I’m Ready to Lighten the Heck Up

My first time in any serious therapy, my counselor told me I was depressed.

I laughed. It was kind of high-pitched, as if someone had twisted a treble knob too tight.

“I’m not depressed,” I tittered. “I’m the happiest person I know! I’m happy all the time!”

Thinking back to my cockeyed optimism, I wince, imagining twittering cartoon birds circling around my head. I mean, my denial was hackneyed it belonged in a bad YA novel.

Because I was depressed, no matter how cheerful I thought I was.

I have a weird relationship with my cheerfulness. That is, I can’t tell whether I should be cheerful or not. After that therapy session I saw, only too clearly, that I could be optimistic even while falling over a cliff. Into shark-infested waters. While wearing bacon pants.

I sure prefer to think of myself as happy-go-lucky. Learned or genetic, I’m usually chipper. I like optimism. Or, perhaps, I don’t like “wallowing”. I tend to downplay the hard parts of my story so much that it’s only through therapy and writing that I realize how much they hurt.

But for the last year, I have not felt cheerful. No: I have felt like a medieval crier, wandering around ringing a bell, and shouting, “WOE.”

It started when I faced the spiritual abuse I went through in high school and learned a whole lot of ugly things about it—like the malfeasance of a former pastor at my church at the expense of his own daughter. Or a parade of other churches who welcomed our abuser onto staff despite people from my congregation making phone calls and begging for him never to be in ministry again.

At about the same time, I faced the crap that happened in my family and decided I needed to be honest with family members after years of insisting everything was fine, wonderful, happy-all-the-time.

So last winter, I started having these horrible conversations with people I love. Every night, I felt a knot of nauseating fear in my stomach thinking of the next hard thing I had to say. I was terrified. I was afraid someone would commit suicide, or, more optimistically, I imagined people I loved falling ill from grief.

Facing each conversation was like  marching towards a door in a spooky, abandoned house, the screechy violins playing, the audience yelling at me to leave the damn door alone.

I opened them anyway. I opened door after door after door. And I don’t even watch horror movies.

Look: it was worth it. Opening those doors was resurrection. It was shedding years worth of shame and grief and bewilderment, and exchanging it for peace and the beginning of hard-won wisdom.

But can I be honest? It shredded me. It undid me. Facing the past means facing grief and pain. And every hard conversation underlined how much healing there is left to do in my family. I still get shaky thinking of all the work we have left to do.

So this last year, I have not written optimistic. I have not written cheerful or happy-go-lucky. I have written lament. I have written hard. I have written raw and sorrowful and brokenhearted. I told the story of erasing my brother and sister, and loving my parents, and facing abuse and the more I told my own story, the more I faced the awful fact that many people hold much grief in their hearts than I do. More sorrow. More brokenness.

Thinking of all that pain makes me want to wail.

Facing my story means recognizing how pain stalks all of us. It hurts even worse to realize how little, sometimes, we do about it—both corporately, as broken institutions, and individually, as frightened people.

And yet today, writing my post for The Mudroom, I see this theme: Resurgence. Restoration. Renewal.

I think, What do I say?

I worry about being emotionally schizophrenic here. Optimistic AND brokenhearted! Sunny and completely grief-stricken! The Cure + Abba!

But the truth is, after a year of lament, after a year of holding all that pain in my heart, I’m ready for sunlight. I’m ready to be optimistic. I’m ready to lighten the heck up.

It’s not that I want to deny the pain. I know only too well that there’s enough pain in this world to stay in lament. There is every reason to gnash our teeth.

But though Good Friday is the foundation stone of our faith, it’s not the resting place. No: I’m called to see stones rolled away from tombs, pierced hands reaching out to embrace me.

I am done with any Christianity that spackles over my sorrow. But oh, I desperately need the Jesus-saving that invites me to proclaim: “and yet—”

Because grief does not have the last word. No: it’s a guide, meant to lead us to restoration.

Last year, I opened the haunted houses of my past. To my surprise, I befriended grief and woe. And I discovered even the shadowy spirits whisper hope to me. They tell me that they are truthful, and that Christ is their friend. They tell me I do not need to fear them anymore. They hold my hand, shy and wistful, and invite me to share my hardest stories at the feast.

I am starting to see I am not one thing or another. I’m not only an optimist or only a mourner. Christ has created my spirit like a bird with varied plumage. I can celebrate both my darkness and bright colors with joy.

I see that regardless of my grief or optimism, the Savior invites me, always and forever, to take joyful flight.

Image Credit: 白士 李

Heather Caliri

Heather Caliri

Writer at A Little Yes
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
  • I think we’ve been traveling similar paths. Like you – “it’s only through therapy and writing that I realize how much they hurt.” And I’ve wondered if those who read my blog wonder if I know happy. Before the use of the alphabet and “wings” to label our personalities there was sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic and choleric. Early on I identified with the Psalmist David and his ups and downs we see reflected in the Psalms. I have a good dose of both sanguine and melancholy. I especially appreciate these words you shared: “Because grief does not have the last word. No: it’s a guide, meant to lead us to restoration.” Yes! This spoke to my heart today, Heather. Thank you.

    • Wow, Debby, thanks–I have so been appreciating your faithful comments lately, so I’m not surprised to hear we’re on similar paths. I am finding peace with the idea I don’t have to be all one thing or another, but varied and surprising, even to myself.

  • I am totally this person too. I’m peppy but can fall into despair in a moment. I often think of the movie Inside Out, where the memory balls come out multi-colored in the end, and I think YES. That’s how life really is like. Sadness and joy all mixed together, where both emotions co-exist and we feel ourselves in the middle of it.

    My favorite line- I am done with any Christianity that spackles over my sorrow. But oh, I desperately need the Jesus-saving that invites me to proclaim: “and yet—”… SO SO good.

    • Glad to know I’m not alone in the mixed-up emotion balls. That movie was so spot-on. Thanks, Grace.

  • Such a good post. I love it. I just wanted to say that. And I love you. Blessed to know you, Heather.

    • Oh, thank you, Leah! Gosh, that makes me happy, especially since I actually GOT TO MEET YOU IN PERSON. That festival was amazing 🙂

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  • carameredith.com

    Oh, I love this, friend. And to hold both – light and darkness, resurrection and Good Friday – is not only a gift but it’s life. In this with you (learning, learning, learning).

  • I love this. The journey, the images, the writing, Heather! Beautiful offering to The Mudroom community. So thrilled I get to (virtually) write alongside of you.

  • Fantastic!! One of the best pieces you’ve written and I LOLed at the bacon pants! I can so relate to this. Thanks for writing it!