My fourth year in China didn’t start out so well. All three of the best friends who had been such a big part of my third year left China left China – two of them in the first month of the year. First Amanda (and Andrew) returned to Australia, then Josh moved to the US, then Christina moved to Cambodia. As it turned out, I maintained friendships with all of them, and they all returned to China in time (even if Christina just came to visit) – but I didn’t know that at the time.
My sister then visited me in Beijing, which was a fantastic time. She was on her way around the world and had just taken the Trans-Siberian railroad from Russia. We saw a lot of Beijing and travelled to my favourite town in southern China. It was the first time the two of us spent a long time together and it was a lot of fun.
Her visit happened during the “heyday” of the Beijing Urban Tribe. This infamous group of 20ish people were so close we were family – although the real Tribe time lasted only 6 months we did a LOT. Chinese new year fireworks, temple fair, the Valentine’s Day gatecrash, dinners and movies at my place, the formal dress coupon, a lot of youth events, a lot of meals at Peters (and a lot of margaritas!), and SO many birthday celebrations.
In April I left my job, and spent a few months volunteering with the youth ministry. It was an amazing time with the youth group – we had over 100 students from around the city gathering each Friday night, and about 20 volunteer leaders. But I also hit another bout of depression – my third bad bout in the two years since I started working. One of the most frustrating nights of the year was when my friends threw me a birthday party, but I was too full of anxiety and depression to enjoy the wonderful evening. It was even more sad because I’d always planned to do something fun for my 25th birthday – something “silver anniversary” themed.
I had long planned to be in Australia for my youngest sister’s 21st birthday (I missed her 18th, which happened during my first year in China). Since I wasn’t working I had extra free time, so I left earlier than planned to catch up with my other sister in Thailand (my first time there) and travel back to Australia together. But this meant I had nearly two months in Australia… it was too long, and I felt a bit out of place. At the same time, half of the Urban Tribe group moved away from Beijing – which was very sad.
I returned to Beijing to a new flatmate (who would become a huge part of my Beijing life) and began looking into work in the music industry – her career of choice. I even worked her regular job for a month while she was on holiday. I sang two 45 minute sets 4-5 nights a week in the buffet area of a Chinese spa-club. It became clear that despite my love of singing and music, performing isn’t my strong suit – the stress of “acting” as a performer took its toll.
Soon another bout of depression threatened, but by this stage I was sick of its disruption in my life. I was sick of feeling so held back from my ability to do, acheive, and engage with others. I was all set to return to counselling after the holiday break, but in the mean time I prayed for strategies to combat it, to disrupt the pattern, and received something that worked so well I would not have another bout for three years. I finally had a tool that worked for me, that helped me feel in control and not just a victim.
What I didn’t know was that I was about to enter a difficult and stressful season. One of my closest friends stepped down as the youth director and I was hired to run the youth ministry in the interim while a new person was found and employed. The whole situation was fraught and difficult and I felt very much caught in the middle, as well as completely out of my depth and unable to fill his considerable shoes. I found a lot of guest speakers but eventually had to do some speaking myself – and discovered I wasn’t as bad as I thought. Certainly not as bad as I was when I was younger. Still, the stress took a toll on my body and I got a nasty flu which had me in bed for a week. There was a stretch of ten days where the only time I left my house was to go to youth group. I sat down to do announcements because I didn’t have the energy to stand for that long!
The next year began with a trip to Texas for the wedding of two friends, followed by a reunion with three Tribe friends from Beijing. Then the new youth pastor and his wife arrived in Beijing, just in time for the big annual youth conference – and for the venue to cancel on us less than two weeks out! At the same time I was in the middle of moving house – and beginning a new and important season of my China life in a new city.
My fourth year in China was hard, but it was a pivot point. I learned more about what I wanted from life. In some ways it was the end of youthful angst. Not that I didn’t have issues to work through after that, but my attitude was shifting, and my direction in life becoming more clear.