Beautiful, Stunning, Stressful Iceland

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I was in Iceland this last weekend. It’s somewhere that I’ve wanted to go for years and I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights so I was very excited when everything fell together and this trip became possible. Despite only being there for four days, we managed to pack in a lot and it was all just so, so special so I wanted to document it here.

By the time we got there and left our stuff in the hotel, there wasn’t time for much but we did have time to go to the whale museum. I’d read about it and really wanted to go and it was beautiful: a warehouse full of huge models of different species of whale and dolphin. The audio guide was super informative and I learned a lot.

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The scenery in Iceland is stunning – that was probably my favourite thing about Iceland. When we – me and my Mum – started talking about this trip, I asked if we could go somewhere ‘new and beautiful’ and Iceland was certainly that. It was so, so beautiful. I kept having this weird anxiety that my brain wasn’t big enough to hold all of the beautiful things I was seeing.

We visited the Skogafoss waterfall – we actually ended up seeing it twice because the two tours we went on overlapped for certain sites – which was just amazing. You can walk right up to it and I got completely soaked but it was so worth it. I just stood there and soaked up the magnificence of it. It was so, so beautiful.

Down in Vik, in the south of Iceland, we went to the first live lava show in the world, which was incredible. They told us all about the volcanoes in Iceland and then we got to witness real flowing lava. That was so cool, one of the coolest experiences of my life.

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From there, we went on to the beach, a black sand beach. I’d never seen black sand before and it was so surreal. I could’ve stayed there forever because it was just so beautiful and it was all feeding my soul in a way that I can’t really explain.

One of the other things I wanted to do was to walk on a glacier and visit the ice caves but when we went to make that happen, we learned that the hike involved was very physical and therefore more than I could handle. That was really hard to accept. I really, really wanted to go. But my energy and my stamina are so low at the moment that it just wasn’t possible. However, we did get to visit a glacier, which was amazing. It was all so  breathtakingly beautiful.

Our first trip out to look for the Northern Lights was cancelled because of too much cloud but we went out the next night and we did in fact manage to see some of the Northern Lights, a green ribbon above the horizon. It looked different to all the photos I’d seen and it wasn’t as dramatic as you’re lead to believe but it was beautiful and it was a really special experience.

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“Last night was surreal. We left the hotel at eight thirty and drove around the Icelandic countryside, looking for the Northern Lights. We had a fantastic (and hilarious) guide (shout out to Roman from @graylineiceland) who kept us entertained and informed and even though it took a while, we did find them. It wasn’t a ‘spectacular’ show but I don’t mind. Seeing them at all was so special and this photo, this record of that moment makes me smile so big. It might be faint, it might be grainy, but it’s proof that it happened and I’m so, so grateful for it.” (x)

One of the things I really, really wanted to see was the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. One of my friends had been and her pictures blew my mind so it was first on my list when it came to planning this trip. And it was absolutely stunning. I could’ve stood there for hours, just drinking it all in. There weren’t enough words for all the colours, all the blues, and I was just fascinated by all the different textures in the ice.

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And down from the glacier lagoon is The Diamond Beach, a stretch of black sand that’s littered with chunks of ice. Tiny icebergs! It was so surreal and so beautiful. Each one was different and beautiful and watching the waves rush up the beach, over and around them, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The last thing we did was go whale watching. I’ve been whale watching before (in Australia and New Zealand) but that was a long time ago and I love whales. We’d been told that we were unlikely to see anything at this time of year but we decided that we wanted to try anyway. It was freezing cold and incredibly windy but it was worth it: we spent about an hour with a humpback whale that was feeding near one of the islands and I also saw a dolphin. Plus the scenery was absolutely stunning. It was a great experience to end the trip on.

The thing that struck me most about Iceland was the space. And the quiet. It was good for my soul in a way that I don’t really understand and can’t really explain. Plus the mountains. There’s something about looking at mountains that is just so calming to me.

Having said that, I dealt with A LOT of anxiety while we were away. There was so much uncertainty: I didn’t know what we were going to do about food, I didn’t know how long we would be driving for each day, I didn’t know what I would be required to do, and so on and so on and so on. It was really hard and it was really exhausting. I’d forgotten how much uncertainty and anxiety comes with travelling. Having my Mum with me really helped but it was a real struggle, a moment to moment struggle. As much as I loved Iceland, it was a relief to come home and go back to certainty.

