Ps: Click here for my 2019 Year in Review Post.
Hiya, as the 2010-decade comes to an end, I thought to undertake the introspective task of looking back to identify milestones, crossroads and turning point. It’s worth seeing how far we’ve come, what steps we took that moved us forward, what steps moved us backwards, and when we stood still.
2010 – the year of new beginnings
Highlight: Relocated from Belgium to the US to join my husband | Mother-in-Law died
Emotional health: Peaceful
2010 found me in love, eager to be reconnected with my then brand-new husband, Mr. Grey. We had gotten married the year prior 2009 in New York City on November 28th 2009, but he was still living in the US while Jan and I still lived in Belgium. We took our time deciding whether we would begin our life together in Belgium, his native England, or the USA. I had met my parents-in-law the year prior and that January, my mother-in-law passed away from ALS. Mr. Grey came for the burial and I joined him from Belgium. At Heathrow Airport after the funeral, I remember him leaving back for the US and me for Belgium minus my wedding rings owing to a difference of opinions, a sign of a decade of intermittent rejection that was to follow…
We made the decision to try the US April of that year and I began to wrap up my life in Europe. I resigned from my very senior job as head of Finance and Budget department of an EU judiciary subsidiary, I resigned from the Vice Presidency of the Toastmaster Club, I gave up my beautiful 3 bedroomed house, hired a container to ship all my earthly possessions home, sold my new Toyota Yaris hatchback car, sent some luggage ahead to the US by air, the works…
We said goodbye to everyone, and on a fine August morning, Jan and I boarded our direct Delta flight from Brussels Airport to JFK International airport in New York. I remember how tired I was. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was scared. I was moving in with a man I had married and I had no idea how it would go. I had just given up everything I had for love. I had let go of a bird in hand for two in the bushes. My friends were happy for me, others were scared for me, thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life. ‘You never sacrifice anything in your life for a man’, all my male friends and colleagues told me. ‘We are selfish’, they chided. ‘When we’re done with you, we walk away without a care, and you’ll have sacrificed everything for what?’, they said. I wasn’t naïve, no, I believed them. I just didn’t want to live life fearful of trying new things. Up until then, I had never been a risk-taker. Ever. I was the careful girl, that planned everything, over-analyzed everything, talked myself out of everything. Mr. Grey was my first risk, so I threw it all away and followed him. I married for love. Nothing else was on the table but love. The 2008 financial meltdown had hit hard in the US and no other offer was on the table but love. Love, great potential, and big dreams -that was all that was on offer, and for me, it was enough -for love conquers all, right? Taking it all in stride, I jumped.
2011 – the year of patience
Highlights: Earned a Master’s Degree in International Politics | Started working back in Finance
Emotional health: Patient | Expectant | Hopeful
This was a slow year. Jan had resumed high school right away but I had to wait almost all of that year for a work permit. I busied myself writing up my dissertation for my Contemporary International Politics and Security Studies Master’s Degree Program that I had done while in Belgium in 2009-2010. I finished and submitted my thesis, earning me my master’s degree that same year in May. That summer, Mr. Grey bought me a sewing machine so I could keep busy in the day while everyone was away doing something useful. We would steal away early mornings to watch the sunrise. We’d take long drives down to the beach to see beautiful sunsets. We took road trips out of state to see the rest of New England. We would take long walks in the evenings after work to cure my cabin fever. Everything was new and the adventures were great. Mr. Grey had to work 2 jobs for all of that year until I got my work permit in October when our immigration status was completed. 2 weeks later, I had my first job in the US, working in Accounting.
2012 – the year of progress
Highlights: Lost two angel babies | started my MBA | visited Daddy
Emotional Health: Able | Strong
I hated it at work. It was hard adjusting to a lower position after leading a department as Chief Financial accountant. I had no direct reports and I was now doing the slug work. I loathed my job. I hated not being in the boardroom, not being part of the decision-making team, something I had become accustomed to. I talked Mr. Grey into letting me resume my MBA classes that I had started while I was still living in Belgium. He agreed on conditions he could get a brand-new motor bike; I didn’t understand it, but we had a deal. I figured the MBA would be my way back up the ladder and back into the boardroom, and so it was important to me. I got to study and he eventually bought his brand new electric blue Suzuki motorbike. That April, we travelled to Kenya for Mr. Grey to meet my ailing dad before it was too late; it was his first time in Africa. He was terrified (blame CNN) but brave. Once on the ground, he was at home with the locals and took it upon himself to organize treatment for my dad well beyond our stay. He was quite the hero, the kindest and most generous man I’d known. He refused for us to go on safari, choosing to stay on with dad right until the day before we were to leave for the US. That fall, we lost two angel babies. It was a painful time. I moaned their loss, taking time off my course work to recover, resuming back a couple of months later.
