©2019 Rachel Wong.

In retrospect: The craziest decade to date


It has been virtually unavoidable on social media the past several weeks. People posting side by side comparisons of who they were at the beginning of the decade versus the end of it, how they've changed year after year, reflecting on the highs and lows... you don't have to search very far to find something eye-opening, heart stopping, or just plain crazy. A decade is a significant amount of time, and lately I've been thinking a lot about that myself.


I know that I don't have very much life experience - I'm only 23. I've barely cleared two decades, but somehow it feels like so much has already happened so far and I've aged years ahead of my time. And all the same, I am pathetic when it comes to filing taxes and starting the washing machine properly.


So as the year and decade closes and another sets to begin, I thought I would do my own reflecting. This is way more than I usually do on a regular basis, but I do recommend reflecting on a long stretch of time. It brought up a lot of memories - good and bad - and also showed me how I've changed and grown. How things fit into place eventually, though maybe at the time it didn't feel that way. And with that, here we go.


2010

2010 | Hong Kong

This photo was taken pretty much at the beginning of the decade. I was in Hong Kong with my family - my first time back in over five years - and we were visiting my extended family during the Vancouver Olympics. We also spent some time in Singapore, where we spent some time with my grandfather for the first time in years. I think the gesture of this photo really sums up how I felt - I was only halfway through my first year of high school. I was ready for new adventure and wanted to be treated more like an adult and less like a child stuck sitting in plastic chairs behind aluminum desks. For the most part though, this was a good year. And why wouldn't it? It was the start of a new decade, and I had finally moved into a new school with a new uniform. It would be a good time.


2011

2011 | Hong Kong

First off, it is AMAZING what happens when you let your mom and grandmother do your eyebrows. I never looked back after that. But funnily enough, this was also taken in Hong Kong, this time at the end of 2011. It was part of a trip that we did that looped in going to Hong Kong and Singapore. One of the challenging parts of this year was to see my grandfather, who at this time was now suffering from dementia following a fall. It was absolutely heartbreaking to be with him, especially since he had no recollection of who we were. I remember that this was one of the earliest memories that I had of feeling significant depression - a feeling of helplessness that I could do nothing to bring my grandfather back or even help my parents.


2012 | New Orleans for my 16th

2012


I know exactly what you're thinking as you look at this photo. And I have answers to all the wonderings you might have about this incredibly odd (and still one of my favourite) photos. This was taken on my 16th birthday while I was on a band trip to New Orleans - how cool is that? On that particular day of the trip, we went on a swamp tour and the guide *casually* had a baby alligator that was being passed around. Feeling fearless (though maybe it doesn't show in the photo), I decided that I too wanted to hold the little guy. He was very cold. This was one of the better parts of the year.


But this year was interesting for a number of reasons, the biggest reason was breaking up with my first *real* boyfriend and the fallout that ensued. I never felt so isolated and was so disappointed to see how people - who I thought were my friends - turned against me. Rumours spread about how I cheated, and quickly I had no friends to lean on during a difficult time. I think this is where my depression started to creep up the first time, and it took a lot of teachers by surprise. It surprised them so much that one of them really pushed me to go for counselling. While I didn't appreciate it in the moment, I'm glad that I did go in the end.


This compounded with the passing of my grandfather, who we went to go visit the year previous. He had suffered from dementia after a fall, and it was heartbreaking to not be able to go back to Singapore for his funeral. I carried a heavy heart with me to school, and so many people questioned why I wasn't home, grieving. And when I think back on this period of my life now, I can start to see a part of myself that, while I do somewhat admire, think was the reason for a lot of my stress. The thing is, I can't stay home and grieve. I need to do something. But on that day when I went to school and helped prepare for our year end music concert, I had my first panic attack ever. I had no idea what it was, and I wouldn't understand for a while.


2013

2013 | 6 week exchange in Quebec

We almost achieve glow up status here, and yes, my hair is fantastically long. This was the year I started experimenting with makeup, and it was the first time I actually started filling out my eyebrows. But vanity aside, this was me at La Ronde in Montreal while I was on a 6 week exchange in Quebec. It was definitely an eye-opening and challenging trip, and the first week was super rough because I had never felt so homesick in my life. 6 weeks away from home was the longest I had ever been away, and added onto the fact that my French wasn't great was difficult. But in the end, it was a good trip.


