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Be brave, keep going. These are the words inscribed on a bracelet I recently received as a gift, and as “trendy” as phrases like this are, it’s nevertheless become a sort of mantra for me lately.

Typically, I internalize struggles when things get challenging—very few people are made privy to what I face or how I handle it. Lately, however, I’ve been a bit more forthcoming, and my friends have genuinely come forward to lift me and guide me forward.

Seriously, it would have been pretty easy for me to have a pity party in recent months. I’m overwhelmed by the number of things that had “gone wrong” in my life since September. But as my boyfriend put it, I’ve “juggled an amount of insanity that would’ve killed a small village.” I guess that’s something I can be proud of?

But for every bit of insanity I’ve faced, for every hurdle that’s sprung up, for every adversity, there’s been an equal or greater opportunity, a plethora of wonderful experiences, and a wealth of lessons-learned. And while I actually think there can be value in briefly savoring the mopey moments (it’s more than okay to be sad and to deeply experience melancholy when warranted), I’ve also found meaning by expressing gratitude and radiating an aura of positivity so intense as to envelop those around me.

And so with this—my first real post in quite a long time—I want to talk about facing adversity. I want to share how I’ve kept my head up, hoping to impart what wisdom I’ve gleaned about finding strength, pushing through, and making the most of my experience.

Life’s Curve Balls

I haven’t been posting much content the past few months. I’m quite disappointed in myself, actually. With the help of my friend Bryan, I revamped my website last fall (just in time for the ‘ish’ to hit the fan, right?); but I’m optimistic. The barriers to generating content have, for the most part, been overcome. And I plan to begin posting more regularly once again soon. I’m beginning with some more personal content, because I have a lot to share and I want my readers to know the realness of the people behind Crunchy Vegan.

And so this is me. This is Megan. This is part of my story.

Without getting too much in the weeds, I’ve transitioned quite a bit recently. In September, I separated from my ex—whom I was with for 12 years. In November, an MRI revealed a large tumor in my mother’s brain. In December, the week of Christmas, my divorce got ugly (and it remained so until the end). That same week, my mother began treatment. In early 2018, I had to sell my home and move. The basement of my home flooded the day before the inspection, which required a costly repair. Then, on move-in day, a tree fell on my new apartment. Two days later, the power went out for 3 frigid days and nights. That same week, my cat was diagnosed with feline vestibular disease. All of this on top of the everyday challenges we tend to face as humans and functioning adults.

Even writing it all out feels like I’m having a pity party. But I assure you that’s not my goal here. My intent is to demonstrate the validity of my voice when it comes to speaking about misfortunes. So when I say that I’m absolutely in love with my life—despite all of what’s happened—I hope you’ll appreciate some perspective on why that feels like a big deal.

Lessons Learned

Perhaps none of what I’ve endured seems like any real hardship to you. That’s understandable; I recognize that others have it much, much worse. But perhaps you can relate. Or, maybe you can see that life sometimes throws hardball after hardball. Perhaps you want to know how to come out of a similarly taxing time.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have particularly remarkable answers. But I have the answers that worked for me, and I’m happy to share the lessons I’ve learned.

Learning to Be Resilient, Embracing the Path Ahead

If you had told me a year ago that my life would be drastically changed, I’d have been skeptical. A year ago, things felt relatively under my control. Then again, I guess the Universe had a lesson for me—that I can’t control everything . . . I have to be flexible; I have to learn to be resilient.

If you had even told me just six months ago—at the start of my separation, when my entire future became a great unknown almost overnight, when I learned of my mother’s diagnosis—that in the process of navigating my new life, I’d build and cultivate relationships, develop and realize healthy new habits I had been working toward for decades, and ground myself . . . that I would find gratitude in the darkness . . . that I would legitimately feel as though I were living my best life just a few short months down the road, I’d probably have felt insulted. How could you say my life would be great when I felt I was amidst a catastrophe?

But that’s exactly what happened. No one foretold what was to come, but my life indeed changed significantly. I allowed myself to be receptive to that evolution. I rolled with the punches. I made lemonade out of lemons. And that was step one: accept and adapt.

Build Healthy Habits

I am aware of most of my bad habits. Usually, I do a decent job at keeping them under check (at least, I think I do). But when I had to put so much effort into other parts of my life, controlling bad habits became tedious. The good habits felt like inconsequential chores in the grand scheme of things.

However, it wasn’t until I set out to create new habits that I started to feel good. With good habits, I feel like I’m in control again. Whereas I’m recognizing I can’t control my life or what happens to me, I know that I can control how I respond, how I feel, and how I care for myself in the process. And it has been so rewarding! I’ve finally cultivated healthy habits I’ve pursued for years!

I’ve been meditating with help from the Headspace app (though, admittedly, I’ve been a little lax in the past month as I was moving), and I’ve been tracking my activity with my smart watch (I’ve actually been comparing different smart watches, and I’ll do a review of them soon). I have found a rigorous and healthy fitness routine—consisting of morning yoga, regular antigravity classes, and activities like dancing, hiking, and biking. I’ve also been eating much, MUCH healthier. Here’s a little secret: I am a low-key stress eater . . . an emotional eater in disguise. Recently, it has been hard to resist the temptation to treat myself with food, craving the immediate dopamine release! But I acknowledge my cravings for the emotional coping mechanism they are. I have instead been reaching more consistently for healthy snacks, or simply hydrating with water! Seriously, take care of yourself and you’ll feel ready to seize any day!

