My third year in China was such a strange mixture of events and situations that it’s hard to summarise. There were highs and lows, like a crazy rollercoaster, that somehow seem to cancel each other out in hindsight – I remember all the ups and downs of the individual events, and yet when I look back on the year as a whole I forget how low some of those lows were. All of it was building me, my character, my perspective on the world.
In a lot of ways it was a foundational year, setting the stage for the rest of my 20s. It was the year I started to settle into my post-university, independent “adult’ life. I had a job and I was making ends meet. I was developing a lot of good friendships in my life. I was learning a lot from older and wiser friends, and settling into a mentoring role with teenagers. Overall, there was a sense of stability about my life.
But there was more to it.
I started the year struggling with depression; seeing a counsellor for a few months was good. Our conversation didn’t seem earth-shattering at the time, but I look back and see the seeds of big changes I would make in the coming years, the start of some direction changes.
Another hurdle physically was a really bad bout of tendinitis that had me off work for over a month. I was reliant upon the kindness of friends to do simple things for me that I was incapable of doing for myself – unlocking my door, brushing and washing my hair, even unhooking my bra. But it was this very forced dependence that shattered some of my twisted ideas about how friendship works, and allowed me to become more open to deeper relationship with others.
In the second half of the year I stopped eating sugar (and dramatically reduced my intake of white flour) for 6 months. This resulted in significant weight loss (I lost 17kg, nearly 40lb) but also had several dramatic emotional breakdowns – painful both for me and for the friends trying to love me through them. I had used sugar to help manage my emotions for years and without it found I wasn’t able to cope as well. For the first time I began to see my propensity for pushing myself past my limits, to the point of punishing myself for not being able to keep up with others socially and emotionally.
But I wasn’t going through all this tumult alone.
I had three best friends all living nearby – one I worked with, one I did youth ministry with, and one from my hometown. Every area of my life was covered by someone who knew me very well, accepted my quirks, and gave good advice. I hadn’t had that before, and I haven’t had it since. Not only that, but it was the beginning of the age of the Urban Tribe – the closest group of friends I have ever been a part of. The 7 earliest Tribe members were a small group of youth leaders that met at my house – or over margaritas at a Mexican restaurant downtown. I was the youngest of the group, and felt a sense of safety that I was known and looked after. I was able to offer my strengths without feeling any weight of obligation.
I can’t overstate the importance of all those relationships as I experienced the growing pains of really entering adulthood.
And still there were more experiences! I had several visitors from Australia. There were lots of good conversations, good meals, and touristy things. I also travelled. I took my first trip to Xishuangbanna, which became one of my favourite places in China. I spent a few days in Hongkong with my parents for my birthday, and had wonderful conversations in which I learned more about myself and life as an adult. At the end of the year I went to Australia for Christmas, and experienced the strangeness of feeling like a foreigner at “home.”
As I said, it is a hard year to summarise. In a lot of ways, 2006 was the start of my adult life. At 24 I was catching up on emotional development I hadn’t covered adequately as a teenager. I didn’t feel grown up yet but I was starting to do grown up things. I was thinking about my future, about my direction. I was already realising how important youth work was to me, and considering how that might eventually become a career.
All the ups and downs contributed to that growing-up process. I guess that’s why while thinking on specific events I can feel the up-and-down, but when I look at the year as a whole all the chaos and confusion fades away. When I take that step back I see the purpose behind it all. I see the growth that wasn’t evident while I was in the thick of it all. While there was pain, challenge, disappointment, stress and strain – it was all laying a foundation for who I would be in the years that followed.
I guess overall it was a pretty wonderful year :)