I sat on the plane staring over the Atlantic Ocean in its splendor. The shadow of the gigantic airplane I was sitting in was but a mere speck of dust compared to the vastness of the sunlight-reflecting water of the ocean below me. I stared at that speck of darkness in the water and began to cry—completely unaware of the man sitting next to me, who probably thought I was an emotional wreck.
If he did think that, he was completely correct. This would be the first of five times I would cry in a 48-hour time span at home after returning from my month studying abroad in Marburg, Germany.
Although my mother constantly reminded me that this reaction was completely normal after coming back from an incredible experience, I felt awful. I felt like a piece of my heart stayed in Marburg, and what I like to call “Post Study Abroad Depression” was setting in quite nicely. Aside from being completely unprepared for the wave of sadness I felt upon my return to the United States and separation from friends I considered some of the best ones I’ve ever made, I felt extremely guilty.
Why was I sad? I had no right to be. Here I was, coming home from something that so few people in this world ever get the opportunity to do, and all I could think about was the fact that it was over. My heart hurt every time I closed my eyes and memories of the month-long adventure flashed in my mind.
I wasn’t just sad, however. I was angry with myself. “Stop this, Solina,” I would think to myself. How was I to justify my sadness when I knew there were people going through things infinitely more difficult than coming home from a study abroad trip? How was I to justify my sadness when there were people whose family members had just passed away, who were being persecuted by their own government, who were struggling to get by without starving to death? Who was I, a young, middle-class, American woman attending a prestigious university, to be sad?
I soon began to realize, however, that my anger toward my own sadness was more self-destructive than having the sadness in the first place.
People feel a need to justify their own feelings to themselves. If they are angry about something that society deems as petty and ridiculous like getting rejected by someone they have romantic feelings toward, many will say or imply something along the lines of “I know there are bigger problems in the world” or “this is something I shouldn’t be sad about.”
Why do we do this? Why do we constantly not allow ourselves to feel feelings that are completely valid?
Constantly justifying how we feel to both others and ourselves does not allow for any movement or growth. If we focus too much on how society perceives a specific feeling, we are lying to ourselves and destroying our own ability to understand and accept how we feel.
Who tells us that anger and sadness are feelings that we shouldn’t feel as much as happiness and excitement? At what point in our lives are we told that feeling these negative feelings are something we should be ashamed of? At what point in our lives are these negative labels attached to these feelings? Happiness is just as valid as anger, and excitement is just as valid as fear.
As college students, we are at an extremely vulnerable time in our lives. Every day can seem like sensory overload, and it is impossible to stay completely emotionally stable at all times. Yet, why is it that we allow ourselves the small joys of getting a good grade on a homework assignment or running a mile at our best time, yet most of us hardly allow ourselves the small sadness that comes along with a failed quiz or a friendship slipping away?
We constantly tell ourselves to stop sulking, to stop making a big deal over something that doesn’t matter. We constantly tell ourselves to cheer up, that everything will be okay in the end. And, yes, while everything will be okay in the end, sometimes in the moment, things are not okay. And this is completely normal and fine. In fact, we should encourage each other to accept and allow ourselves to feel these emotions that society deems as negative.
Let yourself cry, let yourself curl up in a ball, let yourself scream into a pillow. Whatever it takes—just let yourself feel. If we deny ourselves the right to feel negative emotions, we deny ourselves the right to be our whole self. Most sadness is only temporary, so long as you allow it to be temporary. It will forever lie inside of you if you convince yourself that you don’t deserve to feel negative emotions because people have it worse than you.
You are worthy of negative emotions. You are worthy of positive emotions. You are worthy of allowing yourself to be a human being.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphics