20 Things I Learned in 2020

It’s safe to say this year was a doozy for a lot of people. Many plans were hijacked by the ongoing pandemic and for some, it caused life-altering decisions to be made resulting in a lot of healing all around. At the end of it, I came out feeling like an entirely different person while returning back to my true self and feeling whole again. As I look back, I realize that I let go of a lot of the things holding me back from true happiness and am bringing new lessons into the new year. Even though the events of 2021 have an eerie sense of similarity, often times feeling like we are living an inevitable “groundhog day” with no real relief from this crisis and our country seems to be divided more by the day… I’m hopeful that there are brighter days ahead for us all. We all made it through last year and can bring that moxy with us into the new one. Here are the top twenty lessons that I carry with me each day that I learned past year. I sincerely hope you can relate to or learn from at least one of these items!

  1. How to Be More Independent & Build (Even More) Resilience
    2020 was the first year I spent living on my own for the first time in nearly a decade after my seperation. I did my best to hold my composure through what seemed like a living nightmare at the time: leaving an abusive relationship and going through a nasty divorce with ridiculous demands that constantly kept that person coming back into my life. I lost the feeling of safety after notifying the authorities about what happened to me and the animals, so I spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder once I was finally free. I had trouble sleeping at night and always felt like things got worse as the months went on. In the end, I spoke my truth and found new ways to live life on my own without the grasp of someone who truly wanted to hurt and control me. I regained my confidence while simultaneously taking back control of my body and mind. I am so proud of what I’ve done to rebuild myself this year and while it couldn’t have gone by fast enough for me, I am grateful for living every moment of it in my own way.

    I feel like my past life as a military spouse prepared me for how to properly vet houses, handle stressful moves & a lot of other things in between… including spending a lot of time alone. What it didn’t prepare me for was how difficult it would be to navigate questions about what happened, how I felt about it, and what my next move was especially in a highly social setting at work. As much as I wanted to avoid it, there was no one here to answer those questions but me… I decided early on that some messed up sh*t happened to me & my fur babies, but that I wasn’t going to be labeled as a victim… I also wasn’t going to give more power to my abuser who took to social media to call me “the devil” and I’m sure many other disrespectful words. I made the conscious decision not to stoop to that level because no matter how much of the truth I was willing to share, it didn’t matter. I was not dependent on validation on what I was doing because I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do to tell the truth even though some of my own “friends” at the time doubted me. People tried to get my side of the story which I barely indulged them in (aside from the fact that I was doing great away from that environment) and only one of my previous in-laws tried reaching out which confirmed my notion that it didn’t matter what I had to say in the end. Either way, I knew I had to cut all ties with that life and move on for real independence. After all, I had a new life of my own now.

    I’m a firm believer that we aren’t products of our environment and the true traits of a person come out when they are faced with toxic situations. I decided quickly that it wasn’t going to affect my performance at work, especially since I couldn’t afford to take time off before this (let alone in the middle of a divorce) so I did what I could to focus on keeping up appearances in a highly social setting while trying to earn more through sales so I could balance attorney fees without asking for help from family. You could say I adapted extreme independence when it came to trying to “hurry up” with logistics of it instead of trying to emotionally process it and did isolate myself at times. But, it was what I needed to get through that difficult period of my life (more on that in #14). I leaned into my path of veganism, taking great pride in having a house 100% free of items that supported animal harm & exploitation. I learned to be even more independent one day at a time through experiences like going out with friends, diving into hobbies I would have been made fun of for in my past life like roller skating & daily yoga, and simply enjoyed the safety I worked hard for in the four walls of my apartment. I adapted a new mantra after being told multiple times “you would be nothing without me”, of “I am everything without you” All of it led to me truly learning how to love myself again and living louder than ever before.

