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Don Laird

The Accidental Existentialist Issue 3

Read the SUMMER 2018 edition of The Accidental Existentialist now or download it to read later. In this issue you will find great articles and new works by mental health professionals Dr. Chloe Paidoussis-MitchellMorgan Roberts, Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk and Don Laird. We would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below – Enjoy!

The sun struggles up another beautiful day,
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way,
Despite the contradiction and confusion,
Felt tragic without reason,
There’s malice and there’s magic in every season…
— Elvis Costello

TAE_JanFeb18_Issue1
Click Cover to Read or Download PDF

In spite of the sunshine and best of intentions, the summer months can sometimes feel like a glass half-empty, glass half-full question. It is the noontime of our seasonal clocks and, in my case, a faint reminder of the noontime of existence. Seasonally we are poised to reach our yearly zenith of sunshine, warmth and outdoor activities. Yet, at fifty-two years of age I am situated well into the second half of my life. With luck, I might have another 30 years, but the reality of it is, and existentially speaking, there are no guarantees. For all intents and purposes the shadow of death grows just a bit larger with each passing day. Unlike when I was in my thirties, I feel it now. It’s not a concept, theory or construct; it’s physical and it can haunt my thoughts at the damndest times. The words of Nietzsche seem to echo for me these days in a different, but comforting way, “We would consider every day wasted,” remarks Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “in which we had not danced at least once. And we would consider every truth false that was not followed by at least one laugh.” May your summer be long and filled with as many hopes, dreams and fulfilled wishes as you can imagine.

Peace,
Don

In this issue:


(Smultronstället) Wild Strawberries: Therapy and the Art of Aging
by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineSince their inception, motion pictures have allowed us to explore the human condition through an amalgamation of sound, lighting, editing, musical score and performance, coupled with traditional storytelling. To claim that one film more than any other illuminates the arc of human existence that it has become a standard by which all other films of its type shall be measured may seem like an overstatement. Yet, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries manages to accomplish this in 90 minutes of postwar beauty. Read more…


Love Wins: Groundbreaking LGBTQIA Leaders Through History  
by Morgan Roberts, MSPC

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Every June, there are Pride Parades throughout the country and world, celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual individuals. Nevertheless, there are many who continually attempt to invalidate the lives of those in the LGBTQIA community. More conservative states frequently pass legislature hindering the community which contradicts public opinion. The Human Rights Campaign reported in 2014 that 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality, with 61 percent of people favor allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Read more…


Grief Matters: Living with Loss
by Dr. Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell, Cpsychol, UK Chartered Counselling Psychologist
(Follow her blog at https://dr-chloe.com

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As a Grief Psychologist, I have the privilege of working with people from all over the globe who are struggling to find a way to embrace life meaningfully again after a very painful loss.

Grief is inevitable. All of us will experience it at some point in our life and how we respond to it is unique to us. Grief is a personal, psychological response to the death of a very loved one and when it happens – whether expected or sudden – it is painful, disorientating and knocks our sense of who we are, how we are and what feels relevant and meaningful again. In grief, our regular way of being is no longer relevant. People often talk about feeling lost and alienated. Read more…


The Impact of Chronic Stress
by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

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Stress is difficult to contend with for many. Chronic stress has the potential to impact an individual’s physiological and/or psychological health and well-being. Long-term, the probability exists for stress to spillover into important facets of daily life, and affect an individual’s capacity to function.

HPA Axis
Health related issues begin systematically, many times, prior to an individual having awareness of physiological and/or psychological issues being present or the associated long-term effects. The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis has an important role in fighting and managing stress. Read more…


Do you have an idea for an article or would you like to contribute to our magazine?

This is your opportunity to submit educational and informative content that promotes growth in all aspects of mental health issues from an existential or humanistic perspective. Upon publication of your article, you will receive a $25 stipend.

Submit your queries at eTalkTherapy.com/submit.

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Don Laird

BOOK REVIEW: As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling

by Don Laird

The pen of Rod Serling was on fire during television’s first and finest golden age. Serling crafted some of the most memorable and engaging live anthology dramas, while later going on to create, host and write for what is now recognized as a show that was far ahead of its time, “The Twilight Zone.” He was at the top of CBS’ Pantheon during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Curiously, The Twilight Zone may appear as nothing more than a black and white production full of aliens, shapeshifters, gremlins, time travelers, malevolent dolls, missing astronauts, and a list of memorable characters as far as the mind can imagine. After all, Mr. Serling both cautioned and tempted us with the opening lines of his now famous introduction to Season 1, “This is the dimension of imagination.” And imagine, he did. Yet, The Twilight Zone was never really about the trappings of science fiction or those overwrought narrative twists, it was about the folly of humankind, and the very nature of our existence. It was about the dreamers, the broken ones, those who wanted nothing more than to cry out against the isolation that irradiated an existential fallout in the United States following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A cry that is sadly still echoed today. Indeed, it was Serling’s morality and his humanity that made the show so special, and why it continues to be a part of our social nomenclature in the 21st century.

Serling explored the darker side of humanity while understanding that it is in our humanness that we might find salvation. In the episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” the character of the Army Major screams out, “Where are we? What are we? Who are we?” Yet, no one can answer his pleas. The characters are seemingly imprisoned in an absurd cylinder with no beginning and no end. However, as dreadful as that may sound, Serling in his traditional use of wit and irony turns the ending of this episode into a bittersweet reminder that we are all in this together.

