It’s easy to hear the voices of others and often very difficult to hear your own. Every person you meet is going to want something different from you. The question is: what do you want for yourself?Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter
In a few weeks 2019 will be done and dusted and we will be entering a new decade. When you look back at the last ten years of your life, what marks those years? Were they tough, knocking the wind out of you at each turn? Or was it a decade marked with growth? The last decade of my life was a little bit of both. One event that marks this decade was the loss of my sister. Her death is something that I don’t think I will ever truly recover from, however her death is no longer as debilitating as it was when it first happened. My sister passed away shortly before her 33rd birthday, she passed away in October, we buried her in November and a mere 3 weeks later her first birthday without us occurred. It’s something that will stay with me and my family forever, however when I look back at it, I see how Christ has infused His strength through not just this situation but through every difficult situation that I encountered in a decade that in the thick of it, felt marred by difficulty and struggle.
It was in this decade that the United Kingdom Borders Agency (UKBA) incorrectly detained me. I was given nothing more than an apology and while an experience like that would scar the best of us, somehow I found the strength to rebuild my life after an event that felt as though it had stripped so much of my dignity and worth. The maladministration of the UKBA I believe, is what led to is being closed in 2013. I hope to never forget the desperation so clearly visibly on the faces of so many other women who were in there much longer than the three days that I was detained. When the time and opportunity for it comes, I will find a way to help women who are in detention to ensure that they never forget their beauty, their worth and their dignity. In the midst of what felt like a storm that would spit me out with significant bruises, I didn’t see that resilience was being added to my character. I only saw what I could see, which is normal. When you’re going through something, your mental and emotional state of being can be tested and as well-meaning a Christian that you think you are, so much of what is going on around you can cause you to doubt and wonder whether God is just being so rude, and so nasty, allowing all of this mess to carry on in your life.
At the end of this decade going into the next one, I have realised that I am not always going to understand why certain things happen and why God permits it to be so. For years, I have found solace in the words Jesus uttered in John 13:7 “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
I love the explanation of this verse on the ‘Knowing Jesus’ site: ‘When like the apostle Peter, we come face to face with a series of bizarre circumstances that seem to shatter our lives, we may not understand the reason for life’s twists and turns but we can trust Him, knowing that His ways are perfect and His grace is sufficient. Like the disciples on that night before the cross, we may not be comfortable with the shock-horror that we witness or the unjust way that life seem to be unfolding. We may not understand the spiritual significance of all that is happening in our life and the lives of those we care about, but we can trust our heavenly Father for He is still in control. He knows the end from the beginning and all His ways are perfect. Although we may not know the meaning and mystery of all that we are called upon to bear in this world, let us remember that we may not understand what is happening now, but hereafter we shall know as we are known. May we learn as Peter did that what may be shadowed to our understanding today is being used by God to work together for good, to His praise and for our eternal benefit.’
This verse becomes harder to believe when you are on a rollercoaster of unfortunate things happening to you or those you love, but I have concluded that walking with Jesus and going through trials & tribulations (how dramatic sounding), is by far better than not walking with Him. When I was detained by the UKBA, one thing that brought me comfort was the account of Paul and Silas praising God while they were in jail (Acts 16:16-40) and I remember laughing to myself that on that day for some very odd reason, I had taken my Bible with me. In that moment I believe I experienced a taste of what Paul and Silas must have felt; the desperation, the disbelief, the pain, the betrayal that God would have allowed this to happen, and then afterwards the realisation that even still, He remains God. It took me a long time to get over that pain and once I felt that I did, I lost my sister. As I type this I am still in a hazy phase of my relationship with God. There are days when I can easily declare His sovereignty over my life, and then there are days when I wonder how a God so big and so great could have allowed so much to occur not just in my life but in my family’s lives as well. All of these questions always lead me to the same conclusion; God is God and He knows why. I believe God has given us freedom of thought, and is by no way offended by any questions that we may have for Him. How fragile would God be if He was offended by everything we did?