  2. Ways to Pay Off Large Amounts of Debt
    This year I had to face the fee of starting an entirely new life for myself and for the safety of not just myself, but the four precious fur babies I was raising. Because I had thought things at home would get better, I never had an “escape plan” or secret savings to lean on, so doing it in a short amount of time came with a heavy financial burden. I’m proud to say I did it all on my own (though the military spousal support I was truly entitled to sure would have helped). I realized early on in the process that it wasn’t worth fighting for money if it meant sacrificing safety or willingly engaging with someone who had no good intentions for me or the animals. In order to secure a new place to live that allowed large pets, was heavily monitored by surveillance, and was close to my job I had to take out a $8,500 loan in order to pay for the first month’s rent, deposit, new household items, and start an “emergency fund” for whatever came my way (car problems, vet bills, etc.). On top of that, I had to use the remaining funds & a credit card to manage my incoming attorney bills. While I was never after money in the suit, it was clear the other side wanted to fight dirty even trying to come after what little funds I had left at the time because I had been the primary breadwinner the past few years due to my sales performance. I was always wondering what would come next because obviously every email and phone call came at a cost with my attorney. After all was said and done, I can honestly say it was money well spent after receiving the final judgement in July that my request for divorce was granted. I finally felt like I had more control of my finances, yet I stayed conservative with my spending trying to meal prep and eat at home as often as possible.

    I did a good job making sure I only bought what was necessary and even though I was making a decent income for myself, it seemed at times that everything was hanging in the balance. When I thought I had a good laid plan ahead of me, I was hit with a $3k tax bill due to an error on my form at work. As exhausted as I was at the time and wanted a break, I told myself I could keep going just until I paid off the loan & tax fees…then it turned into paying off an entire credit card balance… then it was simply about working for survival during the pandemic. Then, just like millions of Americans…I took a pay cut, some reduced hours, and relied on unemployment for the first time in my life. As shameful as I felt, I spoke with many family members & friends who reassured me that is what the system was for. There was some grace with companies due to the financial impact so after checking some of my service providers, I was able to delay a few payments so I could have a little “breathing room”. I’m thankful for the job I held at the time to help me recover financially, otherwise I’m not sure how I would have been able to handle the weight of it all. I know a lot of people expected me to fold early on in the year to the cost of living in California and move back with family in Ohio, but I held my ground and took control of my own finances through a lot of hard work & perseverance. I’m nowhere near out of debt, but am finally in a more comfortable place to manage it. The main difference between this beginning of this year and last is that I’m not alone now because I have a stronger support system from family and my amazing partner to help ease the pressure.

  3. How to Create Healthy Boundaries For Myself & Realize My Own Worth
    It took me a long time to realize that I was living my life for the benefit of others for far too long. It seemed like people needed things from me and I felt like it was always my job to deliver no matter what the cost to my mental health & well being. For years, I had presented a watered down version of myself to please my friends & coworkers so I could be accepted without scrutiny. It forced me to hide who I really was, my political views, and even my own culture to avoid falling into one of their most hated stereotypes. As “Emerald Lowe”, I was wearing a professional mask at all times and remained compliant to keep up the status quo. I used to carefully craft my answers to questions in conversations to satisfy others and avoid being “too much”. In fact, if you had asked me “how are you?” at any point in during the past few years, I would have replied with the tired phrase “busy” with a false smile no matter what I was going through.

    I shut out friends & family in Ohio who knew this was complete bullsh*t because the distance seemed to make a good enough excuse at the time but had come to realize that the people I spent the most time here in California with had no clue who I was as a person, let alone were concerned for my fate. I felt like each time I shared how I really felt about anything with them, I was met with scrutiny and disapproval. At some points, I felt like they didn’t like who I was at all to begin with but I was “essential” in their life somehow. It seemed I was living in a world where everyone was out for the benefit of themselves, and I realized it was time to start looking out for “me” too. Like all things, it took time but I realized my needs are important too. I stopped attending work events that weren’t mandated to take off the pressure, stopped working overtime altogether and taking calls outside of regular work hours…and finally quit moving so damn fast because I was exhausting myself and realized I am worthy of deserving to rest.

    Over time, I learned to release myself from the guilt of the impact it would have on others and pulled back from anyone I was not receiving the same kind of energy from and that helped me slowly discover which people who were and weren’t healthy in my life. I didn’t lose anyone last year, I simply realized who did and did not respect me as a person, especially after setting more healthy boundaries (like asking friends to stop drunk dialing me, not letting others downplay sensitive topics about my personal life & telling family members to respect my right to heal on my own terms this year). Many people had heavily encouraged me to move back to my hometown and even to ignore things that truly bothered me even though they knew deep down it would not be best for me. It felt like running away from all of my problems and as much as I would love to be closer in distance to my family, I am glad to have made a life on my own for myself in a place that felt comfortable to me. I stopped going back to friends who supported unhealthy habits I didn’t want to participate in, especially binge drinking. Those that wanted to stay in my life appreciated me sharing why and were supportive of the boundaries I created for myself. As the year progressed, I formed healthier relationships and rebuilt old ones on new terms. The people that truly love me encourage me to speak freely and help keep me in check when I start doubting myself for being so brazen.

