Between the dots #4

And just like that it's 2020. A new year at the start of a new decade. And I cannot help but reflect back on the last one. It's been ten wonderful years in which I experienced life to the fullest, positive and negative. Perhaps negative is not completely the right term for the sad experiences, but for the sake of a good pair, I'll just stick with it for now. A decade ago I was 20 years old, it was my second year at university, I was immersed in student life and I had big dreams for the following years.

The past ten years have been about following my dreams. I dreamed of sharing my life with my best friend - whomever he may be -, travelling the world, finding my calling - or as it turned out, stop fighting it -, and creating a life that suits me.

As for the best friend, I first saw him in February 2009, when I was just nineteen years old. I immediately knew that there was something about him. But it turned out that he already belonged to someone else, so I forgot about him. Until the fall of 2010, when a friend suggested we should encourage him to ask me to our student association's gala. Our little scheme worked, and not long after I received a letter written with silver ink on blue paper, which I answered with an invitation to a tea ceremony written in gold on pink paper. It would be easy to say that the rest was history, but it wasn't. During the gala he was ill, and not long after I fell ill for several months (this is a recurring theme for the past decade) and we lost track of each other. Until one night in January after which I invited him again to have a cup of tea on the 6th of February 2011. And the rest was history.

When I was sixteen years old I dreamed of travelling the world. I did not know how or when or where to, but that I was going was not even a question. My first venture into the great wide world was to a Taizé meeting in Manilla in early 2010. But after that life happened - and a boyfriend - so my plans got pushed to the background for a while. Until  rumours started to spread in Spring 2011 that I should be the next president of our student association, and I wasn't too excited about those plans. So I told Matthijs three months into our relationship that in eighteen months I would leave with my backpack for a not yet determined amount of time, and that if he wished I could join me on this adventure, but that I was going to go anyway. And so we left to roam the earth on 10-11-12. Did I already mention I am a bit of a number freak? No? Well, we returned to our home country on 13-7-13. Proof enough?

As for finding my calling, I already knew a decade ago. But it has been an ongoing process in which I repeatedly tend to deny that I might be put on this world to become a chaplain. By know I have decided that it's time to stop fighting it and struggle forward with my master's so I can finally find a job that makes me truly happy.

And the last one, creating a life that suits me. As I will write below, the past decade has been a struggle with my health, and it asked from me to continuously adjust me expectations from life. By now I'm at a point where I have discovered to create a life in which I can be reasonably productive and spend time doing the things I love. And the most important tool on this journey has been learning to say "NO". Two capitals, that's right. Because at first people didn't respect my "no" and repeatedly shattered my boundaries. But by saying "NO" they started to listen. But maybe more on that some other day.

But as they say, life happens while making other plans.

A decade ago I was already struggling with my education. In primary and secondary school I never had to work hard, and therefor never learned how to study. Not to practical when attending university. I stowed my lack of interest and general feeling of failure away as being lazy, but in 2010 it turned out that it was not exactly my laziness that caused my struggles. I was diagnosed with AD(h)D. At first it was a relieve, but soon followed an uphill battle against myself and a decade of learning about my disability. Not that I'm sad that my brain is differently wired, I especially love the resilience it has, but learning to function in a neurotypical world - especially an academic one - is quite a challenge.

In addition to that, my body was failing me too. In the past decade I have experienced respiratory issues, a gastro-intestinal infection, PCOS, migraines and IBS. All of which brought my life to a halt in some way or another. So besides the physical inconvenience, these conditions forced me to readjust my expectations from life. And although I usually don't admit this, I did have to grieve about a life I wished for but don't get to live, and that I don't know I will ever have.

On the topic of grieve, in the past decade I have been quite lucky in the department of saying final goodbyes. There were only three. In 2012 Matthijs' grandfather passed away a couple of weeks after we left to travel, but we all knew that was a real possibility when we said goodbye, and we had all the important conversations you wish you have before a loved one passes away. So it was sad, but I cherish the memories I have from the year and a half I knew him. In May 2019 my dear friend, and adopted grandmother, passed away a little over a year after she was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. This loss was a little harder for me, since I knew it was going to happen - for a interned at a ward where patients were treated for this specific type of cancer - and yet couldn't spend as much time with her as I wanted because of my own failing health. Her passing away hit me so hard, that I didn't know how to deal with it. But a decade of getting to know myself taught me how to move forward, so I asked my family doctor to start AD(h)D medication again and that helped me a great deal. The first weeks I cried and cried until there were no more tears. And then I was able to give space to the beautiful memories I have of my dear friend. And the last goodbye was to one of our bunnies the Sunday before Christmas. From one moment to another she fell ill, and there was nothing we could have done for her.

And then there was the mundane, my everyday life. It has taken many forms over a decade, and I don't even pretend to recall everything. But the biggest change has been the one from being a night owl to having a preference for going to bed early.

Some things I have learned over the past ten years:

* It is possible to go outside without a specific aim or purpose. Something I still find rather strange, so sometimes I trick myself by telling myself that the light is too beautiful to not go out with my camera. Well, whatever works.

* There is a way to live together but still have time and space for yourself. It took some figuring out, three houses and several ways of arranging our space, but for now we have found a way that works for us.

* It doesn't matter if it takes you longer to get to your goal. Often the detour shows you something wonderful. For example, when I no longer was able to study, I rediscovered my love for photography and even started a business. I doubt that would have happened if I hadn't fallen ill.

* There's nothing wrong in admitting that you've reached your limits. And in addition to that, there's nothing wrong with asking for help.

* In short, I've learned that life is beautiful and messy at the same time, and it is a gift to life it.

And since I have spent a great deal of time watching tv in the past decade, what better way to end this story than with a selection of my favourite movies and series: Gilmore Girls,  Chef's Table, How to Get Away with Murder, Everwood, You, The Good Place, Russian Doll, Cable Girls, Notting Hill, Black Butterflies, Sisters, Mona Lisa Smile, Gossip Girl, Quicksand, When They See Us, Vis a Vis, Outlander, Inside the World's Toughest Prisons, Sex and the City, Mindhunter, The Missing, Pretty Little Liars, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Eat Pray Love, Dirty Dancing, Unbelievable, Extremely Wicked Shockingly Evil and Vile, Orphan Black, La Casa de Papel, Atypical, The Age of Adaline, The Crown, and of course Orange is the New Black.

Now, at the beginning of this new decade, I am so excited to see what it has in store for me, and for us. I hope to document countless more stories and recipes, for this tiny corner of the world wide web, as well as for other businesses and love birds. I hope to see more of this wonderful planet we get to call home. But even more than that, I hope to really taste life, to be present and to love fiercely.

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