I was dating the person who took this photo at that time. He wanted to take it because he said that I looked pretty and because it looked like I had an antenna sticking out of me. Looking back, there were so many red flags about this relationship that I wish that I could go back to my younger self to prevent. He was manipulative, possessive, and physically abusive. And I came back with writing him a song that expressed how I knew we were meant to be together. You see what I mean here with red flags.


As an aside, which adds even more irony to the story, this was the period of time where I was obsessed with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night (eventually and currently The Tonight Show). He said to me that I loved Jimmy Fallon more than him, which even to this day makes me laugh. After that, nothing surprises me anymore. This takes the cake. But the emotional and physical abuse left me tired and extremely depressed as I entered into my senior year of high school. And just when I thought I couldn't make any more bad decisions, I did and jumped into a new relationship. That was the wrong move, but that's life I guess.


But the more crucial and heartbreaking moment of this year was the passing of my grandmother. She was really the only grandparent that I had the privilege of spending the most time with because she lived in Surrey as well. Growing up, my grandmother had taken care of my sisters and I while my parents were at work, and the time spent with her was invaluable. Unfortunately, she had fought cancer for a long time and passed away a few weeks before my 17th birthday. Even worse was that I couldn't say good bye in person because I was sick and couldn't be physically around her. To lose someone who had been such a significant part of my life was a really devastating blow to my life.

2014 | Vancouver: grad season and the last time I ever had hair this long


2014


Glow up, achieved. I also want to humbly brag about how my mom and I scored this dress for only ~$140.


2014 was one of those years that I had dreamed of for a long time. As in, I knew that this was the year I would graduate from high school, which I knew was such a momentous occasion. And at this point, after everything that had happened already in high school, I was ready to put it all behind me and leave. I had applied early to SFU and got accepted for general arts would eventually ended up as English, but that comes later.


Remember that relationship I got into at the end of 2013? I never felt so much stress in my life with a guy. There was no communication, and even though we went to the same school and had all the same break times to hang out, he went out of his way to avoid me. It would only be in private where there was a little affection. And again, despite all the warning signs, I dragged this out longer than I really should have.


The happier part of this year was going on a mission trip to the Philippines and seeing the way that people live in another part of the world. We went to help build houses, and that was a really humbling time. It was also the trip where my first boyfriend asked me to grad, and we had the best time. To this day, we're still really good friends and I'm thankful for that.


Then I went to SFU and everything changed for me. I was so over high school.


2015 | New Westminster: becomes a transit queen

2015


There's nothing particularly special about this photo, except for the fact that it's 1) taken in one of my favourite parts of the Lower Mainland, New Westminster and 2) my hair was initially Ariana Grande circa 2010 red, and now it has faded out into the ???? colour that you see here. But ever since I started my degree, I became a whiz at transit and started going everywhere. This was a day where I went exploring with my sister and we took photos and got ice cream.


I remember that this was about the time where I had one of my crises in my degree where I wasn't sure where I was going. I had already written off English as something that I thought I wanted to do but it ended up not working out. International Studies (which still is my minor) was good but I didn't see myself going into diplomacy or government. I was at a loss because I wasn't a fan of science and did not like math or business. But it was one of my International Studies professors that actually told me about SFU's School of Communication, and again, I never looked back. In all, 2015 was a pretty solid year.


2016 | Cartems on Main: becomes a casual hipster

2016


I asked my sister when she took this photo, and she said November 2016. And this is crazy to me, because I can remember what happened during this time as if it was yesterday.


Prior to that, the year started off pretty well. We rang in the new year in Japan, which was an amazing trip. I continued working at the RCMP that summer as part of my first co-op. I even got a tattoo (my first ever) of a semi-colon on my right wrist. I'll let you read about it in the linked blog post, but essentially I got it to celebrate, what I thought to be, "being healed".


But November 2016 was in the middle of a storm where my mental health was deteriorating. My anxiety was at an all time high and I was having panic attacks virtually every other day. School felt like it wasn't getting anywhere, and at the same time I was working towards my teaching certificate for piano, and in the month leading up to the written exam, I had failed every single one. I felt like a failure and a fraud for getting this tattoo when I wasn't even healed fully. Thankfully God had a plan - I went to Rise Up 2016, which was at Vancouver. It was there that I experienced God's love for the first time and saw that He could see me as more than my depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Needless to say, while 2016 was a scary year, I had high hopes for 2017.