  4. I Rediscovered My Faith
    It wasn’t until the beginning of 2020, looking back at what I had made it through that I realized God had been looking out for me all along. I remembered what my mother told me as a child that “He does not ever give you more than you can handle” and regained trust in Him through returning to nightly prayers. At the end of 2019, when I walked into the courtroom to face my abuser for the first and (thankfully) last time, I brought my great grandma’s rosary which was given to me by my mother. I brought the strength of 3 generations of women with me along with my renewed faith in the Lord and was prepared to face whatever came my way. I didn’t care how “stupid” it sounded to believe this because of what I had been told by others who didn’t believe before…I knew He would keep me safe and at the end of the day, I was not alone because His love is unconditional.

    It was a roller coaster of highs and lows after that into the following year but a constant wave of stability washing over me through it all. I knew I was strong enough to handle it and would see better days coming soon. I knew that whatever was to happen was beyond my actions or control and in His hands truly. When I met my boyfriend, Austin, it took me time to feel out how my faith could fit into our relationship, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a partner who was so excited to hear me randomly ask if we could pray before a meal. We had prayed with his family before meals and that reminded me of how I felt being with my own family. Eventually, I recognized that he wasn’t just doing it because he felt like he “had to”, but had a strong faith on his own. It truly felt like home. We talk about God almost daily and enjoy times when we can pray together. It’s helped us both feel more confident in our path walking together with Him as our guiding light. My faith is stronger than ever coming into the new year with many surprises along the way, but I’m grateful for the life He has chosen for me. I do not cast doubt or shame on others for how they worship and seek every opportunity to praise them for following an honorable path in their own way.

  5. How to Fall In Love Again
    When I started going to therapy, I realized the red flags in my most recent romantic relationship but it also caused me to reflect on all my past ones individually. I learned the things that I personally did to feed into unhealthy behaviors and unknowingly removed healthy boundaries like respect, safety & even consent. While I could easily dismiss myself for being young & naive at the time, the most important thing I learned was that no matter what was done to me, it wasn’t my fault and no human deserves to endure any type of abuse. It reminded me of lessons my parents taught me about men, especially my dad, which caused me to be a little more on the defensive side when returning back to the dating field. I knew my worth and what I had to bring to the table but was reserved to the fact that I would not let myself fall prey to any partner again. This caused me to have a heavy guard up which made it hard to form meaningful relationships.

    It wasn’t until I met Austin, who shared serious intentions of marriage & kids, that I realized I still wanted that too. I just wasn’t sure how capable I was yet… He had a lot of metaphorical “walls” to climb and we had many “bridges to cross”, but if it wasn’t for his love and perseverance during the hard times, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It had become so easy for me to push people away when I was struggling in my career, with family, or any other issue because I was used to being let down and having to handle things on my own. He helped me heal in so many ways and the biggest way was in him showing me nothing but unconditional love, something I had a hard time accepting because it was terrifying to be that vulnerable again. I learned to return that unconditional love by practicing patience, learning how to be more open, and loving every part of him. He selflessly put a huge focus on addressing the needs I had been neglecting for far too long so I constantly looked for ways to help him continue to heal and grow for himself as well. I knew that he had just as much to benefit from our relationship and self-care routine as I did, and we both helped each other learn to cope with any stress or challenges that came our way. We became a team, a family unit, and haven’t looked back since. I’m so thankful for how our relationship continues to evolve, how well we fit into each other’s families, and for the amazing future we have ahead of us.

  6. How to Stop Worrying About What Others Think As Much
    At the beginning of this 2020, I was still concerned about how others viewed my situation and the decisions I was making. I wanted everyone to know I was stronger than ever and knew exactly what I was doing, even when I totally didn’t feel like it. This fed into my anxiety and led me to give half-truths to avoid confrontation and any type of negative outcome. Above all, I tied my actions and public opinions directly to the representation of my employer which was the most unhealthy habit I learned to drop. I had always worried that the types of tattoos I wanted would interfere with current/potential clients, even though they were nowhere near offensive. I was far too concerned with my family’s opinion on marriage to even tell them I was getting divorced until the ball was already in motion, let alone leaving a harmful situation. It wasn’t until I really visited them in July, that I laid the full truth out on the table.