2013 – the year of strength
Highlights: Hubby work transition | Chris visited | Earned a Diploma in Interior Decorating
Emotional health: Hopeful | While there is life there is hope
Jan was in his senior year of high school. I spent all my Saturdays driving him back and forth for SAT prep classes which he passed easily. I continued with my course work, submitting daily assignments. Work continued uneventfully. I had this world map behind my desk at work and I kept dreaming of being away from the god-forsaken place, I couldn’t get away fast enough. Then Mr. Grey got laid off in the summer. Springing into action, I put my classes on hold, taking over all the household bills. Mr. Grey was already attending night school to get his real estate license so I made it such that he could focus on just that and try and break into the industry. I held the fort down the rest of that year as he tried to find his place. It was hard for him as he was extremely hardworking and had never been without work, and suddenly here he was twiddling his thumbs. Used to having a work structure in place for him, he had no idea how to organize his day to stay productive while working from our home office. Social Media and the ‘World of Warcraft’ game became his best friend and we argued about that dynamic all the way to the end. With my MBA on hold as finances were diverted to the household, I decided to take a one-year course in Interior Decoration, earning a diploma in the field that has fast become my passion. That year, mu younger sister Chris and Joe came to visit us all the way from Australia and we had a blast.
2014 – the year of loss
Highlights: Losing Emma | Almost dying | Bought house | Clem visited | Vanessa visited
Emotional health: Hopeful | Thankful | Then shock & numbness that autumn
The year started on a high note when I changed jobs within the same company that spring, now working as a financial analyst. I resumed my MBA, this time taking a student loan as the only available financial avenue to forge forward since I was still the one holding the fort down financially. We were going to church then and I was trying to relight my fire for the things of God. That summer, out of nowhere, we found out we were expecting Emma. I refused to get excited. Anyone who has had a first trimester miscarriage will understand this. I entered my second trimester and started to become cautiously optimistic. Jan graduated high school and got accepted at all the 3 state universities he had applied to. Choosing UConn, he began his quest to become a Computer Engineer.
Now a little over 2 years at my job, we had met the home ownership conditions for securing a mortgage. We bought our first building that October. Two weeks later, I was in hospital losing Emma and nearly dying myself. Through the worst of it all, my big sister Clementine travelled from Texas to stay with me at the hospital for a few days. Having lost Emma, I had been transferred from the ICU to the Step-Down unit to recover. I can still feel my face pressed against the cool window every night as I watched my Jan and Mr. Grey go home after a visit, desperately wanting to go home with them and take care of my family. A month later and several blood transfusions later for my low platelets count, I was released from hospital and given 3-6 months to recover since my internal organs had began to shut down from internal damage. Vanessa and her husband came so we wouldn’t be alone when we went to pick up Emma’s remains from her cremation. I still remember coming home from hospital with empty arms. Looking back, our family became broken at that time; we would never recover, we just didn’t know it then, until when we lost each other (and everything we had built together) this year.
Jan continued with school, emotionally limping along silently. Mr. Grey busied himself with home ownership, finding tenants for our new building. I spaced out of my life and did a 180 degree turn from a strict serious woman to a bubbly girl. Emma had died because my body had rejected her from Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I myself had almost died, what use was planning ahead if we could all just suddenly die? No longer was I the type-A personality woman with a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and 5-year plan; I stopped holding myself and everyone else accountable. I stopped holding anyone to any standard. I stopped doing the budget, stopped sorting out our credit cards, agreeing to Mr. Grey’s preference for minimum payments, I stopped insisting on paying all our bills on time. These things had caused vicious arguments between us and I didn’t want to fight anymore and die tomorrow fighting about such mundane things. I wanted to be loved and to be happy in case I died tomorrow. So I stepped back and simply watched life happen. I checked out of my life and Mr. Grey lost his wife; it would take another 4 years for the physical loss to finally manifest. He spoke of loneliness but I couldn’t hear him. I hadn’t just checked out on him, I had checked out of my life as well! Assuming a laidback persona, I refused to take life seriously. After all, I could die any time. People die all the time. ‘Live a little!’ became my motto. Looking back now, I can see I was in shock and survival-mode had kicked in.
