The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

September 1999, No. 2, Sect. 1

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

Table of Contents

Announcements: AOL Chat Group and Q & A Links/Archives Q & A: The Real Dangers of Long Distance Virtual Romantasy a' Deux Shrink Rap: Complexity and Serentiy: Searching for a Spiritual Homeland Reader's Submission: Mother's Dictionary Sect 2: Main Essay: "Going Postal": Part IIIa -- Reducing Workplace Violence

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST: (Email for the link or go to Digital City--Washington, DC.) 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.

Special Announcements: 1)  For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Work Stress Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stres... and Love and Relationships  Digital City - Washington, DC - Relations . Also, check the Doc's Q & A Archives: Stess Doc's Q&A and Q&A: Love and Relationships . . 

Ask the Stress Doc Q & A/Digital City--Washington, DC Love and Relationships

1) The Very Real Dangers of Long Distance "Virtual Romantasy a’ Deux"

Q. Dear Stress Doc, Thank you for the advice you gave me in May when you responded to me regarding a relationship I had with a new Internet friend -- two professionals in unhappy marriages, rewarding jobs, each two children. I live in Iowa and he in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We were meeting in Minneapolis. You warned us: "It may be a slippery slope to travel."

Well, after realizing we were "soulmates," we simply had to consummate the relationship. We not only slid, but fell very hard! We are constantly frustrated by the fact that there are no easy answers for us to be together and how we could affect six other lives, forfeit jobs, border and custody issues. We even said our good-byes and, after two weeks, he simply needed to reestablish our relationship. As a nurse, I believe we were suffering, mutually, from a depression.

I have been visiting a Psychologist and am having difficulty coping with everyday reality. I am totally obsessed with a potential future with him and I know he is having some of the same difficulty. I am unmotivated to work, find it difficult to have a purpose in my role as mother and wife. As discussed with my therapist, we agreed, time will tell all. She has suggested to see each other as much as physically possible and let it unfold.

Our spouses are "status quo" and I realize no decisions are necessary at this time. I’m not sure therapy is helping me cope with day to day activities and wonder if I should change therapists? I have seen her three times and plan future appointments. My most outrageous thought has been to run away from everything and start a new life, but I realize it can’t be with him now. Thank you for any help you can offer us.

A. Sounds like you are into a pretty dangerous cycle of addictive-depressive highs and lows. If you don’t come down to earth and walk on solid ground, you might well crash or panic from your helpless and seemingly trapped state. And, alas, I’m a bit worried about your therapist’s advice: "see each other as much as physically possible." Frankly, I think she’s encouraging, if not a "folie a’ deux," then a "virtuality a’ deux."

Before proceeding, let me say I’m not sure what you mean by, "Our spouses are ‘status quo.’" Does this mean that both spouses are in the dark about the liaison? Or are they holding their breaths, if not their angry voices, in hopes it will pass? I will assume the former.

Long distance romance, especially one that has a secretive or somewhat illicit quality, when combined with a common plight, like a lifeless marriage, often makes for an overpowering state of "romantasy." Mundane, day-to-day relating be damned. It’s easy to believe that the long sought for soul connection has finally arrived. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the veracity of a soulful connection takes ongoing give and take, conflict and courage, not just amazing passion, to determine such an uncommon connection. (Did you know that one of the definitions of "passion" is not just sex, but "suffering," as in the Passion Play? I can just imagine you saying: "See, we are passionate: Sex is great, then the suffering engulfs us." Alas, passion as suffering relates more to a "dark night of the soul" grappling with one’s essential identity and integrity. But more shortly.)

Of course, this inability for regular f2f is the problem as you see it. Life, kids, countries, etc., have conspired to keep our mid-life Juliet and Romeo apart. From my perspective, subjective (in that I have had my share of codependent conditions of "romanatasy") and also without the benefit of in-person relating, here is the root of the crisis: you are attempting a real relationship in not just a virtual context, but also in an unreal one. And the unreality is less that there are third parties involved in these romantic triangles, but that you haven’t resolved the status of your relationship with the respective marital partners. Frustration, rage, desperation, depression…all predictable consequences of resisting confronting an illusion. And such turbulent emotions are anything but "status quo."

I strongly suggest not spending more time with your soulmate right now. In fact, I’d take a sabbatical; not necessarily terminate your relationship, but definitely place this romantic stew on the back burner. (And I'm aware of the pain if you do so.) First, you need to confront your day to day reality. With some good individual and couple therapy, grapple with the existential: should you stay and see if there is any potential for vital life in your respective marriages or use counseling to effect a painful yet, at this point, necessary separation. And in this separated state, from both husband and romantasy partner, I’d do some intensive individual work on your needs, fears, sense of fulfillment in various roles, strengths and values. Also assess the same for the other players in this far-flung drama. I might even consider a consult with a psychiatrist for some short-term medication in response your self-diagnosed state of depression; if the helplessness-panic feeling persists.