    I owned up to my own mistakes and shared that I had moved & quit drinking to avoid my problems….but most of all that I was happy and I was still healing. I talked more about my love for veganism and started to speak out more against companies & industries that supported animal cruelty. I started this blog, sharing my own personal story in hopes to inspire others. I quit my job unexpectedly, after months of wondering how I could keep going on because it made me feel suicidal at times. In the end, I realized that didn’t matter what my anyone else thought because they weren’t going to be there to save me or take away the burden, no matter how many times I reached out for help. I knew I would be faced with conflict in many areas and even judged, but am confident in the fact that I am now living my truth. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve become resolved to the fact that only God can judge me.

  7. How to Quit Living in the Past
    Even though I moved on in many areas of my life, I was mentally stuck in my past mindset that people I knew would act a certain way towards me. Up until my visit in July, I hadn’t visited home in quite some time and had already come to conclusions on how everyone would be. It left me on edge, and wondering if I really wanted to visit because I wasn’t ready for answering questions to meet their standards on where I should be in life or the possibility of rejection for my new, open self. To my surprise, I was met with love and support from every angle. No one was there to put me down or judge me…My uncle even asked how I had gotten “so mature” after all these years which was probably the biggest compliment to stick out in my mind.

    I realized that the people I loved most could finally see me for who I was and loved seeing me so happy, especially with my new partner. I realized that I had changed, but some of my friends hadn’t and it was time to cut off ties to them in order to live a healthier life. I also learned that just because things happened in the past when I said or did certain things, Austin would never meet me with anger, retaliation, or any kind of abuse. I realized that was never part of our relationship and he was unlike anyone I had ever been with. No matter how difficult it was to talk about or silly to ask if he would still love me “if…”, we always talked it out until we both felt good about it. This gave us (and me) a chance to grow through each new experience we had together.

  8. That How People Treat You Can Be About Another Place & Time Unrelated to You
    After learning about red flags in romantic and other types of relationships, I had constantly wondered what I could do to avoid those types of things popping up anywhere in my new life. What took more me time to understand is that people are abusive to you sometimes because of the things they refuse to face about themselves or what they have been through. Some simply do not like specific traits about themselves and they will pass that hate onto you when they see similarities. There are people with parents who haven’t been kind to them, so they feel forced to bring that dislike onto others (i.e. always looking for the faults in your happiness). There are partners who have been cheated on, and will constantly accuse you of it regardless of how loyal you may be. There are people who have been shamed, embarrassed and reduced to feeling small, so they will do things to make you feel what they have felt. There are even people who feel no sense of control in their own lives, making them feel entitled enough to disapprove yours. Believe it or not, there are even people out there who were taught not to process emotions and will dismiss your feelings because of that. My favorite mantra for these types of people this year has been “it’s about another place, another time, and completely unrelated to you”.
  9. How to Live Up to My Own Standards
    After I learned to stop worrying about the opinions of others, I remembered my own personal standards. I firmly believe in ethics, and in another life I might have wanted to be some kind of professor like Chidi from The Good Place but am thankful it did not turn out that way because I am already anxious. This year, I have leaned into bringing life to the quote “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” by Elie Wiesel. This quote still holds true to my standards for speaking out in many areas like police brutality, basic human & constitutional rights, discrimination based on things others are unable to change (race, gender, sexual orientation, where they come from, and even past mistakes), animal cruelty, corrupt politicians and corporate greed. At my core, my morals and ethics having anything to do with being “successful”, but showing the world more humility and hoping it would start a trend.

    I let go of unspoken standards from others that I needed to devote all of my time to my career and professional development, even if it meant sacrificing other needs. I truly thought at certain points in my life that my partner and family would only be proud of me if I could climb just a little higher in the corporate world. Once I dropped that, my standards were no longer based on how much I could make or how productive I was in order to prove myself, but on what type of leader I was going to be out in the world…what type of legacy I could pass onto my future children… I also dropped the standard passed onto me by society believing I had to be “skinny” in order to be loved. I set my own standard to treat my body with respect and listen to what it needed. That meant eating junk food when I wanted and practicing meditation when I was feeling stressed out. It meant using my yoga wheels and acupuncture mat as long as I needed to in order to work out the knots in my back. Finally, I resolved to the fact that I could accept help when it was offered in my personal life.

