Saturday, April 9, 2016

“Top Ten” Stress Resilience Tools & Techniques for Surviving Trauma, Transition, and Everyday Stress

I have been a co-founding partner of the Be Well Initiative for the Nepali Diaspora in America.  The tragic April 25, 2015 earthquake ignited a vision for a friend and colleague, Dr. DK Gurung.  (DK called me a day after, both for some venting and to share his communal dream.)  Born in Nepal, he understood that mental health services were needed in the face of such a natural disaster, but not just for people living in Nepal.  The stress was also great for family and friends 10,000 miles from ground zero.  But beyond the immediate disaster, cultural norms, honor and shame, and indirect or secretive communication patterns made it difficult for Nepalis to fully acknowledge let alone discuss emotional issues of stress, anxiety and depression.  The US Nepali community had to come out of the trauma, immigrant transition, and pressure of “Pursuing the American Dream” as well as everyday stress, closets.

This past year, Be Well Initiative has put into motion “Stress Survey” data collection, mind-body wellness and mental health educational reach out, along with running focus groups at various community events, centers, and programs.  We will close out the year with a memorial EQ15 service on April 24th in Herndon, VA.  (Email if you’d like more information.)  As part of the interactive/community participation service, attendees will engage in small group discussion about past and present stressors and coping strategies.  Participants will also provide ideas for developing future mental health resources and services.  It should be a very moving, meaningful, and uniquely affirming experience.

“Top Ten” Stress Resilience Tools & Techniques
for Surviving Trauma, Transition, and Everyday Stress

This past year we have witnessed how imbalances and stressors in nature may suddenly erupt producing devastating consequences.  While not as cataclysmic, work-family-life imbalances and pressures may manifest in confusing, overwhelming and destructive, even life-threatening, emotions and behaviors.  As one Nepali community leader articulated:  “We too will erupt if our life gets out of balance, if we deplete ourselves, run ourselves to the ground, stretch ourselves thin, and live for all the wrong reasons.  We will either collapse into ourselves or explode onto others.”
We need a powerful stress tool kit to manage such stressors as: a) being emotionally connected to two homelands, b) separated from significant others as well as from geographical and cultural markers, c) everyday pressures pursuing the American Dream, including adapting to new cultural values, d) the challenges of finding meaningful employment, and especially, e) being an individual new to the US, feeling like “a stranger in a strange land.”

Perhaps most critical, as a community we need to affirm that reaching out for mental and emotional health services (the mind-heart) is as natural and normal as seeking help for physical illness (the body).  We must help our under-served community come out of the shadows of shame, stigma, and silence and discover a new horizon of hope!

Here is Be Well Initiative and the Stress Doc’s ™ “Top Ten” Stress Resilience Tools and Techniques for Surviving Crises and Everyday Stress:

1.  Find a “Stress Buddy.”  When it comes to stress, we initially may need to share our feelings outside of our immediate family, perhaps with a trusted friend or community leader.  Having another help put the situation in a more reasonable or calm perspective, may reduce feelings of guilt and self-blame and make it easier to later discuss the situation with family members.  If still relatively new in the US, it’s vital to have a “Stress Buddy” who understands the “trials and pressures” of immigrant stress.

2.  Speak to a Professional.  If you are feeling intense levels of stress, anger, and/or depression, with disrupted patterns of eating and sleeping, misusing alcohol and drugs or simply wanting to withdraw from life, it is time to speak with a person trained in providing mental health counseling.  There are Crisis Hot Lines for you to call.  If you are not sure where to go, contact one of the counseling/clinical members of the Be Well Initiative Team:

Bharati Devkota,  Nepali Speaking, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) – telephone # 443-742-2575
Anshu Basnyat, Nepali Speaking, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) – telephone #  443-574-3430; call for an appointment
Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) – telephone # 301-875-2567

3.  Join a Support Group.  Share your pain, purpose, and passion with a group of like-minded community members and a qualified facilitator; talking with one another, we lean on, learn from, and then provide an ear or a shoulder to our brothers and sisters.  Consider starting a Nepali/community support group.  BWI will be glad to assist.  Also, there are a variety of free, 12-Step Groups – from dealing with problem drinking (or being a family member of a problem drinker) to handling difficult emotions – located in schools, churches, community centers, etc., throughout the Greater DC-VA-MD area.