So that Iceland. Beautiful, stunning, stressful Iceland.

I would like to dedicate this post and this adventure to Claire Wineland. She was part of the inspiration for this trip. I was already in the worst depressive episode I’ve ever experienced and her death hit me really hard. It was such a tragedy and I needed to know that there was more than just tragedy in the world. I needed to see that to help me keep going.

Since her death, I’ve been wearing a purple bracelet (the colour of Cystic Fibrosis awareness, I believe – please correct me if I’m wrong or if there is a more fitting colour) because I wanted a constant reminder of Claire and her words and because I wanted to carry her with me. It’s strange: I’ve never had any beliefs about what happens after death but recently I’ve just had this feeling that if I carry her with me, she gets to see the things I see and experience the things I experience. I don’t know why I feel like that or what I believe about life after death but I just have this feeling. I just have this feeling.

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It was all so beautiful that I couldn’t just take photos. I took some video and I’ve put it together into a vlog of sorts:

Music by the wonderful heartsease.

Books, Films, and TV of 2018

So the year is drawing to a close and I wanted to do a round up of the media I have consumed and enjoyed. Last year, I wrote a post called 2017 in Songs and I’m working on the 2018 edition but I also wanted to do something more because I read and saw a lot of good stuff this year. So let’s go…

BOOKS

It was one of my new years resolutions to read more books this year and I set a very achievable goal of five. I didn’t want to end up stressing about it and I’ve actually managed to read about double that. So I’m very proud of myself. Most of them I enjoyed but here are the ones that really stood out:

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

The first book I read this year was Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I could write pages and pages about this book (and I did) but I’ll keep it short. It follows sixteen-year-old Aza who struggles with OCD and anxiety as she juggles school and friends and investigating the disappearance of the local billionaire. I fell in love with this book from the first page; I loved the way Aza described her experience and I related to it so strongly. There’s something about the way John Green writes that really speaks to me and the story doesn’t rest on Aza’s mental health for the plot: it’s intertwined with several different storylines. I really liked that; it felt very true to life. Having felt very alienated by the books I had been reading previously, this was the total opposite. One of my favourite books ever.

“In some ways, pain is the opposite of language… And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify.”

What We Buried by Caitlyn Siehl

I read several poetry books this year but this was easily my favourite. I loved it from the first poem. I love the way she writes – the language she uses and the way she punctuates the words – and the empowered feeling you get from reading the poems. I highlight my favourite passages in books and this one has a lot of highlighting!

“This is where we heal. This is where we hide. This is where we are found.”

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

I’ve really struggled to read fiction this year (Turtles All The Way Down was the exception) so I delved into the world of non-fiction and ended up reading and loving this book. Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon and the book is a collection of his patients and his experiences. He has a very gentle way of writing that I loved and when I finished it, I had this odd feeling that I understood my own brain a little bit better.

“…More than that, the operation involved the brain, the mysterious substrate of all thought and feeling, of all that was important in human life – a mystery, it seemed to me, as great as the stars at night and the universe around us. The operation was elegant, delicate, dangerous and full of profound meaning. What could be finer, I thought? I had the strange feeling that this was what I had wanted to do all my life, even though it was only now that I had realised it. It was love at first sight.”

FILM

I’m not much of a film watcher – for some reason, watching a film feels like more of a commitment than starting a TV show. But I made an effort this year to watch more films and watch more than just the things that I naturally gravitate towards. Having said that, my favourite films of the year are all pretty representative of my taste in films…

Wonder Woman

I grew up watching Justice League on television with my Dad and with my brother so those superhero stories are very important to me. I wasn’t ready to watch it right away but when I did, I loved it. And I feel like my Dad would’ve loved it as well. It looked beautiful and the acting was beautiful and I loved every second of it.

Edge of Tomorrow

In a dystopian future, humans are fighting an alien race called Mimics. When one man starts to experience the same day over and over again, it gives him an unforeseen advantage in battle. I am a sucker for this kind of film (and a strong female character!) and I’ve watched it multiple times since my first viewing.