  10. What My True Passion Is
    I rediscovered my oldest, truest passion this year: writing. I have always had “a lot” to say and have wanted to encourage others to see things from a broader perspective. Above all, I’ve always been in search of knowledge & truth and have had a passion for sharing it. I have always had a tender love for animals and a drive to help others, so this year I decided to launch this website to help fill the need for both areas. I realized that while I can directly advocate for animals, I can share fun recipes to feed families on any kind of budget. My goal is to show people just how easy it is and answer the most common questions like “Where do you get your protein?”. The plant based lifestyle has benefited me greatly in many areas of my life and one of the most noticable is my overall health, so of course I want to share what I’ve learned if it can be of help to others.

    As I learn about friends and family members who have suffered from various health issues, I want to share how a plant based diet can help them regulate things like their blood pressure & cholesterol, mitigate harmful cancer- causing carcinogens, and help them live longer lives. It can also help them manage a healthy weight or cope with mental health issues. Food has been used as medicine for years and animals do not need to be part of that equation. If health isn’t important enough to steer you away, using them as food or fashion has imposed an influx of problems in other areas like reducing available land, producing large amounts of harmful chemicals like methane gas in the air, and (most importantly) creating a system that relies on the desensitization of unnecessary violence. As humans, we were given dominion over animals and the land… but, no one said we have to destroy it in order to enjoy it. I choose to write about animal advocacy through various ways to help change the perspective on health and how we show kindness to other living beings around us.

  11. How to Manage My Mental Health at Home
    If you followed my story and Why I Started The Plant Based Bae, you’ll see that after I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I tried traditional methods of treatment including medications & talk therapy. I’ve never been a fan of pharmaceuticals, let alone western medicine. Since then, I’ve discovered ways to help myself lead a full and happy life through more natural methods. Since launching this page, I’ve come to learn that writing is personally therapeutic to me. In addition to leaning into this natural talent, learning to stop & celebrate my wins, and sharing my passion, I’ve learned healthier ways to manage my mental health at home. There are days when I’m full of energy, feeling social af out of nowhere and days when I want to curl up on the couch and not be seen in public at all. There are days where I am too restless to relax and need to clean something in order to make myself feel better. Then again, there are days where I just sit with that uncomfortable feeling and force myself to try and just relax. What I learned about it this year, is that if I’m honest with myself and others about it instead of hiding away trying to suppress these types of feelings, it gets better. I learned to put my needs first because the saying is true, “you have to put on your own air mask first, in order to help the person next to you”. I had been spending too much time trying to help others while feeling like I was drowning.

    My mental health also improved when I found a supportive partner who could be there with me to listen and offer helpful advice. He helped me understand that I’m not “crazy”, “lazy” or incapable just because I was feeling this way. Once I adapted a healthier diet, decided to maintain only healthy relationships, and a better exercise routine I started to feel better. It wasn’t until I took the final step in December of leaving a job that was impacting my health in a negative way that I finally started to feel good. It took a couple weeks to realize that it was okay for me not to hold a job right now while my partner supported us. My new job was taking care of myself and showing “me” the love I had neglected to give due to being “too busy”. I processed past trauma in smaller doses, visited the doctor’s office, and started listening to the Daily Wellness playlist on Spotify (which isn’t perfect…more on that here) on walks with the dogs each morning. I learned to stop moving so fast, acting like my body was on fire and sit in silence when things weren’t being accomplished 24/7 because rest is essential and meeting goals takes time. I was used to overachieving in order to “get to the next task” and now that I’m taking my time, I’m happier with my results and can be more present in conversations. My heart is also happier now too because I was starting to feel the effects on it due to the frequent stress I was under. It’s hard to believe at the age of 27, it actually hurt my chest when I walked into my job or opened an email from my attorney. Now, I have less moments of intense palpitations, blushing & sweating due to anxiety. It feels good to live a calmer, slower life and to actually feel & act my age…enjoying it all!

