laughing too late

Laughing too late. We’ve all done it. We didn’t quite get the joke at the same time everyone else did. We may have laughed along but we didn’t know what was so funny. And then when we finally did get the joke we were torn – do we laugh late and let everyone know we missed the point the first time? Or do we stuff our laughter back inside of us and move on? We really don’t think about laughing too late too seriously. In practice it doesn’t seem all that awkward or embarrassing. But what about other feelings? Feelings we don’t feel “at the right time.” What are we doing about those?

I have never been one to get homesick. Yes, I miss my family and friends when I’m not with them. And yes I look forward to going home on breaks to reunite with my bed and Farmhouse grilled chicken salads. But I wouldn’t really qualify any of that as homesickness. There is a difference between missing people or places and an all-consuming feeling of need to return to them. I had never experienced the latter before. At least not until this past semester.

I missed home more than I ever have this past semester. It felt weird. Homesickness, I thought, was something you felt when you first went to college. It was, in my mind, an experience reserved exclusively for freshmen. So when I found myself really wanting to go home in October, in the middle of the semester, of my sophomore year I was confused. There were no obvious reasons for feeling stuck or lonely or homesick. I tried to trace my homesickness back to its roots – to pinpoint whatever had gone wrong at school that could explain my feelings. But I couldn’t. I just really missed home. But I didn’t think I should – didn’t think I was allowed to.

I toyed with the idea of going home for a week or two. Thought about what weekends would work best. Thought about how I would get home. But even when all the logistics were planned out in my head I couldn’t bring myself to actually call home. What would my parents think? This wasn’t the “right” time to be homesick. This wasn’t “normal.” I was nervous to tell friends why I wanted to go home. Worried that simply needing a break, needing home, wasn’t good enough. I eventually ended up calling home on the Thursday before Halloween and was home the next afternoon. I really just needed a weekend away.

If you have spent any time exploring this blog a little bit or know me at all you know that I spend a lot of time thinking about mental health. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can all be more honest about our feelings that feel “wrong.” I spend a lot of time trying to break down the stigma behind mental illness and allow people to see that their feelings of being stuck, of hurt, of pain are not feelings to be running from. And yet when it was me, when I felt homesick, I felt so ashamed. Homesickness isn’t necessarily a feeling of being stuck or of hurt or of pain, but to me, this semester, it was still the “wrong” feeling to feel.

Writing this whole experience out I realized just how silly it sounds. I was so consumed with the idea that my feelings were somehow wrong just because they were “a year late” that I avoided taking care of myself for weeks. What I have taken away from all of this, and what I hope someone takes away from this article, is that there is no “right” when it comes to feelings. For so long I was consumed with making it clear that no feeling is off limits that I forgot to remind myself that there no feeling is off limits at any time. There is no “right” time to feel homesick or anything else. You can feel whatever you need to at any time. Our feelings don’t always make sense. We can’t always put a label to our emotions or explain really why we feel the way we feel when we feel it. The idea that there is a set of “right” emotions reserved to be experienced at the “right” times is insulting to our personal experiences. We need to start to give ourselves the space to feel whatever we feel whenever we feel it.