2015 – the year of escapism
Highlights: Daddy died | Earned my MBA in Finance & Accounting | Quit my career
Emotional Health: Lost | checked out | disconnected
A shell of a person, I resumed work that spring and finished writing my dissertation. My daddy died that summer in June. We travelled for his burial, stopping in England for a few days to visit Mr. Grey’s ailing father. Death was stalking me, it was everywhere!! I quit my job that fall in September. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hadn’t a plan for the way forward, I was just existing. Come December, we travelled back to England for my graduation at the University of Liverpool where I earned my MBA in finance and accounting. In keeping with my new carefree persona, I decided to stay on a few more months as Mr. Grey and my Jan flew back to resume work and school respectively. I don’t recall much of what happened in that year. I was numb and trying to make some sense out of my life. I was grieving and I felt guilty and ashamed that my body had let me down and I hadn’t been able to save my darling Emma. In reality, I felt like I was in a deep dark endless hole and I spent that whole year trying to claw my way out and resume a semblance of life for myself and my loved ones. I could sense them wandering about somewhat dazed; I knew the devil was trying his hardest to scatter us as a family, yet it was as if I was bound and there was nothing I could do to help myself or my family. While I’d concluded that God was indifferent, I knew He cared, and so I continued to hold on to him loosely as I fumbled my way through my murky life for a few more years.
2016 – the year of flight
Highlights: Relocated back to Belgium | Changed careers | Started blogging | Dad-in-Law died | Earned a Diploma in Social Media Marketing
Emotional Health: Spaced out | on flight-mode
My son and my husband flew back to the US that new year and I stayed on without any real plans. Clearly in a haze, I started considering my options in Belgium. Why would I be considering my options in Belgium while my family now lived in the US?! Nevertheless, I did. I had once thought of becoming an air hostess but the significant potential pay-cut had scared me off. Well, now I was without pay, so why not? I applied and got accepted for training and got hired. At the same time, I realized I could get IVF treatment in Belgium cheaper than I could ever get in the US. That was a major boost for the case to staying on in Belgium. In retrospect, I must have been running away from the barrenness of my life. I can’t deny that the possibility of masking the pain of losing Emma by getting another bambino was too good a chance to pass up. And so I stayed on for the rest of 2016 with Mr. Grey obliging and flying into Brussels two more times that year to visit me in my little studio apartment nestled at the Place Sablon Art District in the city center of Brussels.
Keeping myself busy, I earned another diploma in Social Media Marketing & Online Security in preparation for blogging. Jan trudged on with his studies even as I had no idea of the demons he was fighting, but that’s his story to tell. I mothered him from afar with long conversations over the phone while Mr. Grey drove up to see him and chat with him through some of the rougher patches. He’s alive and well today by the miracle of God. In a fight-or-flight-mode reaction, I had taken flight, abandoning my hurting family to sort themselves out and figure the way forward without my much-needed guidance as mother and helpmate. I started this blog during this period with the hopes that I would find myself as I write because it’s how I have always cleared my head and figured things out. Also, having faced death, I didn’t want to die without leaving something behind that showed I was here and that I once lived and loved… The family was struggling but I was oblivious, working hard to numb my own pain. Mr. Grey was lonely and gradually getting used to life without me, even beginning to prefer it. The stage was set for the events that would transpire two years later, this year.
2017 – the year of return
Highlights: Relocated back to the US | New career | Attended London Family Wedding | Mum visited | Terry visited
Emotional Health: Hazy | Busy | on flight-mode
I had barely gotten back to Brussels to resume my job after a two-month winter furlough when that spring, I resigned from Brussels after I was blessed enough to find the same job here in the US in a bid to get back closer to my family. I spent 2 months training in Dallas then got out on the job thereafter where everything was a blur. Mama visited from Clem’s place in Texas that summer, spending a few days with us in Connecticut. Terry visited from Seattle that fall for a few days. We attended a family wedding in England that November. It was by far my busiest year and everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, yet too fast, creating an out-of-control hazy pattern.