Can you imagine how shaken I was when I realised that God was not offended by me not believing in Him. He loves and pursues relationship with us, but He will never force His way into your life. He’s a gentleman like that. At first this was unsettling but afterwards it brought freedom in my relationship with God, I was no longer scared to bring my raw emotions to Him. Things that I had never spoken to God about (which sounds kinda weird to type, considering He is all knowing…) suddenly came spewing out of my mouth and the pages of my journal. The journey isn’t perfect but it is a lot more authentic.
I close out this decade happier than I thought I would be. I’m married to the most wonderful man, working in a challenging but fulfilling role, and the role I cherish the most: being an aunt to the two most incredible humans. I wonder whether any of this would have been possible had my life not followed the trajectory that it did. I didn’t think I’d be writing this, but I am so grateful that God allowed for my life to play out as it did. As you reflect on the last decade of your life, what are some of the things that you have learnt or have been through that you are unexpectedly grateful for?
I love this thought on what grief is by the internet’s boyfriend, Keanu Reeves. Probably the most accurate definition I’ve ever read on grief. It never truly leaves, it changes form and you learn to cope better. Sending hugs to anyone currently grieving the loss of a loved one, whether it’s been 2 weeks or 2 years.
Grief changes shape, but it never ends. People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better.’ They’re wrong. When the people you love are gone, you’re alone. I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here—what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be. Damn it! It’s not fair! It’s absurd. All you can do is hope that grief will be transformed and, instead of feeling pain and confusion, you will be together again in memory, that there will be solace and pleasure there, not just loss.Keanu Reeves
My sister got so many cute shots of me fake-eating ice cream 🍦 that I MUST use them all. So here we go, adding some depth to a picture that does not have much to do with the content of this post. A couple of years ago, you would have had to pay me good money…who am I kidding? You’d be able to bribe me with ice-cream to wear my natural hair out in its unaltered texture. Fast forward to 2019 and I am on a journey of embracing who I am becoming, and I like that girl! In the black community, hair can be seen as a political statement. In fact if I had just one rand for each time my mom asked me when I’m doing my hair, I would have enough money for a new pair of Nike leggings, and maybe a sports bra in these trying financial times 😂 One of the things I have learnt through this ongoing natural hair journey is greater acceptance of not just my hair but all the features that make me, me. I used to hate my nose because I remember a friend once saying it looked like a teddy bear’s 🧸 nose, and I know this goes against popular verses in the Bible that speak about us being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image (Psalm 139) and being uniquely formed in my mother’s womb. I did not believe that. It felt like God had done me dirty 😂 now I have a greater understanding of what He was thinking when He made me. Firstly I’m hilarious 😂, I’m also very strong, intelligent, witty, can eat ice-cream really quickly and also ready to kill for my loved ones, I guess that means I’m protective of my family, and not a serial killer 😂
Be proud of who you are and how you have gotten to where you are today. The caveat of course is if you had to kill, steal and betray to get to where you are because then not only should you make the jailhouse your home 😂 but pray that the LORD washes your sins away (p.s. forgiveness does not always equate to absolution of punishment, one day I’ll write on that). I have been through enough grimy situations to know that life does not always reflect the beauty of God, but I have also been through enough grimy situations to know that there is always a purpose to most of what happens in life.
You are wonderfully made. You are badass, beautiful, strong, breathtaking, ridiculously funny and smart. Don’t believe it yet? Keep repeating it to yourself until your physical life wakes up to who you are, to who you’ve always been spiritually! Happpppy Mondaaay!!!!
I will give thanks and praise to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my souls knows it very wellPsalm 139:14 (Amplified version)
My prayer for you today is that your soul would begin to know and believe that you are wonderfully made!
