Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist ...Read More
If you missed the first part of this series, you can view that here.
Boomer or Bust: The Interplay of Choice, Cluelessness, and Constitution
As mentioned, aging frequently has surprises in store: like the seemingly “sudden” appearance of significant or serious medical problems. These “unforeseen” health issues typically have external and internal roots in such realms as: a) repetitive motion injury or slow erosion lifestyle and nutritional choices, b) exposure to environmental toxins and social-psychological-family-organizational dysfunction and, as noted, c) genetic predisposition and family history. Lifestyle choices, including lack of exercise as well as exercise-related injury or repetitive trauma, along with food or substance use and abuse, invariably catch up with us. Our choices and how we handle life’s stressors contribute to “organic” – mind-body – erosion as well as dangerous inflammation or clogged artery build-up. (And sometimes you have no clue, especially when engaging in supposedly health-promoting exercise. For example, a few years back, a bone spur in my inner ear fostered the growth of a mass – finally diagnosed as non-tumorous – that had to be surgically removed. PAINFUL!!! According to my ENT surgeon, the culprit was years of swimming in cold water at the YMCA pool! And it had been years since my lap swimming days. P.S. I love Dr. M, but this time his “ear-side manner” left something to be desired. Don’t let your doctor do this procedure without giving you some serious pain killer. GRR! In fact, if you’re ever dealing with a terrorist, and feel morally queasy about waterboarding, try sticking a sharpened scalpel inside the individual’s non-anesthetized ear.)
However, ongoing stress and strain (from the psychic to the ergonomic; hey, being seated all day can be dangerous) are not merely contributors to present day maladies. Akin to the impact of erosive weathering on an archeological site, eventually, human wear and tear invites diagnostic assessment. Closer scrutiny may reveal the physical and physiological effects of genealogy as well as long-ago illness or childhood trauma, no longer masked by the protective or defensive cover of youth.
Finally, if one removes those rose-colored glasses or in-your-own-world headphones and periodically casts a sober future gaze or listens for a deep inner echo, intimations of setting-sun mortality loom upon the horizon. (Of course, even death doesn’t end the ongoing spiritual energy argument.)
The Benefit of Seeing the “End” Zone
However, not wanting to be labeled Moody Mark, a “glass is always half-empty” kind of guy, (actually, I believe it’s usually half-empty and half-full), let me highlight one potential benefit of the aging process: for the stretch run, sometimes we push ourselves just because time is running out. When time and energy is a finite resource, and we truly recognize the yin-yang interconnection between vitality-vulnerability, we’re often more selective about the mental spaces we inhabit. Will one focus or meander; are you “on,” or do you need restorative downtime? At a certain point in a life journey, we are more discriminating about our pace and the races we choose to run. For example, my 60 + girlfriend just fulfilled a lifelong dream – going on an African Safari. While it was a fairly upscale adventure, scaling parts of Mt. Kilimanjaro definitely took stamina. (Of course, it helps being a daily jogger.) D. knows she can’t be a lion tracking, mountain climbing grandma forever. However, this retired teacher is determined to add check marks to her “bucket list” sooner rather never, that is, before her mind and muscles say it’s too late.
Returning to one’s Spiritual Homeland
I can relate, especially in the cognitive-performance arena. Having been the Stress Doc ™ lo these many years, I am beginning to expand my speaking and workshop focus to once formative areas. While it infuses all I do, until recently I have not led programs on “Passion Power” or “Creativity,” per se. A subject in hibernation is now radiating a sultry, Siren-like call from just over the proverbial horizon. To paraphrase a quote by T.S. Elliot, the current journey appears to be taking me back spiritually to my “coming out of the creative closet” birthplace; a return to my N’Awlins/”Big Easy” – American in Cajun Paris – creative roots and tentative-formative years. Perhaps I may now truly understand and subsequently share this long-hidden “creative energy” wellspring and “rite of passage” for the first time.
One stimulus for the arena shift has been the response to recent “Passion Power” speaking/workshop programs. People have been captivated and definitely want more. Perhaps the other spur has been my recent health scare, especially in the context of entering the Golden Years as a speaker. Putting further touches on a legacy (hey, don’t worry, I’m still “a legend in my own mind”) as well as capturing and conveying your essence and fiery spirit becomes the driver.
Can a Phoenix Keep Rising from the Ashes?
Let me begin by providing some historical background. Exploring the subject of creativity and cosmic revelations had been part of my daily doctoral studies many moons ago. (The “out of body” and cosmic revelations were triggered while lying on the psychoanalytic couch. There was about nine months of intense, 3 times/week analytic grief work before the cosmic epiphany.) However, trying to tackle a mystical dissertation topic in a traditional doctoral program mostly achieved, when academic flashdancing whirled to a burnout tango. I had to give up my doctoral studies; though, in fact, this humbling loss and ego blow spurred the quest to become a multi-media Stress Doc and Psychohumorist™. While building a private clinical practice, within a two-year period, I had broken into local radio and Cable TV, and was even exploring the edges of stand-up comedy. (Presently, the economy and webinar technology have definitely reduced the number of Stress Doc speaking gigs. Perhaps it’s time to emerge from the Stand-up Psychohumorist ™” closet!) As Nobel-Prize-winning author and philosopher, Albert Camus, observed: Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one (or loved dissertation topic/stress expert identity) obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain.
Letting Go/Letting Flow: Danger and Opportunity of Crisis
Whether the loss and subsequent pain is razor sharp or chronically corrosive, it often severs a connection with the once irreplaceable or with the “comfortable” status quo; conversely, it may sow or trigger the unpredictable or unimaginable. Here’s what’s no longer optional: psycho-babble or business as usual. Many significant letting go experiences are shaped by numerous “no exit challenges” and converging if not chaotic emotional streams – shock, rage, fear, sadness, guilt, helplessness, even relief – of grief. Being “outside your comfort zone” can be exciting and dopamine-enticing; in reality, it’s often fraught with uncertainty if not danger. Such a dynamic, double-edged process only takes place when one is genuinely in the arena; you are caught up in a space-time ecosystem that compels grappling with heart- and soulful loss and change. And as many luminaries have noted, it takes “first-rate intelligence” (to quote famed 20th c. author, F. Scott Fitzgerald) to hold contradictory ideas in the mind simultaneously. Wrestling with this Yin/Yang interplay between vulnerability and courage assists in the conscious and intuitive carving out of a “path less traveled.” You are now forging a passage of novel yet meaningful possibility and engagement. And remember, this eventuality is often enhanced by an unprecedented, gripping need to reach out for a critical lifeline when “in over your head.” (Of course, some folks will cling to their comfort zone. If a person can’t see what’s right in front of their face, the issue is likely inside their head. Using repetitive logic to get the person to “let go” is often an example itself of not letting go. The issue, alas, tends not to be logical, but more psycho-logical! See if the person is amenable to talk with a helping professional.)
Fortunately, the regenerative grief pathway is “long and winding.” We may need to ebb and flow, to experience more than one painful “let go,” to periodically grasp a consoling arm, to crawl along more than one humbling yet hard-earned wisdom path…before discovering that grief and future transition are potentially magical in their own mysterious ways. As I once 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 cries and streaming tears prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal. Amen and women to that!