And then I’ve been wildly diligent about getting my life in order. I’ve been hyper aware of time management and of my personal commitments. I’ve been de-stressing my life; prioritizing the activities that are rewarding and valuable and eliminating things that were unfulfilling volunteer responsibilities. I’ve also been absolutely great about keeping my space tidy. I’ve always been cluttered and messy, but I’ve found routines in the past few months to help me keep messes at bay. And I’ve gone the minimalist path, purging excess “stuff” from my home. And let me tell you, eliminating stress-causing clutter makes me feel like I have all the space in the world to tackle any issues life delivers. And I’m only a little concerned that I’m developing a mild case of OCD.

Lean On Friendship/Accept Help

In adjusting to the new “normal,” I have frequently felt out of place. Now, I’m not the kind of person to ask for help. I’m also likely to decline help when it’s offered. “I’m a strong, independent woman,” I think to myself, “I can handle this.” But there comes a point for many when, no matter how strong we are, we simply cannot handle it alone.

From experience, I knew how dangerous it can be to confront demons alone.

When I was in college, I hit a rough patch. It’s a bit silly to think of that time now—my problems were so trivial compared to what I’ve faced since. But at the time, my problems felt unsurmountable, they felt crushing. There was a brief period of maybe a few months where I seriously contemplated suicide. Not just if it were an option—because it very much felt like it was—but I contemplated how I could bring myself to do it. Being unsure of how to make it happen was ultimately what kept me alive.

During that time, almost no one knew what I was going through.

I remember that feeling to this day. It’s a crushing feeling—like the sensation of your heart, lungs, stomach . . . all collapsing within your body. The simple recollection of those years is gut-wrenching. I never want to feel like I’m in that predicament again. Ever.

Of course, I’ve grown a great deal since college. I’ve developed healthier habits and cultivated an emotional maturity and sense of self-awareness, which helps me cope with the adversities I now face. But there’s still only so much I can do alone.

A lot of what I’ve been facing recently has found me in new territory. So I’m turning to friends who’ve endured similar experiences. How can I make it out of this alive . . . and in one piece?  I’ve had to ask for help—in the form of emotional support, definitely, and also in the form of little chores or errands that are probably effortless, menial tasks for me any other day, but on some days just felt overwhelming and unconquerable.

In the months following my separation and learning of my mother’s cancer, I strengthened my relationships with friends. I formed an immensely meaningful bond with one friend in particular. He provided insight throughout my divorce, having recently gone through the same. He’s been an incredible, loving partner. I feel lucky to call him my boyfriend. And I’m beyond grateful, as he has stood by me through what has followed—as have all of my friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. People show up when they know you’re struggling. And rather than push them away or retreat into isolation, this time I welcomed their love and support, and it has made a world of a difference!

Express Gratitude/Find silver linings

When it seems as though the world is against you, it’s easier to feel anger or self-pity than it is to feel or express gratitude. But expressing gratitude can feel slightly dismissive of the struggles. And it’s straining to offer thanks when you authentically wish you could say “no thanks” instead, and reject what’s before you. But I assure you: expressing gratitude changes the brain’s chemistry!

Feeling gratitude shifts your perspective. You begin seeing your life not as a series of misfortunes, but as a web of opportunities—for learning, growth, and building meaningful relationships. Though I recognize that I’ve been tested in the past 6 months, I also feel as though my life is more rewarding and fulfilling than it has ever been!

Observe Others

Now, my greatest lesson in facing challenges has come from observing others—specifically, my mom. Sure, I’ve had some road blocks in recent months, but my mom is facing one serious fight at the moment. In November, doctors found the tumor. A week later, she was on the operating table. A portion was able to be removed, but not all. The extracted tumor was identified as glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer. Since December, my mother has been enduring treatment in the form of chemotherapy, radiation, and a medicinal trial.

So I could try to turn her cancer into my problem, or I could watch her be the fierce woman that she is, as she fights the disease—all the while keeping her head high and her spirits higher. Truly, she is an inspiration. She hasn’t let this get to her, and she remains the most positive person I know.

By watching my mother, I can put my own issues into perspective, and I can learn from the master that being mopey will do nothing to improve the situation, but being positive and optimistic can help make any situation feel a little bit lighter and brighter.

You’ve Got What it Takes

I live a very fortunate, privileged life. So maybe my readers won’t feel I have any authority to talk about misfortune at all. But it’s a significant gesture for me, to let others in and to share my story. I wavered back on forth, debating whether or not to share a post so personal. The theme of Crunchy Vegan is about providing general guidance to others. Ultimately, I recognized the value I had gleaned from other personal posts as I traveled my own path.  And that sort of content, personal or not, is providing guidance.

So, if you’ve hit a rough patch, if you’re feeling like it’s you v. the world, know that you are brave-enough, strong-enough, and badass-enough to fight back. Go on, show us what you’ve got!

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