Anne Serling’s new book “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” is cut from that same cloth. A reminder that we are connected, no matter how clever we believe we are, no matter how far we ride on the wheels of technology, we are bound by the one thing we cannot escape, our call to be human. Not only is Ms. Serling’s book essential reading for fans of “The Twilight Zone,” it is a beautifully written memoir; a journey through grief by a young girl who lost her loving dad far too soon. What starts out as a tribute quickly develops into a story that is akin to therapy. Moreover, this is a book that I would and have strongly recommended to clients troubled with complicated grief and loss issues.

Ms. Serling paints for us an abstract of her father’s early years and his traumatic experiences in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. She gently and quite lovingly reconciles the image of the man we all knew with the father she adored and who, in turn, adored her. This is a story told in snapshots. A glimpse of a man who exorcised his demons by creating memorable television while fostering a loving family life at their summer lake home in Ithaca, New York.

Not unlike the character of Martin Sloan in The Twilight Zone episode, “Walking Distance.” Ms. Serling presents us with a portrait of her father who is both successful and broken, longing for a life among the shadow of things that once were. Rod Serling’s closing narration in that episode illuminates his daughter’s prose:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there’ll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there’ll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then too because he’ll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind…

As Rod once said, “Very little comment here.” These are the memories of Anne with her dad. There is a sense of sentimental nostalgia warmed by love and care, and we are given an opportunity to remember and grieve with Anne. A trip down memory lane, as it was and is now. A journey that reminds us that the “givens” of existence are never far from view.

Visit Ms. Serling’s website for more information or click here to purchase: As I Knew Him, My Dad Rod Serling.

In good health,
Don

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Don Laird

How does your light shine?

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile” ~ David Bowie

Nearly three years have passed since David Bowie abandoned this mortal coil at age 69, leaving a legacy of sound and vision that will likely never be equaled. He was a shining genius whose brilliance brought the world of music its first and finest chameleon in the forms of Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and Aladdin Sane. Bowie is missed by all those who knew him personally and all those of legions of fans (myself included) who are left to remember him through his music.

Earlier this year, HBO premiered David Bowie: The Last Five Years this month. The documentary speaks volumes about the man’s life and his acceptance of death. But this article is only in part about Bowie. There have been more than enough eulogies, musings and opinions about the importance of his work that have sprung from far better sources and writers than this humble therapist. This article is more about what happened to him and what will happen to all of us. Bowie’s death, like that Prince’s just a few months later, presented us with a strange, but much needed phenomena. Suddenly the world of social media and pop culture was confronted with this question, “If David Bowie can die so will I, and if that’s the case, what does this all mean?”

As a professor who teaches existential psychotherapy and a therapist who holds all forms of art in the highest possible regard, I too find this question creeping into my thoughts in the wee hours of the night. Then I often find myself doing the numbers game, “Geez, he was only 69? That’s only 17 years older than I am now.”

As psychotherapist Irvin Yalom said, “Self-awareness is a supreme gift, a treasure as precious as life. This is what makes us human.”  Yet, there is a price to pay Charon long before we reach the river Styx. We are forever vulnerable to the wound of our own mortality. Our very existence is based on and forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, diminish and then die.

Now there’s something to put on your next Christmas card.

Beware the fields of psychology and psychiatry if you are looking for any answers to the way you feel about meaning, death or despair. It is far better to steer your ship toward the open and didactic seas of philosophy, Fellow Travelers. Unless you wish to set course for a diagnostic code to explain away creativity, life and mortality, maybe even reduce your existence to a statistical inference? Yes, I often find myself biting the hand that feeds me, mostly because it serves a menu of junk science and reductionism that is one size fits all. Who sucked the air out of life? Maybe the human sciences didn’t, but we sure keep that vacuum going.

Could it be that we are but a brilliant light between two distinct points in time? We have a birth date and an expiration date yet to be determined.  Tombstones remind us of the quantity of one’s life. For Bowie, it was 1947-2016. However, that doesn’t say much about the quality. I suspect we should look more closely at the dash (-) in the above dates to fill in the blanks about one’s existence.  Some live well, others not so much, but we all die. It’s the time spent here (before we go to wherever your special place is beyond this world) that counts. Sure it may sound clichéd and trite, but you can’t escape the fact that you too will (depending on your age as you read this) expire within the next 50 – 20 years.

What are you prepared to do between now and then?

Acknowledging our mortality forces us to accept the loan of life, to paraphrase psychoanalyst Otto Rank (he’s dead too). The more we avoid the acceptance of death by shielding it with our specialness, the more we reject life. We begin to cower in the shadows, embracing the safer places to hide, as we whistle in the dark to the tune of death is something that happens, but not to me.

Yet, if we took a moment to look at our lives through a creative lens rather than a quantitative one, what would we see? For one, fear of death would hardly control our day-to-day decisions as much as we loosely admit it does now. What other questions might we want to ask? Perhaps, who wants to be the wealthiest person the cemetery? Can we begin to have an adult conversation about death in our culture before it’s too late? If death is how our story is going to end then what are we doing with the middle section of this book? Am I writing these chapters on my terms, with respect and responsibility to myself and others? What do I value on my life’s journey and how will I let my light shine?

So, just maybe, if David Bowie’s life and death meant anything it’s this: Ziggy Stardust was an extraterrestrial/existential rock star who came to earth, rocked out and tried to save the world through his music.

What will you do today?

In good health,
Don