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald
From the outset, I had already decided that 2017 would be amazing and it already is! My prayer for you today and for your 2017 is that God would pull you closer into Him, no matter what you have been through, I pray that He would restore joy, internal and external peace, as well as a heart of gratitude; whether that be through you hitting numerous clean & jerk PR’s (I’m hinting for myself to God here,) or through new promotions at work, may His love usher in so much goodness that it absolutely takes your breath away and all you’ll be able to say is “thank you, God that was totally you!”
No, it’s not a typo. I know we’re in 2019. This is an excerpt of a post I wrote two years ago.
I had a bit of a brain lapse at work and (God forgive me,) I went on my blog and started reading some of my blog posts. Listen if you can’t stand to read your own blog posts, then you my friend are doing something wrong. I landed on one that I had written when I bought my Metcon 3s on which I had scrawled on either side of them, Colossians 3:23 and Hebrews 12:11, pasted below.
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,’
‘No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.’
At the end of this blogpost, I wrote about how my expectation for 2017, that it would be an amazing year. Prior to 2017, I had been heavily depressed and life did not fill me with joy. I partook in things but I got no joy from them. It was almost as though I was existing. My sister Nadège, my sunflower 🌻 , was instrumental in getting me out of that deep depression. I have often written that depression is like sticky tar, you can wipe it off you i.e. learn to manage it, but it always leaves a little bit of a residue. My sister understood this better than anyone else did. Coming from an African family, we were often taught to be strong and carry on. My sister made it her mission to remind me that I was not made to just survive, I needed to thrive.
I know these words have become rather popular this week with the release of the documentary covering the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s trip to South Africa, however Jesus said it first: ‘The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]’ John 10:10 (AMP) Paraphrased you could read it as ‘depression comes to steal, kill and destroy my life. Jesus fills me with strength and hope so that I may enjoy life to the full, and overflow with joy’. This does not negate the need for therapy and/or medication that one may need in order to manage anxiety and/or depression. In fact, I think it is foolish that there are STILL so many Christians that will say to someone who is battling depression to pray harder. I have heard that one before, and I cannot even tell y’all how much more it made me want to break that person’s jaw à la OG’s threats from Basketball Wives (it’s a trash show I know).
2017 was not a great year. It was the year that my sister passed away and as I write this blogpost, the second last week that she would be with us, I find myself battling to write what she meant to me. I find myself tearing up and crying as much as I did the day that she passed. When my sister passed away, it felt as if air had been knocked out of my lungs. My older sisters have always been my sounding boards and I never thought the day would come where I would have one less older sister. The pain is raw, at times crippling and always unbelievable. I have all our last messages saved and I message her frequently each time foolishly believing that I will see ‘Ya Dena is typing…’ I find myself haunted by questions of what more I could have done to reach out to her for those periods when she went off the radar for a day or two. I ask myself if I could have better spotted that she was sick and done something sooner.
I ask myself if I will ever find the acceptance my family is still so desperately searching for since her death. It doesn’t feel like we will. This past month has been difficult. I find myself always sitting on the periphery of breaking down. I find myself faced with things that remind me of her and the illness that took her everywhere I go. The reminders are on my phone when I get tagged as my sister, when I’m at home recounting memories and I realise that she will never be able to take part in new ones I make. The reminders at work are in everything I do because it is so heavily tied in to what took her from us so soon.
On the surface, I look like I’m okay right. I’m smiling, glowing (all thanks to my highlighter and NOT the 2 hours of sleep that I’ve been getting). Inside I feel as though I am crumbling. I miss her so much, it is a pain that only those who have lost a loved one dear to them, will be able to comprehend. She was wonderful, and I shall always carry the memory of her with me.
What to do when things look okay but are not okay:
- Talk to someone. I tend to bottle things up until I explode. It is not healthy and I am working to change it. I want to thank my darling fiancé for being my safe place to come home to. He was the first person I spoke to when my sister passed and I am grateful for his beautiful spirit that knows mine so well.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. This one ties in with the first point. Sometime this week on Twitter, I posted that I had been struggling with my mental health and to my surprise Lovette Jallow reached out, and she even gave me a suggestion on what to ask from my doctor to help with the zero hours of sleep that I have been getting. Don’t get me wrong, I am transparent with my fiancé about how I’m doing mentally but there is a liberation I felt with being vulnerable on Twitter as I believe it was the catalyst I needed in order to make that contact again with my therapist.