Love, Simon

I read the book that this film was based on (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) and loved it so I was really looking forward to the film. It follows Simon Spier, who is keeping a secret from everyone he knows: he’s gay. But when a classmate threatens to out him, everything changes and he is forced to choose between his friends and the anonymous classmate he’s fallen in love with over email.

TV

It’s one of my favourite things to curl up with a good TV show and binge watch the whole thing in one day.

Queer Eye

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Queer Eye? It wasn’t something I expected to love but the overflowing positivity just captured my heart. While the physical makeovers in these men might be the most obvious changes made, the emotional one is the most powerful. There is little (if any) media that encourages men to take care of themselves and be kind to themselves and so this show is a big deal. I have to admit that I haven’t finished it yet but that’s only because I don’t want to have no new episodes to watch.

Frequency

If you love sci fi and police dramas (like me), then this is the show for you. After a freak lightning storm, police detective Raimy Sullivan is able to communicate with her father in the past via an old radio. An attempt to save his life causes devastating changes in the present and between them, they have to try and fix the timeline. It’s addictive and intense and I loved every second of it.

Episodes

During some downtime (and some much needed rest time) in Nashville, my friend Richard introduced me to this show and I am so, so grateful. It’s a comedy about two English television writers – a married couple – going to the US to recreate their hit show. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Because of the blend of British humour and American humour, I feel like there’s something for everyone: it’s dry, it’s direct, it’s subtle, it’s not subtle, all at the same time. I love it so much that I’m in the process of watching again, with multiple different people because I know they’ll love it too.

Burden of Truth

So I watched all ten episodes in one day because it’s that good. A successful lawyer returns to her hometown to uncover the truth behind a group of teenage girls getting sick. It’s full of twists and turns, family secrets, and some great LGBT representation. I’d write more but I don’t want to give anything away!

The Split

Another legal drama, this one about a family firm that begins when the eldest daughter, Hannah, leaves to work for a rival firm. The six part series follows their cases and their relationships and the return of the father who has been absent for thirty years. It stars Nicola Walker who I have loved ever since I first saw her in Spooks (as Ruth Evershed) as well as Stephen Mangan, who stars in Episodes.

Unforgotten

More Nicola Walker! I loved the first two series of Unforgotten so I was very excited to see the third and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. Each series features a handful of different characters and their lives are weaved together until we understand a historic crime and despite this format, each series has been different and surprising and heart wrenching. Nicola Walker in particular was fantastic and I really, really loved that they explored the toll that such a difficult job can take.

Agents of Shield Season 5

I have mentioned my love of Agents of Shield before and that was only strengthened by this latest season. Daisy Johnson is my hero and it was awesome to see her be even more interesting and amazing in this season. And it’s been renewed for a sixth and seventh season!

Lucifer

Another awesome recommendation from Richard. The devil decides to take a holiday from hell and takes over a nightclub in LA (and it turns out he’s hilarious). He teams up with a police detective and shenanigans ensue. I love it. It’s funny and smart and thought provoking: there are some great questions about god and religion and faith in there. All of the characters are interesting and complex and I don’t want to get to the end. Fortunately there’s a new season on the way.

So there you go. My books, films, and TV of 2018. Hopefully there’s something in here that appeals. What have you been reading and watching this year?

What Women With Autism Want You To Know

The other day, I was just browsing through YouTube (probably procrastinating something) when I came across this video.

“Autism is not a disease, it is a developmental disability. It’s about living our best possible lives with this condition.”

I am ridiculously excited that this video exists. Even a few years ago, when I was looking into Autism as an explanation for my struggles, I was still being told that women don’t have Autism or being dismissed because I didn’t fit into the stereotype for Autism (which has come from autistic boys and men). So the fact that this video even exists shows that some progress has been made. At this moment in time, it has just short of a million views. A million! That means that potentially a million people now have a better understanding of Autism in women. That’s completely amazing!