4.  Understand Change, Loss, and the Need to Grieve.  Whether it’s a devastating earthquake trauma or just a more quiet realization of missing loved ones, alive or deceased, no longer close by, or longing for our former life…we need to take time to remember.  The challenge of change is omnipresent for people adapting to a new land and way of life, or just going through transition.  Grief stages – shock, sadness, anger, fear, confusion, disbelief – are not just products of death and dying; grief can be stirred by the loss of a job, the loss of health and mobility, or the loss of a dream.  Grieving may help you make peace with both your past and present…and open paths for a more productive future.  Of course, there is not one way to grieve; each person has his or her own grief rhythm and time frame.  However, if after 2-4 weeks you are not back into your routine, find a trustworthy and understanding stress buddy or, even better, consider consulting with a professional counselor.

5.  Make Sleeping/Rejuvenating and Healthy Eating a Top Priority.  When it comes to sleep, we often provide solid guidance with our kids, but don’t follow our own advice.  Try to apply those sleep routine principles that you’ve designed for your children:  turn off the gadgets, take a shower or listen to soothing sounds of nature, or do quiet reading in bed.  And, limit alcohol and caffeine several hours before bedtime.  Meditation or taking a ten-fifteen minute “power nap” can be an effective way to rejuvenate during the day.

As for food and fuel intake, beware of picking up some of the sloppy eating habits of too many Americans.  Reduce your intake of salts, sugars, and saturated fats – those cans of soda and bags of chips.  Eat more fruits, especially the berries, and green and leafy vegetables; whole grains, beans and legumes and, if not going vegan, Omega-3 fish – salmon and sardines, are heart-healthy choices.  Listen to your grandmother!

6.  Get Regular Exercise.  Do you get thirty minutes of brisk exercise three-five times a week?  Regular exercise provides both physical and psychological advantages.  Thirty minutes (or even two fifteen minute segments) of vigorous, non-stop, large muscle movement activity – brisk walking, swimming, bike riding, dancing, etc. – releases brain chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine which are the mind-body's natural mood enhancers and pain relievers.  It's less a runner's high and more that we can step back and see things with a calmer disposition and fresher perspective. 

When stressed, everything feel’s up in the air.  The answer: to feel grounded.  There is nothing like a brisk thirty minute walk for creating a beginning and end point for a tangible sense of accomplishment and control.  Actually, you’re developing a “success ritual.”  And while I don’t always love to exercise, after my ten-minute “while still in bed” morning routine of stretching, sit-ups, push-ups, yoga positions, etc. and my early evening walk…well, I do like feeling virtuous.  And if you’re having difficulty getting started…find a walking partner.

7.  Learn to Say Set Limits.  During my workshops, more people have said to me, “Mark until I learned how to say ‘No’…I was living on the edge of stress!”  Remember, being a mature adult means that sometimes you will have to disappoint people.  For friends and family, for example, let them clearly know what you cannot do (at this moment in time) but also perhaps what you can do.  Give people the option to call you back in two days when your schedule might not be so busy. Naturally, expect that your initial “No” might prove upsetting.  But don’t overly explain your position; excess talking undermines your own sense of control and authority.  People see you as wishy-washy.  Briefly remind people of your stated position.

On the other hand, when relating with an impatient or “the sky is falling down” authority figure, e.g., the big boss at work, the key is not to let this person’s false or exaggerated sense of urgency become the only reality.  Remember, for something to be urgent or an emergency, it’s “life and death.”  Everything else can be prioritized.  So to regain some control, say to that boss, “I know this is a very important matter.  Because it is important, let’s take five minutes; help me prioritize – what should I put on the backburner while I focus on this new vital priority.”  Don’t let someone else’s false urgency become your anxiety!

