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No longer able to push aside a case of mental exhaustion, homeward bound was seeming less a reunion and more rehabilitation. From mom's home cooking, dad's life-saving (not face-saving) wisdom and "The Big Apple's" cerebral and cultural rejuvenation, the message was unavoidable and achievable!

Confronting a Case of the Brain Strain
The Stress Doc's Guide to Stress Braking Away

Well, the brain strain definitely hit this past weekend. Actually, it had been building over the last few months: an increasingly paced mental treadmill of writing articles, answering email, workshops, out of state consultations (the travel was a relief, the regret was playing catch upon return), online chat groups, a few therapy clients…Stress Doc heal thyself!

So why do I allow this runaway stress? Ah, once a depressive Type A trying to erase a core sense of not being good enough...When you are egoal-driven, the bar of success, fantasized achievement or glory always gets raised just a little bit higher than your grasp. So these periodic micro burnouts help keep the grandiosity in check. The process becomes a retreat providing quiet reflection, humility, perspective and, even, biochemical readjustment. Sometimes I even learn to scale back on the self-imposed demands and expectations. Mark, remember "The Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!

So for father's day weekend, I Amtraked up to the family haven in Queens, NYC. Upon my evening arrival, mom, bless her heart, made a chicken sandwich with her cranberry and fruit mold special on real rye bread. Yum! Only topped by Sunday evening's homemade chicken soup with a potato knish. Talk about returning to one's cultural and culinary roots. Regression in the service of a weary and hungry ego!

After about ten hours of sleep, and a garlic bagel, lox and cream cheese with tomato Saturday breakfast, I was definitely ready for a little tennis with my old man. Considering he's had a fairly traumatic year, a significant stroke and several mini strokes, that he can still move at all on a tennis court is pretty mind boggling and inspiring. Most impressive was how this classic aggressive, impatient Type A ex-salesman has begun to accept his condition. The mini-strokes finally made him realize he can't do heavy lifting, must rest between even moderately strenuous activities and (the biggest challenge) he has to avoid stressful encounters with people.

Of course, after tennis, he seemed headed for a confrontation with a fellow senior whose car was partially blocking an entranceway to the parking area behind the building. With his perceptual field mildly impaired, dad wasn't sure he could clear the other car. When the guy impatiently told him, "You got plenty of room," testy words were exchanged. My father even mentioned his visual impairment. This other character snaps back with a sneer, "Well maybe you shouldn't be driving." Oh, oh…here comes the blowup. (This reflexive assumption was also based on my roots.) In years past, dad would have jumped out of the car and been in the guy's face. Now he mumbled, "You asshole," negotiated the squeeze and drove on. I agreed: "The guy wasn't worth one degree of raised blood pressure."

Then I went from family drama to dramatic musical, with a stop in between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nothing like gazing at Cezanne's and Van Gogh's (especially while having time over the weekend to read about the latter) to ebb and flow between the serene and the passionate. More psychic rejuvenation! (One of these days I'm going to get back into painting. I just loved applying oils on a virginal canvas. I still like applying those oils; just haven't found many virgins…No, I'm just being a smart mouth ;-)

Oh yes, the musical. My folks convinced me the Broadway show to see was the bawdy revival of "Cabaret." And despite knowing the performance was "sold out," I trekked from W. 81st through Central Park, on a glorious cool blue sky summer day, to the theater on 54th between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Started an "if someone doesn't show, ha, ha, fat chance" ticket line in the lobby. Well, the muses were with me. A woman on a senior center theater excursion had an extra ticket. The price was HIGH, but we quickly negotiated a 40% discount. Incredulously, I was literally front row; two feet from the stage. Boy did I enjoy the view when the Kit At Girls, dressed in alluring, 30s, Berlin cabaret costumes started flirting with front row patrons. (Where were those oils when I needed them, damn?) So this brief incubation vacation stimulated all kinds of hormones and juices.

And, hopefully, this will be a double-barreled wellspring rejuvenation process. Work will take me to the wilds of Wyoming this week. But, first to the Weather Service Office in Cheyenne. Then, with 3 days between the next consulting gig, I'll explore the Wind River Mountain Range and Shoshone National Forest. (A few hundred miles southeast of the Grand Tetons.) Who says urban and wilderness are inextricably opposed? Both worlds will be helping me…Practice Safe Stress!

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 - www.stressdoc.com  and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc

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