  12. How to Maintain a Healthy Weight…Without a Restrictive Diet
    In the past, I had reduced to some of the most unhealthy ways to manage my weight. I denied the fact that my body was beautiful at any size and abused it through eating disorders when I was younger and extreme diets & exercise as an adult. I ignored recommendations on MyFitnessPal telling me to eat more than 1000 calories per day and ran outside whenever I was criticized about my weight. It didn’t take long, but I finally got the results I wanted (weighing 110-115lbs in 2014) but they didn’t last. In 2019, I lost weight from stress and wasn’t happy with the body I found myself in. I felt sickly, even though I was at “a healthy weight”. Shortly after that, I decided I wasn’t on a weight loss journey but a path to feel good again. It wasn’t until I stopped counting calories and simply focused on seeing the essentials on my plate like protein, carbs, & fats that I got my energy back. I also practiced healthy breathing & yoga daily offering a much lighter and casual form of exercise. While some of my moves are intense, I always top when I’m feeling dizzy or tired. Learning to listen to my body is how I was able to reach a healthy 119lbs this year with a a 19.6% BMI. I share this because the number on the scale does not define me, but I use it as a benchmark to make sure I’m within a healthy range. You can read more about my weight loss journey through veganism here.

  13. How to Meditate (…The Right Way!)
    This year changed me in a big way and while a lot of time was spent binging on Netflix & Disney+ during quarantine, I also came to love meditating with my partner. Couples exercise had always felt to daunting before and I had always worried about being judged but like I said, I let go of a lot this year making me more open to trying new things. My original idea of meditation came from trying Headspace in 2018, which helped me from time to time as I was feeling stressed. But, for some reason, it wasn’t something I could truly master at the time so I gave up feeling “silly” for wasting time on it. The first time Austin led a meditation session…it was almost painful. I was literally feeling like I was going to snap, crackle & pop like a dang rice krispy! On top of that, my sinuses were draining more the farther we got into it and I was brought to tears because of the intensity…but it felt like all we were doing was sitting there and breathing! He taught me how to open up my chakras and feel the blockage from guilt, stress, & anxiety…

    To be perfectly honest, it felt like the equivalent to a deep tissue massage, but I was actually able to relax during it. I remember bursting into tears the last time I went to the chiropractor and never went back because of the embarrassment because all they did was ask me to relax my body so they could do an adjustment and no matter what they said, I just couldn’t. Prior to meeting A, it had been at least a year since I’d given this much attention to my body and had never practiced true meditation before, so you could say it was “life changing”. The best part? It brought me & A closer together, so I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for new ways to bond with your significant other. I also hope some of my friends or family members reading this might be brave enough to try it sometime to help get the relief they need too because it really does help you have a clearer mind and let go of any negative feelings you’re holding onto. If you’re new to meditation or out of practice, keep in mind it will probably take several sessions to get the results you’re looking for. It might feel strange or silly at first, but I promise it’s totally worth it.

  14. How to Get Out of “Survival Mode”
    For those not familiar with the term “survival mode”, it is all about fear-based living and short term planning. It’s about doing what you need to in order to get from one day to the next. It is a very toxic mindset that leads you to have a “fight or flight” response to everyday situations and stops you from being fully present because you are constantly on the defense, always ready to expect danger in many situations. It’s difficult to focus on the bigger picture because the immediate task at hand is seen as urgent. It’s hard to keep up with self-care and even addressing basic needs like eating or sleeping and if you stay in survival mode long enough, you can’t find joy in the things you used to because you and your body are under distress…worst of all no matter how productive you are or how fast you move, you will never feel “caught up”.

    I learned how to get out of this mode once I recognized the toll it was taking on my body towards the end of 2020. I had lost more weight unintentionally, felt irritable and even cynical at times. I spent all my personal time on sleep to recover from work stress and when I wasn’t doing that, I was using what little energy I had left trying to “catch up” on my fair share of the housework. I came home every day in tears and caused emotional stress on my dog leading him to have more accidents in the house because he was so worried. It sounds crazy, but we are so bonded that he always knows when I’m feeling anxious, depressed, or fearful. I think because of my past trauma, I was never fully able to get out of “survival mode” and when the pandemic hit our community my job got more active than ever. It felt like I was managing just fine under the pressure, but as the months continued into the year, I felt like I was drowning with no way out. After breaking down in tears during a staff meeting due to all of the stress, I did try asking for help directly, but was misunderstood and thought to have a bad home life. Eventually I decided to quit fighting the wave and listen to my body and all the things it was trying to tell me. You can read more about this in the article Why I Left My Job as an Essential Worker During the Pandemic to Save My Own Health.