8.  Identify and Defuse Stress Triggers.  We all have emotional areas in which we are especially sensitive or reactive – for example, someone questioning our honesty or intelligence, talking badly about a friend or family member, or trying to tell us how we must do something his or her way, etc.  We tend to overreact emotionally and verbally when someone hits our “hot button.”  To improve your capacity for self-regulation, before reacting:  a) take some deep breaths, b) pay attention to those “3 B” – Brain-Body-Behavior – stress smoke signals; as I like to say:  Count to ten...and check within, c) can I observe the other without making a snap judgement and if they are judging me not “shake, rattle and BLOW?,” d) learn to use assertive “I” messages instead of blaming “You” messages, for example, “I don’t agree” or “I am not comfortable with…” as opposed to “You’re wrong!” or “It’s your fault!”

Actually two of my favorite stress defusers also help set limits:

A firm “no” a day keeps the ulcers away and the hostilities, too.

Do know your limits and don’t limit your “No”s.

9.  Get Organized.  Chronic clutter in a room or office (or even a car) creates a messy mind.  Recognize that anger, fear, boredom, or depression often contributes to ongoing procrastination.  Develop an ABCD system:  “A” or “top priority” items deal with promptly; “B” or important items file in a “to do” file that’s visible or easily reachable; “C” items discard whenever possible; and have a “D” box or file for future reading or reference.  (Discard most items after a short period of time if not read.)   Again, if this ABCD system is not working, reach out to a concerned friend or a counselor.  Consider this variation of the “Serenity Prayer”:  Grant me the serenity to discard the things I really do not need, to save and file the things I do, and the wisdom to know the difference (or to brazenly eviscerate 90% of my in-box)!

10.  Discover a Hobby or Engage in an Art Project…Or Just Laugh.  A life that completely revolves around responsibilities to family and work, with no time for mind-body-spirit nourishment and rejuvenation, is a life at-risk.  Remember, burnout is less a sign of failure and more that we gave ourselves away!  Hobbies or art projects, engaging in sports or physical activity that especially integrate the mental-emotional-physical, e.g., digging in a garden, walking in parks or forests, going for bike rides, trying your hand at water coloring, writing poetry, playing tennis, regular meditation, taking dance lessons (research shows this is a an especially good activity for preventing dementia as it is both spontaneous and structured)…all enable us to step back, shift gears, have fun, and rediscover the sublime in nature and our true essence.  And if not quite ready for a hobby, at least read books or watch TV, videos, or movies that make you laugh.  Laughing with gusto is like “inner jogging,” giving vital organs a brief but hearty internal massage!

In closing, if you begin to apply these “Top Ten” tips and techniques you will become commander of your own stress ship, being able to navigate stormy seas and eventually reach your own island or homeland of mind-body-spirit resiliency and serenity.  Just remember…Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Polar Dance: Bi- or Otherwise (Some Stress Doc™ History and Lessons Learned at the Creative/Destructive Edge)

Here’s an introduction that sheds light on background musings on the final version of “The Bipolar Dance.”  Specifically, the degree to which I myself exhibit bipolar/more cyclothymic patterns – pro and con.  And speaking of revision, we had to reschedule last week’s Reality Radio show on addiction to Tuesday 3/29 at 8:30pm.  See below for details.  Hope you can tune in.

The Polar Dance:  Bi- or Otherwise (Some Stress Doc™ History and Lessons Learned at the Creative/Destructive Edge)

Staring at a Twelve Step Narcotics Anonymous poster during a Emotions Anonymous meeting, the obvious hit my cortex:  you don’t have to ingest substances (whether alcohol or all manner of drugs) or crave Internet porn to be out of control.  I can be powerless over my own brain chemistry!  On one level I’ve known this for years, taking prescribed medication for clinical/major depression.  (For much of my life, I have experienced “cyclothymia” – alternating periods of euphoric or agitated, high octane hypomania and low to premium grade depression.  Work that allows me to express and share my idiosyncratic, emotionally-sensitive/charged nature helps manage the peaks and troughs.  There’s also a low threshold for sharp spikes in either direction.)

