I finished a book this morning where the author casually said in the last chapter, “I declared this would be the best year ever.”
As I turned the final page and sat the book down, a little dramatically like I tend to do, I thought back on my 2016. I thought through the year so far and asked if I could say that. And probably because in my heart I’m a Pollyanna and always want my life to be a Hallmark Christmas movie, I thought, Yeah, more than halfway through it, I can definitely say this is the best year ever.
My mind began to spin through some of the best memories. We had a winter with lots of snow days, which for us in Nashville means we are home bound with too many groceries and Netflix shows just begging to be binged. When we got eighteen inches, I made my first snow angel. I also released my fifth book, Looking for Lovely, early in the spring. It was a labor of love, and to see it in the hands of readers who read it and connected to it brought many a tear to my eyes. My best girlfriends and I were having the kind of year where fun activities, trips and events kept happening. Dating relationships sprung up for the singles, and in a span of one month, three married friends found out they were pregnant. We had a fun summer, full of lake days and bonfires and Michael Phelps winning everything.
So as I thought back on approximately 8/12th of 2016, I thought, Yeah, this is exactly what those “best year ever” statements are talking about.
But then, still sitting in the same chair where I’d finished reading the book, something pinged in my heart.
Oh yeah. May.
May was terrible. The worst. I set a professional goal in April that I didn’t hit, and when I crossed the proverbial finish line in May as a loser, instead of a winner, it dropped me into some sort of pit I couldn’t get out of. My travel schedule was intense, and every day felt like I was slowly trudging through mud, going to the events I had to attend, always counting how many hours until I was back in my bed, in the dark. I couldn’t stay awake in the daytime, I was always tired, taking two to three hour naps, yet I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I would play one particular game on my iPad any time I had free time, pouring my full attention and time and (a small but embarrassing amount of) money into opening virtual restaurants and feeding video game customers.
(Seriously. Here’s one good thing I learned about myself in May: I’m great at running virtual restaurants. You should see how fast I can serve sushi. And my ice cream parlor made a whole lot of fake patrons very happy.)
My counselor put some words to it for me, helping explain some of the emotions and feelings I couldn’t find on my own: sadness, loss, depression, grief.
All happening in the “best year of my life.” Yep, still true. That sentence is still true to me. I had a terrible month in the best year ever.
Proverbs 14:13 says “even in laughter, the heart may ache.” The first time I read that verse, it slipped over my mind but didn’t stick. But then, this year, it’s made tons of sense to me.
Exciting April and Fun June sandwiching Awful May is a thing that can happen. It happened to me. A great Monday, a crappy Tuesday, and a peaceful Wednesday is possible too. I’ve experienced it.
Do you know how that feels? Feeling sadness while you’re feeling joy? Can the two really co-exist? Was there any joy for me in the sadness? Can they cohesively flow back and forth like oil and vinegar in the same bottle? Can you genuinely be laughing and genuinely be feeling heartache?
Yes. I think you can. In fact, I’d say the light is more beautiful and more life giving when you experience the darkness. Pain and beauty are both more truly felt if you let them hold hands, versus deciding to partner with one and ignore the other.
What do we do with this, besides feel like we are on a roller coaster of emotions? It’s like we only have two choices: Either buckle up, hold on and let the emotions (both joy and sadness) whip you around like the most rickety roller coaster, or close your heart to one, only allowing the other to be felt. Pretend sadness isn’t a thing, and it will just go away, right? I wish.
There’s actually a simpler answer, but it’s not so simple after all.
When you feel joy, say so.
When you feel heartache, say so.
Admit your feelings, claim them as your own and watch as they intertwine in better ways than you could ever imagine. Just to call them by name, to own sadness when you feel it and to celebrate when the time is right, will allow you to hold them better.
In May, sitting on my counselor’s couch, she put words to my emotions in ways I didn’t know how to do. And she said, “Call it that. Call it grief. Call it sadness.” And I did. And something lightened. When I stopped trying to survive the grief, by pushing it out of view one day and giving into the pain the next, it gave me permission for it to be a thing. And when it was a “thing,” so were the glimpses of joy. I let them both live around me, in my world, in my heart, and I was able to see God in all the pains and beauty.
I saw them better because I knew when the grief was my dancing partner and I knew when grief passed me off for a spin with joy. I never felt dizzy, I just felt held.
Annie F. Downs is an author, blogger, and speaker based in Nashville, TN. Flawed but funny, she uses her writing to highlight the everyday goodness of a real and present God. An author of three books – Let’s All Be Brave, Perfectly Unique, and Speak Love, Annie also loves traveling around the country speaking to young women, college students, and adults. Read more at anniefdowns.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @anniefdowns.