  15. That Each of Us Has the Ability to Heal Generational Curses & End Abusive Cycles
    Generational curses are toxic behavior patterns and traumas within your family that have not been resolved. Have you ever felt a heavy weight inside you or negative feelings of sorrow or anger that seem to come out of nowhere? Have you felt you could relate heavily to certain family members because of trauma you both went through as a children, teens, or adults? Do you find yourself saying “I will never be like that” when you cannot get out of patterns (i.e. alcoholism, drug use, unhealthy coping mechanisms like avoidance of issues, becoming a victim of sexual/physical abuse & holding onto resentment)? This was the year that I realized that each of us carries past traumas of our ancestors and can unknowingly build or break these cycles in our daily lives. What’s worse is that if you don’t heal yourself, you’ll end up passing on this toxicity onto future generations until it is healed.

    I decided to deal with every negative feeling I had this year in order to move forward with my life. I made conscious decisions to drop unhealthy coping mechanisms like overworking, obsessive cleaning, avoidance, and even binge drinking. I faced the hard truth that I had experienced not one, but multiple instances of sexual abuse throughout my life.. something so hard to swallow that I had not even told my own family. I had also let go of the guilt I experienced thinking it was “my fault” for dealing with years of financial, physical and mental abuse from others. It caused me to develop an attitude of a “pleaser”, wanting to do anything to appease the people who hurt me in order to avoid more negative outcomes. Coming to these situations, I thought it didn’t matter how I felt about them because I couldn’t change the past. However, I carried the weight from it all with me for far too long and as a naturally empathetic person, it took a toll on me.

    At the beginning of 2020, I decided to quit drinking altogether because I hated how numb it made me to everything. I quit vaping nicotine after years of being an on & off smoker because I knew that was another “crutch” and did not help me manage my stress levels anymore. I did daily yoga and spent more time in nature, trying to “slow down” the unhealthy pace of my life. However, I still let my job consume me and spent more time solving other people’s problems instead of my own. I kept going past the point of exhaustion just to get “caught up” and keep pleasing others around me even though it never quite seemed to be enough for them. It wasn’t until about halfway through the year that I took time off that I realized that I had real friends & family who were genuinely worried about me and the way I was going (all this time I thought they were proud of me for working “so hard” because others in our family were like this too).

    It took a lot of hard conversations, but I was finally ready to admit that I knew I was on my way to an early grave from stress and ultimately decided to leave the company when I knew I just couldn’t take it anymore at the beginning of December. That gave me time to break even more generational curses in my life. I shared my truth and found many others could relate. I set healthy boundaries & removed anyone who was committed to judging or downright violating them. In turn, I became committed to leaving the door open for anyone who truly wanted to help themselves in this way and become a better person. It took me one full year to do all of this but if it takes you longer, that’s okay too. The important part to remember that healing is not a linear process.

  16. That My Past Mistakes Don’t Define Me
    Through lots of reflection (and meditation), I’ve come face to face with my past on a number of occasions this year. As humans, not a single one of us is perfect, but we are all capable of learning from our past mistakes and growing from them. Instead of holding onto guilt and constantly labeling myself as “bad” for the wrongs I’ve done onto myself and others or “stupid” for falling into toxic situations (yes, I have actually been upset with myself for not seeing warning signs & predicting the future)… I’ve released the shame I held for such a long time. Having a healthy support system helped me with this but ultimately, it was a repeat practice of “grounding” myself with factual affirmations about the positive things I am doing in present day. Even though slip up sometimes and throw the occasional “sorry” in a conversation where it does not belong, I am continuing to grow each and every day.

  17. How to Be More Present in Conversations
    Moving slower has more benefits than just helping you be more aware of your surroundings…it also helps you be more attuned to the emotions of others around you. I used to have a bad habit of interrupting people in conversations because I was looking to “please” by helping them understand that I knew where they were going…or by answering questions faster than they could get them out so I could avoid their dissatisfaction. At my worst, I used to dissociate during conversations when certain topics came up and when I “came back”, it was hard to remember where we left off making me feel utterly and completely embarrassed. When things got harder at my old job, I even got to the point where I stopped showing emotion during chats and put on a “professional mask”, just to get through it even though I knew I wasn’t presenting my true authentic self anymore. I did this a lot in “survival mode”.

    Sure, I get excited during heated conversations just like the rest of us, but once I truly learned to stop, look, and listen I was able to come to a new understanding in their words. Since then, it’s helped me notice when people are genuinely disinterested, lying or have ulterior motives. That’s how I was able to determine who was and wasn’t a good relationship in my life ultimately turning energy towards more productive conversations. More importantly, it’s helped me feel more connected with others than ever to help them feel truly heard. I’ve gotten closer to understanding the needs of others instead of trying to anticipate them and have been able to use my voice in a more conscious manner becoming a better communicator in the process.