However, I’ve been increasingly aware of a tendency in certain situations – typically infused with sexual, aggressive, or wounded ego energy – to react, not respond.  Feeling triggered, my sense of restraint and boundaries can take a back seat to perceived injury, frustration, and impulsivity.  Alas, this emotionally volatile trio rapidly start fueling and driving…now spiraling “over the edge” intentions and actions.  It’s possible the aggressive fever is a subconscious response to ward off looming melancholia.  And there’s historical perspective.  I’ve worked hard to:  a) accept a family tree weighed down with psychiatric labels all along its various branches and b) overcome a childhood legacy of bullying victim, family secrecy, along with emotional disconnection and intimidation.  A powerful consequence was the swallowing of, no, more often the denial of healthy anger.  Perhaps I have pushed the pit (in the stomach) and (psychic) pendulum too far.

The Double-Edged Dream & Dance

But not only perceived insult, injury, and/or invasion set off the urgent, expansive, and/or aggressive cycle.  Sometimes my amplification is ignited by an encouraging event or startling insight releasing a burst of energy and imaginative possibility, defiance and hope.  Whether logical or psycho-logical, time, events, obsessive noodling, and biochemical release will determine the cyclical course.  For the focused duration my hypomanic eruption somehow allows escape from the gravitational pull of black hole doubt and despair.

Not surprisingly, this capacity to rev up quickly and intensely has adaptive value.  As a motivational speaker, I can go from sitting quietly to rapidly energizing and commanding hundreds.  I recall a former IBM Manager saying she never saw a presenter take an audience from laughter to poignant sadness or reflection…and then back to laughter as quickly as the Stress Doc!  My “passion power” weapon:  playfully or provocatively turning the pain of threat and loss or a sense of injustice (my own and others’) into passion and purpose.  Using “higher power humor” to gently poke fun at my own flaws and foibles often wins over hearts and minds.

And as a writer, the capacity to blend mania and melancholia, to patiently and persistently hyper-focus, to sit and ponder ideas, whisperings, and doubts – my performance angst – has its rewards.  Having learned to tune out and turn inward, observation ensues with the mind’s eye.  Compelled to explore both the light and dark recesses of the heart, I plunge below the surface, retrieving emotional memories and luminous examples.  Swimming carefully through the verbal-visual reefs, I search for mental pictures, rhythms, and rhymes – the missing pieces of my vision (or is it hallucination?  It’s such a fine line).  This inner-directed, hypnagogic state eventually enables the simmering and smoldering to reach organic wholeness.  Ingredients excitedly relate and blend making an extra-ordinary concept-seafood gumbo:  part concentrated-sequential attention and spontaneous-unconscious reverie, part critical thinking along with clever word play; spice as needed with colorful or poignant metaphoric imagery.  And despite this confident analysis, very rarely is the recipe exactly repeatable; it’s unusual for the final product to have a totally predictable taste or texture.

The Challenge and Opportunity of Conscious Delay

But maybe there is something the reactive social being can learn from the self-absorbed word artist, especially the writer’s “Cave” persona, in contrast to the extroverted “Stage” persona.  Suddenly a rhyme hits:  Learn to digest and delay…find half-steps and shades of gray!  Perhaps I can move with more presence, respond at a more reserved pace; not reflexively feel compromised, constricted, or “unmanly” by being tentative, dependent, or subdued.  The challenge:  to gradually embrace uncertainty, and not be so quick to demand an answer or wrap up a problem.  Give up control; grow with the slower flow???  For a time, forsake leading for being observant; be more attentive to others’ needs as well as the overall situational context.  By way of example, despite my railing that the “e” in email stands for escape…perhaps better to send a text or email to inquire if a woman is interested in social exchange rather than call, thereby putting her on the spot…and my ego in the spotlight!  Will I be more boundary conscious?  Must I quickly determine my fate once and for all?  Can this ex-New Yawka become both more and less Type “A”:  Angst-tolerant as opposed to Anger driven?  Stress Doc heal thyself…walk your talk:  Practice Safe Stress!

Notes on the Poem:  “The Bipolar Dance” identifies some of the larger themes associated with cyclothymic or manic-depressive patterns:  lust, fantasy, and aggression, along with addictive or hyperactive cycling or numbing.  In addition, there’s often creative or spiritual grandiosity and the allure or final option of death – symbolic, glorious, freeing, escapist, or otherwise.  Alas, in a biochemically agitated state, tripping over the fine line between vision and hallucination or creation and destruction is not uncommon.  The poem also illustrates my dance steps – from initial seduction to fiery combustion, from heavenly illusion to disconnection if not disillusion…on the border of the mystical and the delusional.  But perhaps I’m ready to contemplate stepping back from the biochemical edge!