There’s so much good stuff in this video – you really should watch the whole thing. But here are some of main points and some quotes that stuck out to me:

1. Autism covers a wide spectrum.

  • “Autism is an internal thing, not an external thing. No one looks autistic.”
  • “Autism isn’t a linear spectrum of high or low. It’s a whole bunch of different traits that are on their own spectrums. It’s kind of a 3D, weird mess.”
  • “Autism is simply a different way of thinking, seeing, and interacting with one’s world.”

2. We have emotions.

  • “I would definitely disagree with the idea that we’re not emotional. I think we’re actually highly emotional. I think that we just… many times we don’t express it the way people expect… We’re feeling it. It’s there. But it just might not come out. And then, at other times, it might be overly expressed.”
  • “We can’t filter them out because we feel them so strongly so we shut down as a way of processing all those emotions.”

3. Social interactions can be challenging.

  • “It takes a lot of effort to appear [like anybody else, like someone not on the spectrum]. Like, it takes a lot of conscious awareness. Social skills are like a muscle for us.”
  • “It’s very, very draining. Even with people that I care for and enjoy being around, I have to psych myself up to be around them.”
  • “All the little things that everyone does unconsciously, autistic people do manually. So that adds up. What I’m doing with every part of my body, I am to some degree aware of and trying to do.”

4. Diagnoses can happen at any age.

  • “A lot of women, women that I know who are autistic, are not diagnosed until their twenties, thirties, or even beyond. A large part of this is because the way that we diagnose Autism is by using criteria that were created by observing boys and Autism looks different in girls and women than it does in boys.”
  • “I feel like, ‘okay, I know why I’m this way, I know why other people are the way they are, so I can bridge this gap.'”

5. The nuances of dating can be challenging… but we do have sex lives.

  • “We just may need more support in order to learn how to make [relationships and sex] happen. We don’t naturally understand the nuances that are involved and there are a lot of nuances.”
  • “People on the Autism spectrum, especially women, are more likely to experience sexual assault or some sort of violent incident than the neurotypical, non autistic population. We are very vulnerable. We definitely can be more trusting because we are very honest and upfront people so we don’t think that other people might not be so honest and might be trying to hurt us.”
  • “One of the traits of Autism is not reading between the lines in social interactions and so much of dating and sexually is supposed to be indirect and subtle and that it’s inappropriate to talk about sex in a direct way, even when you’re teaching it as sex ed.”
  • “No one is teaching the social aspects [of dating and sex]. And honestly, this is where autistic people are the canaries in the coal mine. Teaching the social aspects of sexuality would help everyone. Autistic people need it but it also benefits everyone.”

6. We have lots of different interests.

  • “There is a stereotype that everyone with Autism is into science and math and stuff, like Rain Man. But a lot of people with Autism… women actually, especially… a lot of us are into the arts.”
  • “In my experience, autistic girls are also just as obsessive autistic boys. They’re just obsessed with, you know, fantasy novels or their favourite band or whatever. Not planes, trains, and automobiles.”

7. Bullying sucks.

  • “You know, it’s like somebody making fun of a blind person only in this case you’re blind socially.”
  • “We all start from somewhere but that isn’t necessarily where we’re going to end up and you have to believe that there is going to be a future.”
  • “There’s enough misfits in the world, like, people who got picked on. There’s so many of us. So you do find your tribe.”

8. It’s getting better.

  • “I think things are going to be a lot better for the next generation.”
  • “You know, your kid might be behind their peers but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna be behind forever. Your kid is a full human being who will grow and change just like everyone else.”

As I said, it’s amazing that this video exists and that autistic women are being seen and that people are finally understanding that autism in women looks different than it does in men, and that it can look different from woman to woman. I agree with all of these points but there’s still so much to it, to living with this everyday. So, in addition to these points, this is what I, as an autistic woman, want you to know:

  • I have no idea either – Just because these behaviours and reactions are coming out of my brain and my body, that doesn’t mean I necessarily understand them. I’ve done a lot of reading about Autism and mental health but it’s just different in real life. I’m learning everyday and I hope that you’ll keep learning with me.
  • It’s exhausting – As these women said, it’s draining, even when it comes to things that you enjoy. It’s like you have to consciously process everything you do, everything around you, and that takes up so much energy. I cannot manage as much as everyone else and I find that so difficult to get my head around.
  • I’m doing my best – I promise.