- Keep calm… try to keep calm. It may feel like the world is going to end, or is ending but I have survived many dark storms to know that this too shall pass. I have also learnt that if it doesn’t pass, there are things that I can do to better manage my mental state of mind, which leads me to point four.
- Exercise and eat as healthily as you can. You do yourself a lot more damage if your diet is as crappy as you feel. Treats are okay in moderation but make sure that you are giving your body what it needs to physically function at an optimal level, exercise to release endorphins and be patient with yourself.
To anyone dealing with bereavement, I am sending you mega hugs right now. Things will never get back to normal and that is completely okay. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Understand that everyone deals with grief differently. Don’t be ashamed of needing to take time out if you need it. Life may not always feel beautiful, in fact, sometimes you’ll want to punch life in the face. In those moments remember that the person you have lost is always there with you, loving you as hard in heaven, as they did on earth.
I apologise for the click baity title however I am hoping that if you clicked on the link, you’ll stay and read this post.
I have set for myself a target to run a marathon…forty two kilometres (yikes!!!) in order to raise funds for POWA, an organisation that helps & empowers women who have been abused, as well as an organisation supporting those living with HIV. I have been in contact with a very special charity and once they have confirmed their participation in this, I promise to give you guys ALL the juicy details and the why behind this. I was on Facebook this afternoon and read a piece posted by the South African HIV Clinicians Society on how obesity and HIV are linked.
As a black woman I am all too aware of how unpopular exercise is in my community. Yes we have Serena Jameka Williams 🎾 but on a smaller scale, black women have very few role models motivating them to shift the weights at the gym/box (if you CrossFit).
The rise of ‘thic’ being in, as well as the very unnecessary butt shots, has led to very unhealthy behaviour gaining momentum and thriving at such a rate that globally obesity is on the rise. Until this article I was completely oblivious to the fact that women living with HIV experience the weight stigma in a different way.
Things you might have known: South Africa has the largest HIV population globally, in addition to that, it also holds the record for the most obese and overweight nation on the African continent. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist 👩🏾🔬 to figure out that people living with HIV (PLWHA) need to take control of as many health markers as they can, nutrition and physical exercise being the most important ones.
People living with HIV need to ensure that they remain as physically fit as possible.However, due to weight loss stigmas predominately in the black community where thin = sick, clinicians are now faced with treating patients who are living with HIV and also overweight. With just 6 months of 2019 left, and as much as I hate to be a Debby downer, the reality is that time is running out towards achieving the 90-90-90 targets set by the UN towards eliminating HIV. Recommendations are to diagnose, treat and achieve viral suppression in 90% of people diagnosed with HIV. In my opinion, the solution lies not in the development of new treatment therapies, or even new antiretroviral drugs (although those are great too,) but rather in attacking the various cultural stigmas that prevent people (especially women) from getting tested and treated for HIV. In my eyes & experience as a budding researching in HIV, the problem lies mainly in getting people to accept that they are infected and this can only happen through more awareness and education of what HIV is, and a vast improvement in the access to health facilities particularly for those living in areas that are isolated and far removed from clinics and/or hospitals.
Isolation, stigma and a lack of support are still haunting black women living with HIV/AIDS, and now it seems so is obesity. As a black woman working in the field of HIV research, this has increasingly become something that I cannot ignore. Ensuring that no one gets left behind, has now become my cross to bear. It’s your cross to bear too. We’re all in this together!
Today is not a significant day. I am not celebrating any special occasion, it is not my birthday (sadly) but as I sit in front of my laptop, I am inspired by a quote I read recently on Twitter:
If you aren’t seeing the progress in your life that you want, then take the initiative to audit your life, analyse your daily habits and actions, and reassess your goals as necessary, this winning in life thing takes deliberate effort, it doesn’t just magically happen.