The Bipolar Dance

Why do I so quickly turn?
A simple gaze…oh, aching yearn.
Drink for the eyes, a closet dream
To fantasize…on Munch’s “The Scream?”
To look and listen ere leap and LEARN
To purr cat-like as hormones burn.

For a heart that sings
The mind will dance
On soulful wings
Of chemical trance.

To have a mind Touched with Fire **
As brain cells .comBust with desire
For red-hot passion, that “reborn” crave…
Now molten steely-eyed tiger brave.
Flames of the Phoenix…arise, aspire:
A Mozart choir funeral pyre?

For a heart that sings
The mind will dance
What karma brings
Just leave to chance.

I am the dope in dopamine
Manic or magic:  False Hope machine
Edging towards Dr. Freud’s obsession –
Tropic of sex, primal aggression
On verdant past that might have been…
For feline virgin on the screen
A mystic vision lies unseen.

For a heart that sings
The mind will dance
My own mood swings
For once, at last…I look askance!

**  Touched with FireTouched with Fire:  Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, title of a book by Dr. Kaye Redfield Jamison, renowned expert in the field; Jamison links uncommon levels of poetic, literary, and artistic production to acclaimed individuals who grappled with both manic and melancholic brain-behavior patterns, thereby infusing their work with a complex-creative intensity

©  Mark Gorkin  2016
Shrink Rap ™ Productions


Stress Doc & Communications Strategist Reality Radio Blog:
Human Connection in a High Tech World

Tuesday Nights 8:30-9:00 pm EST

Guest Call-in: 646-564-9624

Change of Date:

Surviving the Heroin (& Other) Addictions:
Reality Radio Podcast # 10, Tues, Mar 29

First order of business:  We have a new name for our show:  Human Connection in a High Tech World.  Inspired by my soon to be published book:  Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World, we believe this topic connects with all genders, groups, and generations.  Of course, our unique psychological-motivational-communication-organizational perspective, infused with our spirited and thought-provoking, interactive and FUN dialogue and debate remain the staple.

The Stress Doc ™ and the Communications Strategist examine a variety of “substance” addictions, e.g., in school settings, grappling with such issues as:

“Individual vs. Institutional Responsibility”
Healing power of family and community
Bridging technology and f-2-f
How to talk about signs of addiction
Power and possibility of “Peer Self-Help Group
Alternatives to working with the mandated client, and
Challenge of a communicating “individual responsibility” ethos without being judgmental

Hope you’ll tune in.
Mark and Emily

An Analytical-Spiritual-Mystical Odyssey: The Path and Power of Grief

As I clean out my cerebral attic, I’m on a campaign to publish four books.  Two are already completed:  Fierce Longing…Fiery Loss and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  (The latter will come out first.  More info to follow.)  Two remain: one on “Anger,” the other on “Creativity.”  However, the proverbial “elephant” in the attic (or the closet) that I have left basically untouched for over thirty years is my path to a mindscape-changing mystical-like experience.  And the elephant is finally trumpeting its frustration; it wants to be liberated…to roam free.

This is the first step in a mysterious journey.  I hope Part I of “Menagerie of Madness…The Mandala Moment” both intrigues and inspires.  For my mystical pathway and moment was somewhat unconventional.  Hours of meditation was not the midwife.  Nine months of grief labor yielded, in serene yet startling fashion, an inner child with cosmic consciousness.  Perhaps some people must flesh out closeted skeletal memories and flush out smoldering toxic resentments, wash their wounds with tears of mourning, before peace and grace can be achieved.  My new mantra:  Emotional irrigation precedes transcendental meditation!

I hope you will join me on this journey of discovery and recovery.  Peace!

