or dilettantism. d) Aliveness or Stagnation. This is a global measure, an existential indicator of one's heart and gut. Do you look forward to getting up in the morning? Do you have a genuine or, even better, a passionate connection with the people and projects, with the overall path, of your life?

Though sometimes we first must reach out to go deep inside. Seeking counseling or a coach, as T. did, is a wise move.

2. Passion Play. How does one rebuild the motivational fire or "keep it alive" to quote our existential subject. I believe, first, one must let go and acknowledge the loss. An image comes to mind of the professional athlete, caught by aging, slowed reflexes and, often, injury who fights against time and diminshed productivity. The stars who linger past their prime. They try to deny their mortality; dread losing the limelight and entering the uncertain, real world shadows. They do not want to grieve the end of their run. However, when encountering a major transition, we all need to confront what I call, "The Four 'F's of Loss": 1) loss of a familiar past, 2) loss of a predictable future, 3) loss of face, and 4) loss of a focus.

For we must let go to feel fully the pain, to tap into constructive discontent, to break open the box and discover anew our furies and passions. Especially passions based on our emotional and spiritual sides. Passion goes beyond the sexual realm. A good dictionary often pairs "passion" and "suffering"...as in "The Passion Play": the sufferings of Jesus or more generically the sufferings of a martyr. (Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman! You didn't think I was going to abandon completely our Easter and Passover themes ;-)

Suffering and Its Creative Discontents

And the clean suffering of passion, feeling and seeing purely, in an unclouded almost childlike way, has been often linked to psychic death and creative rebirth. Pablo Picasso, the 20thc. artistic giant, who often spoke of striving for childlike perception, observed: "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." We must break down old unchallenged habits of mind and senses, scrub psychic flotsam and jetsam, that confound our psychological, sensual and spiritual clarity. The fires of passion purify illusions and pair humility and conviction; righteous pride flames grandiosities. True suffering calms critical voices, soothes and releases us from dreaded fears. And, if we can meander awhile, accept our aloneness, blazing suffering sheds light on "the dark night of the soul."

As French philosopher, Albert Camus, observed: Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [or loved position, achievement, etc.] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain. And how do we accept the fact of loss? As I have 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 quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like Spring upon Winter, the seeds of disillusion bear fruitful renewal." So my friend, grieve and celebrate the descent from the peak. There are truly new and revolutionary inner mountains to climb, caves to descend or, perhaps, rivers and swamps to navigate.

3. Exploring the Shadow Side. Once you are living and letting go from the inside out and are diving into your passionate pool of pain...you are ready for the final exploration: discovering your shadow side. Carl Jung, a pioneering psychoanalyst and theoretician, saw "the shadow" as primal dimensions of the psyche, presently beyond our consciousness; part of our collective unconscious. Many are not comfortable acknowledging, let alone experiencing, these dimensions. For example, Jung believes we all have masculine and feminine sides. The shadow influences our persona - the face, if not the mask, we present to the outer world.

And the nature of the shadow/mask is colored, if not molded by the critical, shaming, self-doubting interactions from the past. We internalize hurtful and invalidating communication. Also, we absorb and defend against - consciously and unconsciously - the degree of humiliation, anxiety, rage, depression, emptiness, etc. of our early significant others. (Not to mention the biochemical gifts and vulnerabilities we inherit.) These painful messages and introjects (e.g., believing that you are bad or unworthy when an authority figure accuses you of being selfish for wanting to express genuine needs or feelings of upset) become the psychic albatross we carry on our journey.

Only by embracing our shadow side can we lighten - both illuminate and unburden - our emotional load. Only by courageously exploring can we discover the seeds of vitality and genuine identity embedded and disguised in the threatening shadows, masks and old voices.

The Wonders of Wandering and Communing

It takes time and quiet to wander meaningfully. Character, it is said, develops in interaction with others. Integrity is forged in solitude. One must have the strength to be vulnerable and be alone, to meander in the desert, to descend into the cave; to encounter the primal oasis and pool where the opposites of life, where both shadow and light, where that complex yet cohesive integrity, dwells. Here one discovers the expansive spirit.

Exploring and integrating our introvertish and extravertish natures is a profound mid-life task. And this is the final truth: To transform and rejuvenate a path means uniting our overt personality strengths and covert, suppressed shadow; it means building an uncommon, synergistic bond between our outer environment and our inner self; it means embracing the primal past, allowing it to breathe and dance, to laugh and cry...right now. And then come back from the desert, from the mountain top, from the subterranean nether world, and share your insights with others.

I will close with a favorite passage forged by the intense, persistent friction of profound self-doubt and determination: Errors of judgment or design rarely consign one to incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness. Our so-called failures may be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that widen and deepen the risk-taking passage. If we can just immerse ourselves in these unpredictably rejuvenating waters.

Until then, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Special Announcements:

a) email if you'd like to subscribe to my new, free newsletter, b) Leading a "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" for Digital City-Washington, the 2nd and 4th Mondays of every month, 9-10pm EDT. Field questions on stress, relationship issues, school/job problems, career transition, etc. Definitely a lively hour. Here's the link: <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Chat with the Stress Doc</A> c) Starting a Multi-Media Coaching for Consultants Program, especially (though not exclusively) for allied/mental health professionals, organizational trainers and consultants, counselors and educators. For information on the products and instructional services, including one-on-one online consultation, website design, bulletin board access and particpation in a chat/support group, email me at Stress Doc@aol.com.