It was mid-July in Prague and I was overwhelmed.
I started to type that there was no reason for it, but that’s not true. There are so many. They just weren’t the reasons you might expect. I wasn’t overwhelmed because I had a big workload or relationship stress or bad family news.
I was overwhelmed because I had too small of a workload.
Because I’d lost several big projects in a row, each one right as I thought it was about to come through.
Because I didn’t know that our Prague apartment was right next to some major construction. Six days a week starting at 8 a.m.
Because I was back in therapy and that always brings up a lot of emotions for me, always feels like there’s so much to figure out, to meditate on, to wrestle with.
And because we’d spent far too much time in cities even though I desperately love and need small, quiet towns.
It’s funny because even though I didn’t have much paying work, my to-do list had expanded to fill in all my available time. I had manuscripts to read for my writing partners, travel research to do for the winter, therapy homework to wrap my head around, and a novel that I was anxious to finish.
And as I sometimes do, I forgot how much I need space in my schedule. I neglected my no-technology Fridays. I worked on my to-do list late into the evening. And I started to feel anxious all the time.
I knew I needed a break. I knew I needed to slow down.
So I forced myself, even though the tightness in my chest warned me not to, warned me that there were Still Important Things To Do Right This Second.
When Thursday dawned that week, I climbed out of bed around 5:30 and walked out the door by 6:30. The goal? To wander old town and take some photos before the tourist throngs made it out of bed.
But here’s the thing:
I spent the first several hours of my day feeling like turning around.
I walked the famous Charles Bridge and wandered up to the castle. I walked along the river and took cobblestone alleyways to their dead ends. And I felt anxious to go back home. Shouldn’t I be working? Sure, I only had one client thing on my list for the day, but shouldn’t I be doing that first? And didn’t I have twenty non-client things cluttering up my mental space?
But still I walked. And took photos. And eventually stopped for a coffee and read my book. I had to read the same passage four times because my mind wanted so badly to focus on to-do lists and try to solve problems.
Still, I stayed firmly in my coffee shop seat and read.
It wasn’t until a few hours after I’d left the house that I started to feel relaxed. I’d left old town and made my way toward home, making a stop at the local farmers market for cherries, cauliflower, and a baguette.
It was there that I finally felt some of the tension in my chest uncoil. I walked back to the tram with bags of fruit and veggies in tow, munching cherries as I went, and suddenly I could breathe again.
Which was a good reminder.
Because sometimes it’s hard to take a morning off. Sometimes you have to push through the anxiety. Sometimes it takes hours to relax into the day. Sometimes it takes days to relax into a break.
And my health, my peace, my mental well-being…they’re all more important than a to-do list.
Sometimes I need a reminder.