Feeling Overwhelmed? Finding a path to sanity…

Venice’s Acqua Alta is a great visual metaphor for me when I’m starting to drown in worry.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. I have been living in Italy for almost six years now. Life here comes with a whole new layer of complexities and unfamiliarities. My to-do list requires constant attention. What do I need to renew? What documents do I need for this and that (believe me, Italy is the country of documents and forms for even the simplest things)? In short, I wake up many mornings with my mind taking off like a speedboat because I have so many loose ends and compounding worries. It doesn’t take like long to know that I’m feeling overwhelmed.

The rising waters of an overactive mind.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You wake up. Maybe it’s to relieve a complaining bladder or maybe the first rays of sunlight have fallen across your face. You’re not ready to get up. You have at least another hour before the alarm chirps. But, your mind, like a newly roused ravenous dog, leaps to attention. “Give me something to chew on!” Then, it’s off to the races and all the loose ends and pressing matters start queueing up, demanding attention.

For most of my life, my MO has been to stay in bed and have a wrestling match with myself. I always lose. This is the classic definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

Today’s swirling list was finishing an illustration project, dealing with a stall on getting my car repaired (I was rear-ended while stopped at a crosswalk just before New Years—that’s a story all to itself, stay tuned), finding a cat sitter for our three kids, and tackling some design issues for my recently updated site. Adding to my list would’ve been easy  (my documents for my Italian citizenship application, duh). I hated having so much unresolved STUFF! I felt downright yucky. And the feelings were compounded because I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day.

I thought to myself, Hmmm, this is painfully familiar.

Finding a path forward.

Was peace possible with so many loose ends? Yes. But, the path wasn’t going to be continuing to lie in bed while the rising waters of worry engulfed me. My conditioned mind loves nothing better than to keep me immobilized in this endless loop. So, I got up and got going. I washed my face, shaved, dressed and made my usual three-shot espresso (two parts caffeinated, one part decaffeinated). These simple acts took me out of the mental wrestling match with my obsessive thoughts. I removed the essential underpinning of feeling overwhelmed—staying immobilized physically while running furiously mentally.

Dealing with the need to have immediate resolution.

This is a biggie and another hungry pool of quicksand. In my blog post Dealing with the Angst of Elusive Answers, I muse about this particular pitfall. If you’re embarking upon any significant life change, like moving to Italy, I encourage you to think long and hard about your ability to live with things taking unexpected turns and loosening your grasp on expectations. For me, much of this has become about learning to allow the discomfort that often accompanies things not going my way and to my timing.

Facing discomfort and wading through a flood of worries.

I return to the featured image in this post and why I’m so drawn to it. The people on the raised platforms with their luggage in tow (a symbol of psychological baggage?) aren’t my focus. No, it’s the woman who has donned her boots, plugged in her earbuds, and decided to wade through it. I’ve realized this is my emerging strategy for dealing with the things that overwhelm me. Face the discomfort and inconvenience. Move from a lifetime of conditioning of trying to work everything out in my mind and, instead, metaphorically don the boots of purpose and action. And, chill out (the music) instead of becoming embroiled in thinking that mimics tires mired deep in the mud while spinning hopelessly.

And, yeah, the inconvenience…

Venice’s Acqua Alta (High Water) has taught me about living with periodic and often unpredictable inconvenience. I remember my first real experience with this phenomenon. This was four years ago, and we weren’t yet living in Veneto. We were visiting from Rome in the first days of February. It was cold, rainy, and the sirens for the Acqua Alta were going off pretty frequently. I could feel my body and my mind bracing against this experience that I had quickly deemed as loathsome. It wasn’t until I went with the flow, bought knee-high wading boots and headed into the thick of it that I went from petulant child to child in wonderment. I turned the experience into a photo essay (though I’d be afraid to expose my expensive camera equipment to those kinds of elements again). And, while communing with a dear friend who is a native of Venice, I began to look at this through the eyes of the people who have learned to incorporate this speed bump as part of lives.

Therein lies my ultimate lesson—inconvenience, and dashed hopes and expectations are parts of life. I can rail against them. I can lock myself in a mental hell trying to duke my way out of the worries, or I can turn my energies to donning my wading boots and head out into the elements. Inevitably, when I do, my angst abates, even though I may not be able to wade my way to resolution right away.

I’ve realized that stepping out of the obsessive patterns of the mind is essential. By stepping into action, by doing what I can and not demanding the universe turn on a dime to service my expectations, I deprive neurotic thinking of its stranglehold. And, guess what? Peace shows up.






By |2019-01-31T14:11:25+01:00January 31st, 2019|Personal musings|10 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Image Earth Travel February 20, 2019 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Can relate to this post.
    Also living in Italy for 3 years this July, this country teaches you how to be patient or not and often I’m ‘overwhelmed’ with paperwork!

    On another not, do you think that the flooding problem in Venice will ever be fixed? I know a project was started in the 1980s but corruption and bureaucracy, have intervened.

    • Jed February 20, 2019 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      We should for an “overwhelmed with paperwork and bureaucracy” support group! As for the flooding in Venice, I’d like the think a solution exists, but it’s hard to know with all the “smoke” associated with failed projects and diverted funds.

  2. Chip Meeks January 31, 2019 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Jed, in my first year in the Army, and going through Special Forces Phase 1 (there were 3 phases back in 1976) I was doing something fairly scary, and the instructor calmly looked at me and asked “Meeks, are you afraid?” To which I responded “Yes Sergeant!” As I gazed over the non-barricaded edge of the 60′ rappel tower, with nothing between me and the earth except air.” He looked at me without changing his expression and said, “Good! It’s good to be afraid! It helps keep smart men alive!” So I learned then, it’s OK to be afraid (Or anxious, apprehensive etc. you choose). It’s not OK not to pull your boots on every day and wade out into what’s gotta be done. Thanks for the read again! have a great rest of your week!

    • Jed February 12, 2019 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience, Chip! Wading into what has to be done, as you put it, is essential for not living a life of avoidance. I believe that when a person faces their discomfort, life rewards them! Good hearing from you as always!

  3. Kathryn Smith January 31, 2019 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    I’ve been living in the same house in SC for more than 30 years, but I also wake up most mornings with thoughts churning. Lucky for me, I have a beautiful painting by my dear friend Jed Smith, “The Vegetable Guardian,” hanging on the wall where it is the first thing I see. It is a portrait of an elderly Italian vegetable seller, vividly portrayed in blues and greens. That image helps me get going many a morning!

    • Jed February 12, 2019 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      I love hearing that!

  4. john January 31, 2019 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Great post Jed. This is a description a description of my current work/life balance.

    • Jed January 31, 2019 at 4:05 pm - Reply

      I know so well how you can relate to this, John!

  5. Orna O'Reilly January 31, 2019 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Nice! I feel your pain. I’ll be living here for six years next month and loving it…..most of the time.

    • Jed January 31, 2019 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      At least the pain doesn’t immobilize me! There so much beauty to compensate and make it all worth while!

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