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When the Worst Happens, There are Two Ways You Can Go

There are moments in my life that have rocked my world. They took the stable ground I thought I had b
When the Worst Happens, There are Two Ways You Can Go
There are moments in my life that have rocked my world.
They took the stable ground I thought I had beneath me–and they shattered it.
There are events that I consider the worst experiences of my life.
And I’ve realized something about those events.
There are two ways you can go when horrible, earth-shattering events happen to you.
One is way is good, and one way is not so good.

Path One - The Wrong Way
I’ve written a bit about my heart surgery at 24 in this newsletter, and it truly was a shocking, traumatic experience.
But, without a doubt, the emotional recovery was much, much worse.
Having invasive surgery shifted something in my brain. I know it. I still feel it to this day. It found issues that were always there–it just made them ten times worse.
The fact that the Mayo Clinic never warned me about the incredibly common mental health impact of major surgery still astonishes me. Mental health education after major surgery is something I hope to advocate for one day.
What happened is this.
A few weeks into my physical recovery from heart surgery, I realized I felt different. My anxiety was through the roof. My obsessive-compulsive behaviors were debilitating. I could spend hours ruminating and picking at my skin. I didn’t feel like myself. Shame consumed me.
I was heading down path number one. And path number one is the not-so-good path. In all honesty, it took years to get off that path.
Path number one is the path of negativity. It’s becoming identified with the negative events. It’s feeling like a victim. And I felt like the world had intentionally done this to me. I felt like a victim and a failure, and I hated everything.
One way you can go when the worst happens is to become totally enmeshed with “the worst,” whatever that event might be. And I was stuck in the grips of the mental health problems caused by my heart surgery.
Path Two - A Way of Hope
Eventually, after years of fighting, I started to claw my way out.
I started to find light on the other side of the darkness.
I realized that there was another path I could take. What is amazing about terrible events is that they have a way of remolding your perspective. You have to know evil to see goodness. You have to feel pain to develop empathy. What’s paradoxical is actually the greatest teacher.
And my heart surgery and ensuing mental illnesses taught me so much. They taught me that I’m stronger than I realized. And they taught me something even more important. Even the worst events can be used for good. They can become the best events.
Because something happens when you move through adversity. You emerge on the other side stronger than before. You realize that you actually now are in a better position than you were prior. You have something you didn’t have before. You have wisdom, and you have strength. And with this newfound wisdom comes the opportunity to teach others what you know.
There is a reason that the world’s greatest healers know immense amounts of suffering. Great healers like Thich Nhat Hanh have been through great horrors. That’s why calmness and compassion now fills them.
So this, my friend, is path number two.
You don’t have to be consumed by the events that happen to you. Over time, and with lots of hard work, there is another way you can go. You can use what happened to you to act as a beacon of hope for others. When you take on great weight and you carry it, others will admire your strength. More importantly, they will begin to see themselves in you. They will feel inspired to adjust their burden, improve their vision, and move swiftly forward to new heights.
It’s all about the path you take.
One way leads to feeling increasingly victimized.
The other way is, no doubt, the more difficult path, but surprisingly enough, it’s the path with more weight–but less burden.

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Jordan Brown - Mental Health Writer, Poet, and Advocate

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