Menagerie of Madness…The Mandala Moment:
A Mystical-Mythical Odyssey – Part I

Ready to Launch

Nine months on the cranberry-colored couch
Head-heart exploration three times a week
A discount price for a struggling student
Lost on the dissertation trail.
Probably need a time out
A tune out to turn inward
To dig out and discover
Who is this mind-body soul?

The analyst behind me out of view
Now what to do…?
To lie quietly, self-absorbed
And just free associate, whatever comes up
What a treat; like a mental massage:
A playground for the imagination
An unconscious brain journey
But with mindscape ruts and crevasses
And hidden trapdoors and floors…

The Depths and Shocks of Wonderland and Memory

Suddenly falling Alice-like
Into a dark hole…spiraling down
Through cracks in the head, heart, and gut
Into a depression, a valley of shadows
Awakening memory demons
Howling “listen to me, listen to me
Otherwise, don’t say you want to be free!”

But why do I so often cry…Why! Why!
Must I recall all the drama and trauma?
In a household of wounded souls
Little boys of all ages
One a distant father
Hiding depression…our disconnection
But how was the real little boy
Supposed to know
About his father’s hospitalization
Years of shock wires
For alleged “manic depression,” memory suppression
Feeding his other life drinking and carousing.
For when he was home
He would sit outside alone.
What was he thinking?
That the sun’s rays might touch a soul
Restore some humanity, maybe his sanity?

Another Mad Tea Party

The other, the black sheep uncle
Rusty, the trickster
Mistakenly thought retarded
Likely “schizo” from birth.
And my mother, his sister
Who lost a father
A proud businessman
To the Depression
His heart gave out
When she was sweet sixteen
Now has to pretend to be strong
Without being wrong.
The brilliant ringleader of a menagerie
Except when she explodes
And all the walls shake.

The Pillar

And her mother who was truly strong
An emotional saint; she was my buffer
For an angst-driven mother.
Though grandma hardly knew English
Her warm eyes spoke love in Yiddish.
“Gram” – a one woman psychiatric ward
She was called by a doctor
For keeping her “schizo” out of the bin
Until she finally died, then Rusty went in.

We did not need a big casket
From medical malpractice and diabetes
Gram had lost both her legs.
Yet she never complained
And her love caressed all in her range.
As I look back…it all seems so strange.

From Pillar to Panic

She was my higher power
After Gram died…sinking feeling
Our captain had abandoned the ship
Now gripped by dread-panic
All that bottled rage…constant static.
No one consoled me:
“He’s too young to understand.”
The impaired can’t see the wounded
Don’t want to face their own dis-ease.
So blinded…I stopped talking
To my angel in assembly.
And soon became a target
Leaving a “trail of blood”
For the sharks and wolves
In Junior High and the neighborhood.

Running for (or was it from) my life
Being chased after school
Teased and taunted
So ashamed to be haunted
Too fearful to break away
So I remain battered
Once again the black mood descended.

All I could do was self-numb and be dumb
From mindless TV to juvenile “R & R” –
Long lost moans and groans
Rubbing and Releasing those teenage hormones
With nowhere to go
No healthy ego
So I took the abuse and
Mostly lost any true voice
For two decades or so.
Tell me:  did I have any choice?

A Voice in the Wilderness…

Still for some of those years
I had a beloved savior
My mother’s youngest brother
Uncle Dave, an ex-marine and a ballplayer
Who, whenever he came over
The black cloud seemed to vanish
As we roughhoused together.
But then he got married
And had his own family
And moved upstate
I would visit…too little too late.

But then Dream Reality Descends

I recall a dream discussed on the couch:
My mother grasping my little hand
Pulling me along
The two of us trying to keep up
With Uncle Davy, walking much faster
As we chase after
But why is he leading us
Onto a WW II cattle car?
Heading to a hell so intense
Nothing makes sense, yet
For some reason I turn my head
And there sitting slumped in the corner
Is my strung out father…
Black holes for eyes
And there’s no time for goodbyes!

From Worse to Verse

And this reminiscing
On the couch shedding
Went on for months…
Then, magically, tears
Like water unto wine
Morphed into ink flowing
For the first time, poetry scribbling.
Truly startling…automatic writing
Nine tenths of the piece
Flowed out in one sitting.
An anthem to my father
Who, in miraculous fashion
Finally had resurrected himself
Spurred on by some woman
Who told him he was crazy
Stop being a petrified rock:
“You don’t need shock!
Get into counseling.”

