Coping: Which Path Will You Choose?May 16, 2023
Robert Frost said that “two paths diverged in a yellow wood, and he took the one less traveled.” And because that particular path was chosen—because of one decision—life went in a totally different direction. “It has made all the difference,” he wrote.
I think that each day we face a fork in the road, a divergence of paths in the woods of our lives. Each day, multiple times per day, really, we are faced with decisions that will then take the rest of our day in one direction or the other. In an increasingly negative, angry, depressed, anxious, fearful, and stressed direction. Or, if we choose the other path, in an increasingly positive, grateful, calm, hopeful, courageous, and well-balanced direction.
Sometimes the difference between the two paths seems negligible at first—barely noticeable—but over the course of an hour, and then two hours, and then a half day, the paths might have diverged vast miles from each other. And the resulting landscape of where we would end up looks night and day different, depending on the one little decision we made.
This concept is especially important when it comes to coping with the difficult days in our lives. This month at the Lovely Grind I’m writing about the challenges and complexities of prescription drug withdrawal—namely antidepressant withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal—but this choosing of paths might apply to coping with any difficult day in our lives that seems, at first glance, hopeless. So, if you are one of my readers who is not specifically dealing with a life challenge related to medications or withdrawal, then please exchange those situations for something more apt to your current struggle as you read.
Now, let’s draw out an example of how this choosing of paths might play out in your daily life.
In this example, you wake up at 7 a.m. and you can tell you might be dealing with a symptom “wave” (a period where physical pains and negative emotions and thoughts are ramped up). Now you don’t know for sure if these symptoms will be moderate or strong or maybe just fleeting, but you worry. And overall this sucks, because maybe you were feeling better just yesterday and had great plans for today. And more than just ruining your plans, you now feel that your life has been ruined. In an instant, your mind says there’s been no healing, no progress. And you’re tempted to go down a dark path.
You’re tempted to go on antidepressant withdrawal or benzo withdrawal “support” forums and read endlessly about the symptoms of other people. You know it really won’t make you feel better, in fact you know it will make you feel much worse—you know you will absorb the pain and anxiety of others, some of whom are severely troubled in multiple ways—but it is the path of least resistance.
So you go ahead and do it anyway.
You click on your phone’s web browser, and you begin to read about the horror stories of people whom you don’t know and about whose total life situations you will never know. And then for good measure, you watch videos of that sort for a while, too. You shut the door, close the blinds, refuse to eat or hydrate, tell your family members you don’t want to talk, and you sit in your dark bedroom absorbing the fear, negativity, hopelessness, and miscellaneous mental and emotional toxicity of strangers.
And then you stare at the ceiling for a while replaying your own past mistakes and projecting your own negative future on a large, dark movie screen in your head.
And the restlessness and anxiety and guilt and depression build.
And then you go back to the negative places online, and it starts over again.
And what began as a few symptoms (or maybe even just the thought of symptoms) at 7 a.m. has now, by early afternoon, turned into an absolute, full-blown horror show for you. You feel hysterical, depleted, depressed, alone, and hopeless. And a hole has been dug for the day.
LET'S TRY THAT AGAIN
Now, let’s rewind and play that scenario out again.
You wake up at 7 a.m. and you can tell you might be dealing with a symptom wave. You don’t know for sure if it will be moderate or strong or maybe just fleeting, but you worry. And overall this sucks, because maybe you were feeling on top of things just yesterday and had a lot of awesome plans for today. And more than just ruining your day, you now feel that your life has been ruined. You feel that there’s been no healing, no progress. And you’re tempted to go down a dark path.
But you stop yourself. And you choose another path. One that seems to take a whole lot more energy to walk down at first, but one that leads to a better rest of the day, and ultimately a better future.
Instead of looking at negativity on your phone, you watch a positive video, one that encourages you and tells you that you are getting somewhere, even if today is feeling rough. Maybe you read a five minute devotion, and maybe you tell yourself that you are protected and will not be defeated.
And then you take another step down that second path by opening up the blinds in your room and getting out of bed and getting a good healthy drink of water.
And then you take another few steps down the second path by showering and making your bed and forcing yourself to eat a little something, just so that your stomach isn’t empty and anxious. Just to keep the body and mind fueled. You take your vitamins or supplements, if that’s your thing, and you imagine how they—and the forced breakfast—are helping to nourish you.
And then you take another step down the second path by talking to someone who cares and who lifts you up and who refuses to allow you to fail. Maybe that conversation is with a coach, maybe it’s with a brother or a sister, maybe it’s with a friend or parent or spouse, or maybe it’s with a pastor. But it is with someone POSITIVE. It is with someone who has a healthy perspective. It is with someone who has compassion and intelligence. It is with someone who can lift you up out of your muck because they aren’t themselves sitting in a pool of dark muck at the moment.
Misery begets misery, and hope begets hope. Weakness and fear are contagious, but so are strength and courage. Find ideas and people who give you these things!
DIFFERENT PATHS, DIFFERENT RESULTS
And so now you’ve had that positive conversation, and you have a clean body and a clean room, and you’re beginning to feel just a little bit better.
So you decide to take a few more steps down that second path by taking a walk or a jog or a bike ride outside, even though it’s tough as hell to get moving at first. And as you’re walking you listen to more positive ideas; you fill your attention and the deepest pockets of your psyche with them by listening to positive music, uplifting sermons, positive TED talks, or inspirational speeches.
And when you get home from that walk, you take off your headphones, and you can actually hear the birds chirping and feel the sun shining on your face. And you can actually reach out and touch hope again. You can actually feel some hope for your future. Even if you are still dealing with pains and challenges, you know things will get better.
So now it’s early afternoon after you’ve chosen that second path, and your day looks and feels a million miles different that it would have had you chosen that first path in the woods, that path of darkness and negativity.
You made a different choice, and it literally changed your day, and your brain chemistry. It kept your body active, your mind soothed, your emotions uplifted, and your soul hopeful.
You chose to walk down a positive path, and it literally made all the difference.
Yes, some days will be more for coping in this process. But how you cope always matters!
Keep choosing that second path as often as possible. Over time the results build on themselves, and ultimately it is that path that leads to healing and growth.
Take care until next time,
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