Of course, there’s a risk in this separate while self-examining before reconnecting or divorcing process. If both of you leave your spouse and/or children, there’s no guarantee under this less impatient and impulsive status, the two of you will continue as soulmates. And then, of course, you may feel totally bereft and alone. (And I would eventually cut off all communication if you are the only one to leave a spouse/family and get the proper therapeutic assistance.)

Your present "romantasy a’ deux" context seems to be sapping the life out of both of you. It’s also likely heightening tension and proving draining for respective family members, even if not acknowledged. I wonder if your husband and his wife aren’t enabling the "status quo" and are also avoiding confronting the respective dysfunctional marriages? Ultimately, all adult parties bear some responsibility for this myopic marital morass.

Many years experience as a couple and family therapist leads me to encourage the scary, uncertain path of individual and couple integrity. With your financial safety net and a willingness and a capacity for generating emotional (and/or biochemical) support, with the right therapist and support system (such as a 12-step codependency group) you can grow from this passion play. I predict your emerging from this dark night of the soul experience both feeling lighter and with a profound sense of having achieved meaningful enlightenment. And, of course, this higher path also allows you to…Practice Safe Stress! --------------------------------------------------------------

Shrink Rap™:

Grappling with Complexity and Serenity in the Search for a Homeland: A Millenium Tale of Two Modes and Mantras

From the fragmented to the focused, from the subway to the sublime…it's a millenium tale of two towns. Both ten-lettered words end in "ton" and contain seven common letters. The letters comprising the first two syllables of each location spell out a common everyday verb -- "washing" and "living." And geographically and culturally these worlds couldn't be more different. Yet, I'm determined to forge an economic and spiritual interdependence between Washington, DC and Livingston, Montana. The former is the most power-driven and bureaucratic of old eastern cities, full of blustering hot air and ringed by mountains. The latter, a most spacious and bucolic old western and artsy town buffeted by cold sweeping winds and surrounded by mountains.

(Forgive this digression, I have a history of living in and conceptually playing with seemingly contradictory cities. For example, I was born and raised in New York City, then went into creative exile for many years way down yonder in N'Awlins. Eventually there were no more mountains to climb in the bayou and I had this urge to move to Washington, DC. I didn't understand this compulsion until I got there. Then I realized that if New York City and New Orleans had a baby it would look like Washington, DC. Of course, I can't vouch for its legitimacy!

Let's push this conceptual city envelope. Just imagine if New York and DC tried to get it on. Think symbolically and big...think monumental. Can't you just see the Washington Monument trying to hit on the Statue of Liberty. And Ms. Liberty feistily replying, "Georgie, believe me...I like big men. You and I could probably rewrite all those Guinness Book records...But I believe in practicing safe sex. And where the heck will you find a big enough condom? And spare me the Goodyear Blimp. Please, don't flatter yourself." (Actually, I'm pleased to report, with the current refurbishing and scaffolding, the Washington Monument does appear to be engaged in safe sex practices. Also of note, this little conceptual chestnut was conceived years before the Clinton Administration. ;-)

Washington and Livingston: Diversity and Simplicity, War and Peace

Ah yes, Washington is always good for a joke and is the current home of Stress Doc Enterprises. It's a world of many roles and a wide variety of speaking, training, consulting, marketing, writing and shrinking engagements -- offline and online -- with organizational and individual clients. DC is the "District of Complexity," providing a diversifying, if not dizzying, array of experience and ongoing power-driven opportunity for expanding knowledge and skills, contacts and contracts. The concomitant challenge is avoiding burnout and fragmentation, and also arrogance. There are too many in DC, alas, under the illusion that they are more than just legends in their own minds. Still, if one can survive and thrive in this environment, there's the possibility of synthesizing this creative cacophony into an uncommon career path and enterprise.

Livingston, MT is where I shed my "Multi-Media/Online Psychohumorist" persona and embrace a newfound identity. Livingston is the first place I've resided when asked about vocation I say, "Writer." The significance of this, the fact that my heart is smiling as I write these words, is that the first twenty years or so was marked by a dearth of confidence -- no, make that feelings of inferiority -- regarding my writing ability. (Though I do fondly recall a passionate and prolific correspondence, a long-distance romance way before the days of email with a woman from Cleveland first encountered in a verdant park in Louxembourg. Thanks Diana.)

