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.
I can absolutely relate Gigi, it’s something that many of us freelancers go through when projects come and go and I think there is always that “guilty” feeling when you are aren’t in full “hustle” mode all day every day. I have that same kind of anxiety quite often and it’s frankly a reminder of just how human we all are.
ps. I hope you guys get the chance to stay in a small village or countryside soon
Yes! It’s so ingrained in us. No matter how many years I spend training myself to slow down, there are always periods where I forget and panic. Hopefully Brasov (our next stop) will feel small enough to give us a reprieve from the big city chaos. It’s a bit large, but we’re right up against the hills and hiking trails, so fingers crossed.
Other than income related deadlines or personal logistical deadlines I like to use the phrase “tomorrow is another day” when feeling overwhelmed. My mom is 83 and her body only physically allows her to endure so much standing in one day so by 3-4pm she says I’m shutting down, tomorrow’s another day. I basically stole this motto from her and it helps with my mile long personal to do list.
Anyway, not sure this will resonate but figured I’d share. May your next pit stop proved you with a bit more solace.
I completely relate to this! This past winter I embraced the healing of slowing down, of mental space, of quiet time and being alone. It was only possible because of being broken down and having to rebuild. In the process, I learned the importance of this lesson and just how much internal work it can take to practice.
Good to still read your voice across continents and years :)
Yes! Always so fun to see you across the interwebs as well.
This sounds just like me on many of my days off. When I started working 3 days a week I was excited because I thought I’d have all this time to do the things that I haven’t been able to do working 5 days a week. Not so it seems. My days fill up with to-do lists and I wonder how I ever accomplished the things that I did while working full time and caring for my young sons. Now setting aside me time seems to be more difficult as there are so many things I feel I “need” to do at home. I’m a project person and I have lots of personal projects that I put off while I was working full time. But, when I fully recognize that I’m not taking good care of myself, I do stop and do something special for myself, such as a professional pedicure or just time to wander the book store, have lunch with a relative or friend, or simply read one of the many books on my list. Raised as an only child, I’ve had a lot of alone time in my lifetime, so I too have to have my space and time alone, otherwise, I sometimes feel anxious and overwhelmed. We must learn to cherish ourselves enough to take the time to care for ourselves.
I hear you. I remember when I first went freelance after working an extremely demanding day job (weekends, evenings). At first, I was actually afraid I’d get bored. I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with myself without a panicked scrambling 60+-hour workweek. But then somehow the time filled up and now I frequently wonder how people even manage to work full-time.