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.

A Holiday Bubble

From the age of about two years old, I’ve been going to a little town in Norfolk almost every year on holiday. While I was in school, we – me, my parents, and our dog – would go during the October half term but in recent years, we’ve been going in the early summer, before the schools break up. We stay in a caravan less than a ten-minute walk from a stunning sandy beach and I absolutely love it.

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Some people find it strange that we always go back to the same place but as far as I can tell, there are two basic types of holidays: going to explore and going to relax. Both have their pros and cons. This is definitely a relaxation holiday. It’s familiar and calm and beautiful. It’s a bubble away from reality where I can just be, in a way I can’t at home. And, of course, familiarity and Autism go together like fish and chips. We also ate a lot of fish and chips…

I’ve been back from Norfolk a few days and I just really wanted to write about it. After having had so much change with the house move, the changing of medications, and the decision to keep my cat’s kittens, it was really nice to be somewhere so familiar and safe. And as much as I love the cats, I really enjoyed having some dedicated dog time with Lucky. Because he’s now so arthritic, we have to be careful to not over walk him (his enthusiasm far exceeds his physical ability so he’s not much help there) but we manage a couple of trips to the beach, which he loved. He can’t really run anymore but there was a fair amount of skipping, one sure-fire way to know he’s enjoying himself. It’s very cute.

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The beaches in Norfolk are just beautiful. The closest beach, the one we jokingly call ‘our beach,’ is particularly close to my heart. Every year, I step onto that beach and everything just clicks into place. It’s subtle but I suddenly feel like my head’s a little clearer, like I can breathe more easily. Something inside me settles. It’s like I leave a little piece of myself there, that I miss all year round, and then, when I get back, it’s an overwhelming relief. I’ve spent some glorious evenings on that beach.

It was ridiculously hot all week so I spent a lot of time inside with all the windows and doors open. I’m really not good with heat. It’s something I’ve heard from quite a few other people with Autism; I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a link, given the hypersensitivity that often comes as part of being autistic. Anyway. It gave me the opportunity to do a lot of writing and catch up a bit with my diary (if you’ve read this post, you’ll know that my writing can be quite compulsive). That felt really good. I also rewatched some of my favourite films and played chess. The latter is something I haven’t had the concentration to do for months so that felt like a victory in itself, much more exciting than actually winning at chess.

Being there doesn’t eradicate my anxiety entirely but it does a pretty good job of dampening it. Sometimes anxiety feels like this constant vibration that I can’t stop, can’t take a break from. But in Norfolk I can. I still get anxious about specific things but that relentless vibration momentarily ceases. And that’s such a relief.

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