I know, I know – I skipped Week 33, and I apologize but I was quite busy laying on the beach in Italy and trying to find gelato between meals of pizza and pasta. I promise that I thought about you all in blog world with each delicious bite.
Last week, E and I went to Europe for a much needed holiday. The main reason for the trip was to attend the wedding of a Peace Corps Lesotho friend, so we spent a few days with other friends in a small Italian village on the northwestern coast for the wedding and then split off for a few days in Scotland then Ireland. We filled our bellies with amazing food, took long walks through old cities, and enjoyed being outside of our normal lives for a few days.
At the wedding, I sat next to a Dutch woman who worked with groom at a chocolate company in Switzerland (I am not making that up) and she shared pieces of her life story as a career woman and mother, having raised her children for the first decade or so and then her husband taking over while she pursued her career. When I told her about our 10-day trip in Europe, she said, “Oh, that’s a lot of time for you Americans. I know that you don’t get much holiday.” She then went on to tell me that she has five weeks of vacation each year. This conversation kept happening, with other wedding guests but also with people we met along the way. Americans value work and long hours more than rest and relaxation, but for what reasons? We are tired, unhappy, stressed. I couldn’t answer that.
This vacation was a long time coming for me. I needed a break from my responsibilities, obligations, and, mostly, myself. I haven’t really felt like me for the last few months, constantly stressed about something or another, whether it be friends, work, writing, my hip, what I think I should be doing at that moment. I start a lot of days not in a good mood and sustain a level of panic throughout the day until I’m angry and tired. I complain, a lot, and few things seem to bring me joy. I feel tied to constant obligations, many of which should be fun but don’t feel that way when jammed pack through a list of all things I tell myself I have to do. I simultaneously feel like I don’t have any time for myself, yet alone and like I don’t see any of my friends. I’ve pitted myself up against this better, more perfect version of who I think should be, even if slightly unclear, and I keep losing out each day as I try not to disappointment myself.
Over the last week, I’ve tried to give myself a break. I wouldn’t let myself think about work or how much we were spending (I had saved more than enough for the trip). When fears that my writing may not be enough or that a friend hadn’t returned my last message, I’d take a few breaths until the panic spike subsided. I’d feel fat for a second and then eat another piece of focaccia. Whenever I felt like I wasn’t the person I needed to be and that I was somehow failing in my life, I shook myself back to the present moment and remembered where I was – in an Irish garden, on a boat in the Mediterranean sea, in an ancient Scottish castle. All those places deserved me as I was, and so did I.
My vacation wasn’t completely worry free – international travel never is – but I was able to relax in a way that I haven’t in months. I read a book, I didn’t force myself to order the cheapest thing on the menu, and I took naps. I have long been a big fan of naps, but recently I haven’t been able to take them. I lay down but worries and stress keep me agitated and restless. Occasionally, I can fall asleep for about 20 minutes but them I am up and on to whatever thing I’ve believed needs to get done. On vacation, though, I took long, peaceful naps for hours. My body and mind finally settled down.
We flew back to Chicago last night and have spent most of the day not doing laundry or unpacking, but reading and watching TV. I have emails to return, writing that needs revising, and friends I should be texting, but I took a nap today. It was supposed to be for 20 minutes, but it ended up lasting two hours. And, it was wonderful.
I learned that I need to make some serious changes in my life, both in how I think but also how I spend my time. I can only be good to others when I am good to myself, and I just haven’t been doing either lately. The first thing, though, is to recognize that, forgive, and move on. I can’t grow and find joy if I am berating myself about what I did or didn’t do.
I am also going to take more vacation, maybe not literally because I still only have so many days, but mentally and allow myself breaks and time to pursue things that really give me joy. I don’t need to be a perfect person, but I do need to feel like myself again. I deserve that much.