I am slap bang in the middle of a study I am part of at work… I say slap-bang but it feels like I have just started. If you follow me on Instagram…why would you not? You will have seen my updates on the dried blood spot specimens I am collecting. The tally stands at 16…only 384 more to go. My workweek is spent travelling to hospitals that are a stretch to get to. I sometimes get home feeling as though I have given the best of me to the earlier part of my day. It is rewarding work but it is also hard work.
Lately while taking internal stock (something we should all do,) I realised that more than my workload, my mind-set was what was leaving me more fatigued than I needed to be. I have had to train myself into believing that I have just as much to give at the end of the day, as I do at the start of it when I’m as fresh as a daisy. I learn everyday what it means to give 110% to everything that I do, regardless of the working hours. It is about applying the strong work ethic and spirit of excellence in everything I do. One hundred and ten percent in being a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, an athlete, a blogger… the list is endless. Did you notice that I didn’t include my job title? Life and the effort you put in it, is about more than what your job title is. It is important to find a work-life balance that does not leave you overworked and always just on the verge of burning out only just being saved by a holiday.
One of the things that I often times allow myself to be burnt out by, is finances. It is something that even if I don’t say it… (I mean hello why would you speak about your finances to every Tom, Dick and Harry.) I’m thinking about it and in months where there’s a lot going on, I tend to obsess over it, more specifically, lack of money.
Some of it is down to my anxiety-riddled personality but most of it is because of my childhood when we really struggled to make ends meet. I am learning to manage it and one person who has helped me through my neuroses, is my boyfriend. He is the most handsome, kindest, most caring human that I have ever met and I cannot think of anyone better to procreate with haha! I cannot wait to have little ones who have ALL of his kindness and none of my sarcasm tempered into their cute little personalities.
Aside from the gorgeous boy, here are a few of my rules to live by:
- Your health is, and should be your highest priority. Here’s the caveat: if any part of your life, exercise included fills, you with anxiety and you no longer enjoy it, stop doing it and switch to something else. Shortly after my sister passed away, the last place I wanted to go to was the box. Instead of CrossFit, I ran and when I was ready for CrossFit, guess what? The box was still there.
- Self-care is more than a facemask. Self-care is therapy; self-care is journaling in order to have an outlet for managing not erasing your emotions. Self-care is putting your health first, all aspects of it: mental, physical and spiritual.
- Find your tribe and love them hard. This one is a funny one because the people that know me would probably say that I hate people…I don’t hate people, I just prefer to surround myself with people that I TRULY enjoy being around. There is no point in being friends with people who make you feel crappy about yourself.
- Having a schedule that you discipline yourself to stick to, will go a VERY long way towards keeping you sane. I wake up at the same time every single day, and I try to get to bed at the same time. Currently I am working on a routine for my eating and training because I have come to the realisation that my life revolves around 3 things: eating, training and sleeping.
- Setting small goals is a lot better than having one big chunky goal that fills you with anxiety. When I went back to academia, I felt like I knew nothing, which is impossible because everybody knows something even if it is the lyrics to the theme song of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I told myself that I would read for an hour and a half each day…by the 30-minute mark, I was thinking about how much time I had left and not at all focussing on the material that was in front of me. I changed my goal to reading two journal articles per night. This was a greater success and a goal that I have been able to stick to.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. I had an almost two year stint working at LUSH South Africa as their product & brand trainer. Working at LUSH meant that everyday when interacting with customers, you had to put on your bravest AND most fun face. No one wanted to listen to a walking encyclopedia, instead you had to play up to the innovation of the products. It was tough not just because you were on your feet the whole day but because of the fact that no matter what you were facing, the minute those roller doors went up, you put on your smiley face. Life is a bit like that too isn’t it? The show must go on…
The biggest take home message is this: when all else, fails, have a second, a third and if necessary, a fourth look at the steps you took to get to where you are. What do you need to audit, what do you need to analyse and what do you need to put into action? You can achieve great things, but you have to hate the comfort zone.