It's been a continuing battle to develop and recover cognitive skills and confidences long thought battered and bruised by childhood anxiety and depression. So creating a periodic writer's haven, uncluttered by multiple demands and tasks, in a world of beauty and serenity seems dream-like. Adding to the sense of wonder are some parallels (at least in my loose mind's eye) with my former land of creative exile - "The Big Easy." Both Livingston and New Orleans have their share of oddballs and outcasts, people who need a lot of physical and psychological space to invent characters and act out their own vision (or their hallucinations…it's often a fine line). These towns are for folks who want off the New York or LA Type A tracks. New Orleans was definitely the birthplace or, at least, the land of resurrection of my creative spirit. (And this southern muse influenced my western quest in another way: after sixteen years in New Orleans, a city below sea level, I definitely felt seasonally and altitudinally deprived.)

Let's get tangible…All it takes is a ten-minute walk from my residence, an historic turn of the century small hotel in the process of being lovingly renovated by the grandaughter of the original owners. Head down wide and sleepy Main Street, with mountains directly ahead as your guidepost. Then right at Sacajawea Park and Lagoon with the customary geese about. Except this park feels like a geese preserve. In fact, according to my hotel proprietor, a delightful raconteur, the town fathers tried to remove these hundred or so geese because of the endless scattering of geese poop. After relocating these fowl creatures many miles away, once again man learned not to mess with Mother Nature. Almost as soon as the trappers returned to Livingston so did the geese. Now people and poop mostly peacefully coexist.

And speaking of peaceful…on the other side of the road along the park and lagoon is an elevated gravel path. As one ascends the path, a startling discovery: the path is the top of a small-bouldered, thirty foot high levee. And directly below is the swift, white-watered current, one hundred-yard wide Yellowstone River. (A river and falls whose majesty I noted in an essay on my early summer trip to the National Park with the river's namesake...a mere 75 minutes from Livingston. Email if you missed the essay -- stressdoc@a .) At this juncture, the river divides and curves around a sandy, willow tree covered island. One late afternoon, the five o'clock sun was painting dazzling, glittering golden crystals upon the dark blue now speckled back of this rushing, soothingly hissing, mesmerizing, sidewinding, river bending water serpent. All I could do was lean back on a boulder and stare transfixed at this visual and primeval kaleidoscopic hallucination. And when some inner calling lifted my eyes skyward the background panorama went from grassy foothills to sparsely forested slopes into darkly and richly pine-covered mountains, culminating in saw-toothed peaks. In fact, some of the scenes from "A River Runs through It" were shot at this very venue. (I want to read the Norman Maclean novel.)

And still, my big city ambitious voice cautions against becoming too blissed and self-satisfied with a permanent pastoral retreat. So for now, Livingston and Washington are my Yin and Yang "Tale of Two Cities." Diversified Washington captures the essence of the mystical notion of "Many in the One" (MIO) - the challenge of harnessing the diversely rigid, occasionally imaginative and all too chaotic human and organizational power and inertia. And Livingston yields the sublime egoless state of "One in the Many" (OIM) - a chance to quietly connect a soulful wholeness within and the cosmic wilderness without. Even more improbable, perhaps a fusion experience with another on the edge, spiritual homeland seeker. MIO and OIM: new complementary, matching mantras.

For a man who must grapple with paradox, with diversity and unity, pride and humility, solitude and synergy, being cyclothymic, if not a tad manic-depressive…time will tell if this bold and soulful experiment will yield "the best of both worlds" or a house and business divided against itself. Until then, all one can do is have faith, trust in that Stress Doc aphorism -- "I don't know where I'm going...I just think I know how to get there!" -- and, of course…Practice Safe Stress! 

Reader's Section

Mother's Dictionary From:

AMNESIA The condition that enables a woman who has gone through labor to have sex again.

DUMBWAITER One who asks if the kids would care to order dessert.

FAMILY PLANNING The art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster.

FEEDBACK The inevitable result when the baby doesn't appreciate the strained carrots.

FULL NAME What you call your child when you're mad at him/her.

GRANDPARENTS The people who think your children are wonderful even though they're sure you're not raising them right.

HEARSAY What toddlers do when anyone mutters a dirty word.

TOP BUNK Where you should never put a child wearing Superman pajamas.

IMPREGNABLE A woman whose memory of labor is still vivid.

INDEPENDENT How we want our children to be as long as they do everything we say.

OW The first word spoken by children with older siblings.

[See Sect. 2 for Main Article.]

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website -  and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc

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