2017 | At the SFU Volunteer gala, does all the things

2017


This picture was taken at the SFU Volunteer Gala, and it shows me at a happier time because a lot of new things happened this year! I experienced a personal conversion back to the faith and was so thankful for the fact that it literally saved my life. I started my foray into radio, literally on the second day of the new year, as a member of the new Y57 team on Vancouver Co-op Radio. The very first piece I did was on mental health on that year's Bell Let's Talk day, and in the same year we hosted our very first fundraiser as a team and really got into the rhythm of what our show was all about. It was also the year that I worked in tech and really, really got into coffee and beer - so it was pretty much the year when I turned into a full blown Vancouverite, going around to different coffee shops and having black, Aeropress coffee and all the breweries to find the tap that I liked the best. I was blessed to be part of Catholic Christian Outreach's executive team at SFU for the 2017/2018 year. Finally, despite all the failures and anxiety that I had the previous year with my teaching exams, I ended up passing and "convocated" in November with my teaching certificate - my first parchment which now hangs over my bed.


But of course the year wasn't without its challenges. I made some mistakes that hurt people closest to me, and it proved to have a mental and emotional toll on all of us. If I look back on the past decade, this definitely is a big regret of mine - that I was selfish and hurt someone who cared for me.


2018 | Toronto Islands, becomes a journalist for a summer

2018


If life truly is a series of highs and lows, then 2018 proved to be a lower year, but still rich with opportunity. The big surprise of this year was being awarded the CBC Radio Gzowski Internship - a prestigious internship that has students working at different CBC stations across the country to produce radio content along some of the country's best journalists and radio hosts. Though I worked predominantly in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to go back to Toronto to meet and work with the other interns from around the country and also take in a city that I hadn't been to before. Many people know that I wanted to go into journalism, and since I had experience at Vancouver Co-op Radio, this seemed like a logical stepping stone to achieve those dreams. And while there were a number of great opportunities, it took this internship to show me that while I loved storytelling (and always will), this particular field is something that I'm not cut out for. Some of my co-workers at the time told me that they thrived on the stress and pressure, which I quickly realized was not me at all.


It was around the time that I was doing this internship that I dated someone who really impacted me in a severe way. I witnessed a toxic relationship right before my eyes through his physically abusive nature. It was crazy because I thought I had gotten past something like this and that I had grown up. These types of experiences really do a number on your pride, but it also reminded me that humans are fallible.


Academically, I finally clued in that I was getting really close to graduation and had the privilege of being awarded the FCAT Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award. I had the opportunity to do research on the history of Stanley Park regarding the First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples) and their relationship to the land prior to Stanley Park's creation.

2019 | Casually cuts off all my hair

2019


It's clear that I remember 2019 a lot better than I do any other year than I wrote about. Big changes that happened this year include my hair - I chopped off 11 inches at the beginning of 2019! I knew that if I didn't do it now, I would never get around to it. But there was also a practical element, since I was going to Panama as part of CCO's mission to Panama-World Youth Day. This was a life changing event that helped me meet some amazing people, share the Gospel with people from around the world, and see Pope Francis!


2019 was also the year that I started my podcast, The Feminine Genius, after a lot of prayer and inspiration from God! It started in June 2019 and quickly became an amazing opportunity to share the stories of amazing Catholic women living out their feminine genius. This was such a highlight for me, being able to take my interest and experience in radio and marry it with my faith.


In September I took a step in my faith and actually went on a Come and See retreat with the Daughters of St. Paul. I had always been really apprehensive about the religious life and I didn't think that this was something that I was called to do. But being able to go and live in community with other young women and sisters in different stages of their journey was a real eye-opener. Though I was called and encouraged to step back from active discernment with the sisters, it gave me a sense of joy and peace knowing that there is so much beauty in the religious life.


In the fall of 2019 I started my honours project to finish off my degree in communication at SFU, while also working in a permanent position with SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Working this many hours and going to school is not something that I've done before, and it really stretched me mentally, physically and emotionally. I really admire those folks who go to school and work and do it semester in and semester out! But both have been extremely rewarding and have provided me with a lot of insight into what comes next, in 2020 and beyond!

2020 | Hamilton Royal Botanical Gardens

I'm not sure what to expect with the coming year and decade, but whatever it is, I'm confident that it will be exactly where I need to be. I think one of the biggest takeaways from the past decade is that I honestly can't do anything on my own, and in the end I really stress myself out in the process. Stress never has a good outcome! In surrendering to God and letting Him take the lead, I've seen so much good come out of it. He's taken me to places that I never would have imagined myself going or opened up opportunities that I would have never even thought of.




To 2020 in beyond: here's to more growth, good health, and letting God lead the way!