  18. Who I Am and Who I Was Are Two Completely Different People
    There are people that know completely versions of me depending on what stage of life we met in. I am not the same person I was when I graduated high school, got married at 19, moved around on Camp Pendleton in my 20s, or was divorced by 26. I’m not an obedient housewife or the “hostess with the mostest” anymore always needing to be surrounded by people constantly to make myself not feel so alone and making sure they are constantly entertained. If we met during my Chamber days, I’m not the person to go to anymore for “every problem under the sun”, your personal “Oceanside tour guide” or the girl who is in at your every beck & call day or night with no life outside of work. If we met while I was going through a divorce, I’m no longer the woman who walks fast, constantly looks over her shoulder and is constantly trying to push people away in order to avoid getting burnt by fire again. I am not broken, “going through it” or bitter…

    Instead, I’m the person who freely shares thoughts and encourages others to do the same. I’m someone who values God and family above all, while continuing to have the drive to change the world in impactful ways. I’m someone who works hard every day to be a better person, I’m able to pace myself now and I can finally cherish moments of solitude where I’m able to practice self-care. I don’t feel personally responsible for the misery of others anymore and am always willing to offer advice if they truly want to help themselves. Most of all, I’m someone who is truly happy in my present state no longer waiting to enjoy it until I reach my next goal.

  19. Ways to Establish Healthy Coping Mechanisms
    After a hard day at work or dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed, I would automatically reach for a bottle of wine, cigarettes, or my vape. I also used to call someone in order to get their opinion on what I should do or how I should feel about it. Now that I don’t rely on any kind of substance to ease my discomfort or pain, I am able to deal with things in a more direct way. I stopped turning to others as a way out and took rapid responsibility of my own life…even when it came to making major life changing decisions. At some points, I still resorted to shutting down in difficult conversations because I didn’t feel like I could be understood. But over time, I built trust in others that not everyone will have the same reactions like others have in the past. Since then, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the kind of advice I’m getting when it really counts and have even used that to help others in similar situations.

  20. The Impact My Voice Can Have
    I knew the impact I had on others during phone conversations at work, especially throughout the pandemic. 2020 was a time a lot of business owners sought comfort, expert advice, and relief to the growing list of problems on their plate. When I left, I wondered what value my voice could bring to the world without some fancy title. However, once I took off the “training wheels” and showed everyone who I really was, what I had been through, and what I learned from it I was met with an insane amount of positive feedback. Since starting this webpage, I’ve received a lot of support through “likes” and “shares” on various posts helping validate that my audience is genuinely interested in what I have to say. That means the world to me and I’m honored to have entertained or inspired you even for a moment with them.

    However, what truly showed me the impact my voice can have was the type of messages I received after sharing more personal posts like What It’s Like Dating as a Vegan & How I Met My Match and Why I Left My Job as an Essential Worker During the Pandemic to Save My Own Health. People were excited that I was advocating loudly for veganism and working towards my own happiness & wellbeing… some even shared their own stories of feeling the pressure set in at their jobs. I heard from people in the restaurant, hotel, real estate, health industries and more. I was so shocked to see that I wasn’t alone in my feelings and that my story inspired them. After that, I saw more posts from those types of people online giving themselves much needed breaks, focusing more on their mental health and overall just being more kind to themselves and others. I’ve had people I thought would never try vegan dishes become excited and talk about adding more plants to their diet. Being able to lead positive change in other people’s lives to help them become direct or indirect advocates for animals has been the most rewarding part of this process.

That’s a wrap for 2020… a.k.a. the year we all thought would never end. As I continue to grow and learn, I’m tracking lessons along the way to share with you for 2021. Do you have any lessons that were important to you this year or can you relate to any listed in this post?

As always, thanks for your love & support.

‘Til next time!

Em 🌱

Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae
Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae

Hi! My name is Emerald May and I’m The Plant Based Bae. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and have called Southern California home for the past seven years. In 2018, I decided to switch to a vegan diet which led to me improving my overall quality of life and learning a lot about health & humanitarianism. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations with vigorous vegans and curious omnivores to share what I’ve learned along the way.

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