2018 – the year of despair
Highlights: Work | Blogging | Purchased next house | Attended Clem’s Wedding
Emotional Health: Despair | Despondent | Hopelessness setting in
Work-wise, I switched bases from Dallas, to Miami, and finally to Philly. Travel-wise, we attended my big sister Clementine’s wedding. That year, I was blogging more than ever. My thoughts were eating me alive and I needed to get them out onto paper to free my mind. A mole issue had been turned into a mountain that spring, alerting me to impending rejection. As despair set in, I began to shut down emotionally. Hopelessness permeated the air. Days off were empty. I felt such emptiness all the time. I remedied that by busying myself with redecorating our home, switching all my furniture around and painting everything white. The emptiness persisted even as I did my best to find meaning in my life, a way to ground myself. I was empty and scared, felt my life counted for nothing. Felt cheated, felt hopeless, felt misunderstood, felt insecure with the constant threats of rejection, couldn’t help but wonder how much longer… I resolved that I am a strong woman and I can and will overcome any and everything. We bought yet another building; little did I know that the purchase had provided the long-awaited way out thereby triggering the long threatened rejection. Less than a month after buying that house, the wedding ring was flung at me (a common occurrence) one more time, and I was subjected to one last rejection.
2019 – the year of salvation
Highlights: Found Christ | Unconsciously Uncoupled | Moved house | Mama visited | Terry visited
Emotional Health: Happy | Surefooted | Purposeful
2019 is the happiest I’ve ever been. Why? Because my father found me and showed me dependable love that I can count on through every circumstance. Being found by Him has given meaning to my life. The threat of being left is gone because I have finally been left, but I have also found the one that will never leave me or threaten to leave me. I can finally heal and trust again. This year I learnt that though I have walked with God my whole life, I have become lukewarm this whole decade and I didn’t even realize it. I survived the enemy’s brutal attempt to take me down in the battlefield of my mind by finally finding my identity in Christ; because of this, I am finally secure in who I am, having found my worth in Christ. I have learnt about unconditional love and how that looks like the in the face of intense hatred, hurt and pain. This year I have communed with a God that speaks and cares about all the details of our lives and He continues to direct my steps.
2010s Review Summary
Highlights: I found a great love | I lost a great love | My Heavenly Father found & saved me | My dad died | My Mum-in-law & Dad-in-Law died | Earned 2 masters degrees | Earned two diplomas | Lost 3 angel babies| Relocated from one continent to another | Raised my son from a high-schooler to a college kid | Switched careers | Started blogging | Purchased 2 buildings
The 2010s decade was one of growth, mainly from taking great risks. The first half of the decade was spent with me being sure of myself, taking control of many things, running the show, feeling capable and well-able. I was sure I could straighten my home and get things to run right by hook or crook. I was intent on running a tight ship but all my attempts at getting our lives on the track I had visualized they’d be on were failing miserably and I had no idea how to make it work. The great potential and big dreams were coming to naught and trying to control everything only made it worse. My disappointment was seeping out through contentiousness and I didn’t know how to be a peacekeeper. I didn’t know to turn it over to the Lord in prayer.
By the second half of the decade I had all but given up. I let go and let things play out as they might. I was resigned to my life. I gave up on a lot of my hopes, dreams and desires. I quit on myself and on others. I lost my True North and my sense of bearing along with it. Under the continual threat of rejection, I was coming unraveled, becoming undone, lashing out like a wounded soul. I had become doubtful and anxiety-ridden. I felt defeated and insecure. I had all but despaired. The devil was having a field day in my territory, running circles around me and I didn’t even know it.
In summary, I feel I achieved the most growth spiritually, emotionally and academically this decade. I made major moves and took great strides forward. There was so much love there, so much love… There were cozy nights of back-rubs and restful nights. There were adventurous weekends of road trips and weekend getaways; hours of talking and planning for our future; stealing away to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets; long walks on the beach, long drives to nowhere in particular, we did it all. Everything was worth it if only for love. If love could have saved us, we would have lived forever. All in all, it was a good decade; I loved and lost, yet the hopeless romantic that I am, I still feel that loving made it all worthwhile.
I wonder though, am I awake? Every moment we live, we think we’re awake, only to find out in hindsight that we really weren’t awake at all. Which raises the question -am I awake now?
Ps: For the year 2019 in Review, click here.
NB: Please remember that there is always ‘his side’, ‘her side’, and the truth. This is simply my side, there is an equally valid ‘his side’. Also remember, the enemy is never the other person, the enemy is always the devil. Humbly, Helena xoxo