I’m 4 days late BUT I think I’ve just made it just in time for a ‘new year, new me’ post. If you need a new year for it to be a ‘new you’ then take it. In the words of popular blogger Maya Washington, ‘do you boo!’ A new year is often times the best time to make a change. I’ve seen quite a few posts do the rounds on social media, most notably this one by Pearl Thusi berating people who adopt this ‘new year, new me’ attitude.
I am of the opinion that you don’t need a new year or month to make a change, however, there is some significance to it.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)
A new year is a fresh chance to achieve goals that you had forgotten about. It brings with it a fresh offering to start a routine whether it’s a new one that you want to stick to, or an old one that you had forgotten about and become the better you that you envision. If someone wants to be vocal about the changes they want to make in their life, let them be vocal. There’s a meme that’s been doing the rounds on social media that if you stay hydrated then you won’t have the time to be bothered about other peoples business. Unless a goal is yours and the person who wants to achieve the goal has asked you to hold them accountable, you have no business being bothered about what someone else wants to achieve in their life. Let people live the life they want and mind your business.
If you’re using the start of a new year to catapult you to your true potential; here’s a quote by Iyanla Vanzant as a firm reminder to take responsibility for all the changes you wish to make in your life.
Loving yourself means that you accept responsibility for your own development, growth and happiness.
Accept the responsibility that is yours for your growth and happiness. In most cases, we get to decide where life takes us and this year I’m expectant. There will be more exciting travels, (I’ve been speaking about the Philippines for a long time, it’s time to make it happen) a deepening of love in my relationship with my man and more growth, productivity and health in all aspects of my life.
There’s nothing that has changed my life more than the passing of my sister. She was my best friend, she was straightforward, had the best advice and when she hugged me, she would always go over my 5 second limit. I’m so glad that in her last days, I got to tell her that I love her and hug her for longer than my usual 5 seconds.
There’s so much that I miss about her. Her warm (long) hugs, her calls and messages to tell me that she was thinking about me, that she loved me or that she was proud of me. One of these ‘I’m proud of you,’ messages came when I was straight out of uni, unable to find a job. I was like ‘gurrrrl, what are you seeing? There is nothing in my life that warrants being proud of.’ My sister then proceeded to remind me of the strength that I had in me, the strength I have in me. She was the one who would help me to see things rationally and with a new perspective. By nature, I am very emotional…just ask my CrossFit coach but somehow my sister Nadege would always remind me to not allow my emotions to lead me. Never make a decision when you’re angry or overly emotional. Whenever she said that, I did not always receive it well. It sometimes felt as though she was telling me to get over myself and sometimes when you want to sulk about life to your older sister, it wasn’t always what I wanted to hear. At times it would feel as though she wanted me to accept whatever situation I was facing and detach myself emotionally. I’ve come to realise that that wasn’t what she was saying. Emotions aren’t evil but being controlled by your emotions was a whole different ball game and potentially dangerous.
What she wanted me to learn was to stop allowing my emotions to control my reaction to every situation or to every annoying person haha. Sometimes you need to give yourself a time out to better assess a situation without the cloudiness of mind that being overly emotionally can bring. I will spend the rest of my life thinking and probably writing about all the lessons that I learnt from my beloved sister. Her life motto was to keep going even when you want to stop, she was relentless and the bravest person I knew.
Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you. The reason for that counsel is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where Paul says, “We do not want you to be uninformed . . . about those who are asleep” — about those who have died — “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” So, there’s real grieving, which he expects, and there’s hope. Grieving is real, losses are real, pain is real — really felt, really expressed — and hope is real that changes it profoundly. John Piper
It’s a year since she’s passed and we’re all still learning how to live, laugh, cry and repeat the whole cycle again without her. In the thick of it all, I am constantly being reminded that there is hope, and that as John Piper puts it, changes things profoundly.