Upgrading the (Shrink) Rap(TM) on Mental Illness: The Challenge of Criticality…The Criticality of Being Challenged

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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

Once again I’m reminded that when writing something “really good,” it’s vital to get feedback from an objective-critical source. And this time, I even managed to take full bore feedback from my toughest critic: my 91 y.o. mother (who still manages to do the Sunday NY Times Magazine Crossword. Living with my brother and his wife, I typically make a monthly family visit.) I showed her my most recent rap: A “Passion for Change”: The (Shrink) Rap™ on Mental Illness. This Resiliency Rap™ was written for “Passion for Change.” PfC is a non-profit, 501c organization that educates and encourages the media to provide a more balanced/objective depiction of mental health and mental illness.

During the feedback session, perhaps the clearest sign of “comfortable in my own skin” evolution was being able to consider her heated protest (she was “getting sick” of all the “Passion, oh Passion” choruses) without losing my cool. In the past, I would likely have channeled my anger and defensiveness by affirming within myself, or attempting to “show her,” the value of my position. Hey, she could be a daunting adversary. As a procrastinating teen and young adult, she would pointedly pull from her brainy quiver words of the ancient Roman poet Horace: To begin is to be half done; dare to know…start! (And you wonder why I’m such an expert on stress, guilt, and neurosis.)


Today, I could accept her being “convinced” of her rightness without losing my own conviction, trusting my gut as to what “felt right” without the need for justifying, defending, winning (or winning her over).

She did like most of the creative wordplay sandwiched in between the choruses. In fact, I reduced the number of “Passion” refrains; however, consolidating not eliminating, keeping the best and tossing the rest. (Actually, I did have to “let go” of a pearl: The passion in compassion.)

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In addition, she enjoyed hearing a tangential musing that I often share with speaking audiences: my uncommon take on the “s”-word for “passion”. (It’s neither “sex,” nor “soap opera,” nor the Washington DC-related favorite…”Senator.” Alas the latter is a bit passé after Mr. Clinton’s memorable performance. Actually, with a good dictionary, the “s”-word for “passion” is “suffering,” as in “The Passion Play”: specifically, the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, the sufferings of a martyr. Mom even laughed when I couldn’t resist the punchline: “Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!” Definitely a groundbreaking and loving, trust-building moment for the two of us.

Letting Go and Designing Flow (with the help of family and friends)

Let’s get back to the theme of the essay. Mom’s challenging feedback not only shook up the puzzle, it made me mentally restless. This “constructive discontent” freed a basic recognition: I had not sufficiently set the stage for the purpose of the poem within the Shrink Rap itself. (And, yes, I had given more presence to the “passion” choruses than was warranted.) Suddenly, there was a window for adding subject matter content, now in machine-gun rhythmic, Tom Lehrer-like fashion. (Here’s a gift: google a video clip of this ’60s Harvard mathematician and satirical-political writer-piano player-singer extraordinaire.) The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth stanzas make a case for the digital age, stress, and mental health being linked, and why we must be more knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.

Also, noteworthy, I’m definitely dancing on the creative edge in these stanzas: inventing new terms, slipping in a mythical-biblical reference, using genome as a verb and byte for bit. The rap is substantively, not cosmetically, enriched; no trivial feat these upgrading at the push of a button daze!

I also received on point feedback from CJ, a friend and creative colleague (visual artist). Her critique motivated a search and design mode for more descriptive or evocative terms and phrasings. For me, the challenge of creative writing, especially poetry, is weaving meaningful conceptual content into thought-provokingly memorable and, when possible, en-light-ening images, sounds, and rhythms. The realm of Shrink Rap allows me to truly sew and spread “word artist” wings. Hope you too will take flight. Naturally, would love any and all feedback. Enjoy!

A “Passion for Change”: The (Shrink) Rap ™ on Mental Illness: A Preamble

You say you’re ready to “change for passion.”
Sure, you’re hip to the latest fashion.
But will you really rearrange your brain…
Ready to work with a “Passion for Change”?

Same sex marriage, legal marijuana
Are we all going California?
There’s a case both pro and contra. Still…
Go west young mind – time-honored mantra.
But one big issue lies undercover
A source of disgrace for nameless “others”
Yet sleepless nights for mothers and brothers…
Hard to wo/man-up in a shame-breeding culture
Must Mental Illness still be the “closeted vulture?”

There is but one reason why
For this fiery hue and cry…
Mental Illness, my friend, this is no lie
Is American as apple pie!

The (Shrink) Rap ™ on Mental Illness

When it comes to knowing inner demons
Life’s seasons yield all too human reasons:
Childhood trauma, chronic OCD
Addiction, abuse, brain anomaly
SAD, bipolar, or PTSD…
Finally, rounding out our litany
Baring fall color intensity
And spice of soul variety
DSM disorders of personality.
Oh biochem-branch of our fallen family tree
Will you genome more labels or bloom creativity?

Still…there’s a “new normal” equality
Of this you must agree:
With “off the grid” anxiety
Patience is now a luxury
And OMG…Everyone is ADD!
So forget “To be or not to be?”
You’re likely viral if not a byte crazy!

Passion, oh passion
Not just mindless action
Passion, my passion
Sowing seeds of compassion

Can mental illness be a deviancy?
When one out of two, says the CDC
One day’ll show symptoms, predictably.
Now think about that…it might be you or me!

With mental illness most play a blame game
“Get it together, stop being so lame.”
Or we shake our heads: “It’s such a shame”
Now you’re only a diagnostic name.

Passion, oh passion
“Touched with Fire”** interaction
Passion, our passion
The blazing pain of compassion

MI – Myocardial Infarction
A disease worthy of all our attention.
But MI – the Mental Illness version
It’s only an “in your head” perversion.

With a heart attack, you don’t get no flack
We rally troops and fight the no good plaque.
With a mind setback; wrong side of the tracks.
For the mentally ill there is no slack!

Passion, oh passion
Drives human exploration
Passion, my passion
Moral compass of compassion

This mental health rap is not meant to scare
But we still need to play “Truth AND Dare”
Especially when a family affair
That touches all whether distant or near
And it touches all for whom we care.

Mental illness breeds when slighting human needs!
With meds and counseling we can stop the bleed
With jobs and housing – a chance to succeed.
To change heads and hearts takes both word and deed
When one breaks out another soul is freed
Join Passion for Change; help share the lead!

Passion, oh passion
Past time for indignation
On beyond compassion
It’s time for a decision!

Passion, my passion
A mind’s sacred mission
Passion, our passion
Will YOU commit to action?

** Touched with Fire” – The title of Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament; Jamison, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University Dept. of Psychiatry, also authored the best-selling autobiography, An Unquiet Mind.

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