Dad’s Odyssey/Our Journey

So he left the family
For his epic odyssey
To wrestle with Scylla and Charybdis  **
Raging demons prehistoric –
Psycho-logic and Genetic
In twice-a-week group
Mercifully, mostly therapeutic.

Eventually dad came home
Bringing the psychic battleground
Into our living room, to the sofa
Fighting out in the arena
For the first time over subjects
Once hidden and forbidden.
The Pandora’s Box was now open
And hope, though unspoken
Was a guiding light
Helping me follow his trial of terror and rage
To break out of our cage
Onto my own trail of tears couch.

**  Scylla and Charybdis – Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters.  Greek mythology sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was described as a six-headed sea monster on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.

Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning "having to choose between two evils". Several other idioms, such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" express the same meaning.  (Wikipedia)

Gestating on the Couch

Now once again lying prone
Immersed in the dark clouds
On my incubation vacation
Hatching more reason and rhyme
Of the pain connecting all in the brood
And their prismatic disorders of mood
Perhaps understanding
For the very first time…
The real blame was not mine.

A stream of sessions upon seasons
Of a wounded man’s life.
Waterfall orbs keep flowing
To irrigate parched lips
Trying to speak
An anguish that has no name
But a primal growl-painful howl
Deep, deep from within.

What the **** Going On?

Until the mind-blowing happens…
One fine day, seemingly ordinary
I lie on the couch with nothing to say.
Who turned off the cavernous wellspring faucet?
What’s going on?  What should I do?
A voice from behind to the rescue:
“Don’t say anything!”
Who can be silent when you haven't a clue?

The Mind-Shattering Moment

“Don’t say anything?”…to myself:
I’m paying for this!
Okay, stop fighting, give in
To the unknown quiet
A blank tablet
For twenty or thirty seconds…
Then the silent cosmic explosion:
Suddenly I am an infinite web
Invisible threads
Weaving in rhythm with the universe.
Hands outstretched…mere words
Simply more of the curse
Leaving the sensation untouched.
The only thing sensible
Though inexplicable
Embrace the ineffable.
I am part of all things
All things are part of me.
Later I would learn the expression:
“The one in the many, the many in the one.”
Now my own odyssey had surely begun!

Mystical Mindscape

Drifting… a stranger in a strange world
Hmm…not floating alone.
Yet how can this oneness
Be divided in two?
Wait…now I am outside
One earthly body on the couch
One spiritual body
Looking down from the ceiling
It’s all so confusing.
Is this a vision or hallucination?
It can be such a fine line
In psycho-analytic space-time!
Still…an intuitive feeling
A sense that I’m healing.

A realization:  the peace
Of being at one with everything
Means looking in the eye
Of lightning storm fears and dark night desires
While bowing down to consuming brain fires.

This is who I am
At this moment in time and place
In awe of and humbled
By something called grace.
And yes…I can still evolve.
Might this be a feeling of love?
If so…it’s beyond comprehension
But it has my attention.

The Polar Connection

So too my out-of-body polarity
What does it tell me?
That I’ve been tortured too long
By seeming contradiction
This schism…a psycho-cultural fiction
Pitting courageous-coward
Self-centered, aggressive mania
Too accommodating melancholia
Splits from within
Which is the real sin!
Remember, the mantra for the day:
Burnout is less a sign of failure
More you gave yourself way.

Grieving as Conceiving

And in the silent space
Uniting sensual and spiritual
With an aura of the mystical
Conceiving is believing
Aha!…the nine months of grieving
Emotional wailing and weaving
Cleansing the wound, purifying the soul
Being reborn through elan vital **
Appearing in the flesh
A flash of peace and quiet
Transforming inner rumbling and the riot –
A kaleidoscopic tapestry of prophetic insight
That no longer could be denied
Though, lord knows, I have tried!

