Terrible and Beautiful Things

 

I’ve been sitting on this article for months wondering how I can carve a meaningful story out of: I resigned from my job to pursue writing full-time. It may sound simple, great, amazing and fulfilling, but there’s so much more to this, and that’s what I really want to share.

2018 started off really rocky, no joke. It came at me fast and furious. I went through a barrage of unfortunate events.

First, I got robbed at Axim Beach Hotel over the Christmas / New Year break. The police’s likely theory is that someone pried the windows of the hotel room open, gassed us and then forced their way in. I’m a light sleeper, and I was sharing a bed with my mom. Each time I vacation with my mom, nighttime is a struggle because she sleeps late and wakes up every hour and each time she wakes, I wake. This time, from the minute we went to bed at 10pm to when we woke around 6am, no one stirred which is basically impossible. Also, they took my iPad and iPhone right from under my nose, and I didn’t wake! All this supported the police’s theory that we were gassed. The notion of being gassed was honestly more terrifying than losing items, and by the way, they cleaned me out! But the thought that I was immobilized, knocked out, unconscious while someone invaded my space gave me nightmares for weeks. This really wasn’t a simple robbery. Why would it be? I hadn’t suffered enough. I called one of my phones and the thief answered, so I had the police talk to him, pretending to be a member of my family. The thief asked for a ransom to return my stuff, the police/negotiator led him on for a bit, but this robber was savvy, he said he’s done this enough times. He requested for the ransom to be paid through a mobile money PIN since these were more untraceable. The police advised us to refuse so we did, but the onsite hotel manager decided to go ahead and pay. This was likely an inside job anyways. Does the story get worse? Of course it does. Like I said, I hadn’t suffered enough. My car keys were also stolen so I was stranded at Axim, seven hours away from home in Accra. My wallet with 3,000 cedis cash and cards, two phones, iPad, two computers, two external drives, two pen drives (I keep personal and work content separate so everything is typically in twos), journal, notebooks, and basically everything except clothes were taken. Chapters of my book Commitment were lost – I had it on the computer, pen drive and external – all three were taken. I wasn’t in the mood to hang around and negotiate with this person who cleaned me out, took my journal and the history and memories it stored, took my fourth book draft, and tons of writing content, and still wanted more cash. I got a spare key brought from Accra and we left the day after it arrived. Longest 5-day vacation of my life. The thief was never found, my things were never returned, except for my original car keys. He apparently had mercy on me and deemed it worthless, so he dumped it somewhere and directed the hotel staff to it. It’s still with the police in Axim.

Days after I got back from Axim, I fell really ill, my entire house fell ill actually. I was bedridden for days and briefly on a drip at the clinic to get fluids into me. They never figured out what it was, maybe the after-effects of the gas, who knows. I recovered, but everything really went down hill from there.

I’m building a house, a home I’ve saved years for, and sacrificed a lot to get it going. It meant a lot to me. Unfortunately, my construction story is similar to thousands – unbelievable and unimaginable shoddy work, absent supervision, and cutting corners. Everything on the project started to unravel in January. Once you spot one defect, the rest somehow just pop up. The shell and core phase was supposed to be wrapping up and instead, I was standing in the middle of a home that was structurally unsound. The level of poor workmanship was devastating to me because at that point, I had paid the contractor in full for the entire shell and core. I physically broke down in March and wept like a baby. There was no holding the tears back. I’m single, and I had saved all this money on my single income to build this home and this happens? I was crushed. I reached out to other contractors and architects and each week I took someone new to my site, we discovered new defects. So I commissioned an independent assessment of the structure and the report was alarming. I couldn’t continue with the project as-is. By June I hired a lawyer to pursue the contractor to make good on his contract and fix all the defects at his cost. I hired a new team – an engineer, a QS, clerk of works to support the remedial work. I’m still in the middle of that.

So you’d think a horrible robbery, crippling illness and abysmal construction work would be enough pain and headache for me for 2018, but oh no, I was still standing, something had to bring me to my knees, fully and completely.

In February, my distant cousin and her son were caught in a gas explosion in their home. Both were badly burned, she more severely. It was a terrible accident. Due to poor hospital accommodations (the hospital’s approach was to have them both on the same bed), we brought the boy home to care for him and take him for his daily treatments. He was resilient, he recovered, my cousin did not, she passed two months after the accident. I really didn’t see that coming. It is probably the single most impactful event of my year. She passed and I became an instant guardian to a five year-old. Everything in my life changed overnight. The aftermath of their accident, her death and him becoming part of my life has affected me and changed me in fundamental ways. He’s a wonderful boy with a big heart, but he also needs full-on attention, care, support, discipline and structure. And I was a highly independent person, single, no kids and used to making decisions for myself. Overnight parenting is traumatic. Whether he will remain with me permanently or he’ll transition to another family member is yet to be decided legally, and that alone weighs on me.

My cousin’s death has unfortunately been one of many for my family this year – two grand-aunts, two uncles, and my cousin. All in 2018.

So how does work fit in, you may ask? I had a fantastic job, with fantastic people, doing what I loved and I was very good at. I was on a good trajectory. However a few things happened at work, and in isolation, I could have brushed over it. In the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t. So during one meeting, I ended up choosing to leave. The exact moment I uttered the words is surreal, it stunned me. I was a high-performing employee and I was extremely passionate about my job. I gave it 110%. All the same, I reached the brink, and sitting in that room, I knew deeply that I couldn’t anymore. I had given so much, with all my heart, and I had no more to give to anyone else. It was time to give to me, to do me, pursue what matters to me. It wasn’t really about the job. It was about so much more. My cousin had a life and in one blink she was gone. At what point do you take a risk, take a leap of faith and focus on you? And so in that instant I knew. And the feeling was so powerful and so overwhelming that there was no fighting it. My company was incredibly kind. They did their best to keep me, and I appreciate them. I will always consider myself an alumni, an advocate and an ambassador. It is truly one of the best companies a person could work for. I will always wish them well.

The day I chose to leave was also the day I chose to pursue my writing full-time. For over 20 years, I had done different combinations – school + writing; consulting + writing; media work + writing; and mainstream Corporate + writing. For the first time ever, I decided only one thing made sense, writing full-time. I checked my finances and established a plan to do this for 18 months – focus entirely on my writing and see what that yields. There’s no going back for me though. I plan to make it work, one way or the other.

I must add that leaving work saved my life. I saw a doctor a few weeks later who said my heart and my body were under extreme stress, it was like I was on hyperdrive. I worked crazy hours, put in everything I had, owned my work deliverables like it was my everything, work-life balance didn’t exist for me, and that level of mental and physical commitment had taken a toll that I caught just in time.

So what’s up now? 2018 hasn’t let up yet. The battle continues across multiple fronts. The home I’m building is still not done, delayed by a whole year due to these unfortunate defects; guardianship for my nephew whom I adore and love is still undetermined; an uncle passed less than a week ago; and my health and health of those I love is still a battle.

I don’t know what the rest of 2018 will bring, but through the mess, I found my way back to God. I guess that’s what typically happens, depths of despair bring spiritual enlightenment. I felt and saw God’s hand in a lot of what happened and how things worked out in the end. I have been through a lot but I have no doubt, none at all, that the path I’m on, is the path I’m meant to be on.

Today’s Daily Bread (Oct. 16) had this quote: “Terrible and beautiful things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” Frederick Buechner