** elan vitalÉlan vital was coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in his 1907 book Creative EvolutionElan vital was translated in the English edition as "vital impetus," but is usually translated by his detractors as "vital force."  It is a hypothetical explanation for evolution and development of organisms, which Bergson linked closely with consciousness – with the intuitive perception of experience and the flow of inner time.

An Echo Calling…an Electric Current

The mythic-psychic-genetic echo within
Has been waiting for me
To hear my calling
And see the luminous light of day.
To raze and reconstruct
The Tower of Psychobabble
Turning ancient “critical voice” torment
Into meditative ferment
Replanting brain cells in fresh soil
Constructing a new ark
For shepherding my emerging grit and gifts
Prodded gently and not so
By electric current memory, by hypnotic imagery…
Staring and listening and trusting
In wisdom and wizardry
To power creativity, realizing my fullest self
Without, of course, becoming too full of myself!
Am I up for the challenge?  Am I ready to embark?

Stay tuned for the answer!  Until then…Practice Safe Stress!

©  Mark Gorkin  2016
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World: Writings, Raps, & Rhymes

Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World
Writings, Raps, & Rhymes on Stress Resiliency,
Burnout Recovery, and Digital Sanity

Everyday our world becomes more TNT – Time-Numbers-Technology – driven and distracted.  And if human traits were species, two of the most endangered would be Integrity and Intimacy ("I & I").  Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World is your road map of “writings, raps and rhymes” for:
1) putting some distance between yourself and, for example, insomnia and media-mania or family trauma and office drama,
2) discovering, designing, and digging your own mind-body-spirit passage.  And, perhaps most valuable,
3) its wit and wisdom just may inspire you to reach out and touch, to share and connect with fellow “I & I” explorers.

Take Home Personal Road Map/Survival Skills

An insightful and inspiring 135-page guide, Preserving Human Touch… encourages each reader to embark on his or her own inner journey of self-discovery and self-resiliency.   Surely, this is the foundation and pathway for vital (not just virtual) “f-2-f” (face-to-face) connection.  Toward this end, you will unearth such survival and maturational skills as:

1) laughing at your own flaws and foibles while also using healing humor to deflate and detoxify noxious stress carriers
2) discovering the Stress Doc’s stress resiliency and brain agility “Formula for Natural SPEED”: Sleep-Priorities/Passion-Empathy-Exercise-Diet
3) breaking down “The Silent Wall of Shame”
4) dancing the “Burnout Boogie” and exploring the “Six ‘R’s Road of Burnout Recovery”:  Running-Reading-Retreating-Writing-Relating-Risk-taking
5) preventing yourself, friends, and family or your team, department, and organization from “Going MA&DD” (through Media Addiction & Digital Distraction) and “Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide”; (it’s obvious that the Doc is the founding member of a new 12-Step AA Group:  Acronyms Anonymous).

A Mix of Meaning and Magic...and Battlefield Experience

Whether poetry or prose, purposeful or poignant, the language is colorful yet clear – a tapestry of meaningful substance and magical style.  You’ll discover down to earth tools and techniques for “Stress Resiliency, Burnout Recovery, and Digital Sanity.”  So too enlightening insights to help find or newly conceive “the pass in the impasse.”  This ingenious synthesis is best captured by the “Stress Doc’s” ™ quest to be the Dr. Seuss of Stress for Adults (and kids of all ages).

First, the book is the painful, playful, and soulful outpouring of a one-of-a-kind – stage and pageword artist.  Mark’s hats also include therapist and “Psychohumorist” ™, motivational speaker, “Reality Radio” Podcaster, and “Shrink Rapper” ™.   And he’s a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service(The Doc is battle-tested!)  In addition to raps and rhymes, there are popular essays and Q & As – over forty selections of varying size, substance, and style.  Next each Shrink Rap ™ or Resiliency Poetry sample is illuminated by a brief intro that:  a) sheds light on the context of the work or b) explains how the piece came into being.  Finally, the “R & R” selections – Raps & Rhymes – close with Discussion Questions to enrich engagement and expand awareness.  These head-heart provocateurs also will facilitate meaningful group discussion, whether at the family table or hanging with friends, at book clubs, or in a classroom or workshop setting.

So seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor:  May the Farce Be with You!

Don’t miss your appointment with the Stress Doc.