How is your mental health these days? Staying home isn’t abnormal for me. The biggest difference is that my husband is always home. Which I LOVE. Even during my darkest depressions, when he gets home from work at night, things feel better. He makes me feel peaceful. So, I’ve been experiencing much more peace these days. There are still ups and downs. Some of you know my family has lost a loved one recently, so it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but in this challenging time, we’re doing alright.
I know there are a lot of people in unfortunate situations, particularly in unrestful homes. Being with your family 24/7 can cause a lot of tension, even in the best situations. I am so grateful that during our quarantine, I am at this place in my life. My depression is under control. I have a loving husband. We have a comfortable home. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’m thankful every single day for having these things. If we were in our one bedroom apartment still, I’d be going crazy. If we were still in college and unable to be together, I’d just cry everyday.
Even during self-isolation and social distancing, you just have to go out sometimes. Thankfully, a lot of our needs can be filled with having things delivered to our home, or we can pick up from the store, curbside. But there are still times where I need to wander in to a grocery store.
I’ve only gone into a store a handful of times since this all started, but every time I’ve returned home, I am fuming. I’m realizing how much easier it is to be critical of people when we’re all scared. I am doing what I think is the right way to practice caution, but despite us all getting the same sort of direction on how to be safe, we all interpret it differently and we are NOT COOL with other interpretations because they are WRONG.
I don’t know if I truly believe people are wrong, but I do know that I get uncomfortable when someone stands closer to me than what I consider is 6 feet (although I am pretty terrible at estimating distance). My insides start tightening with anger when I see someone wandering around aimlessly, ignoring “one-way” aisle signs with their mask pulled down, exposing their nose. It isn’t that I think they are necessarily going to spread illness. I just hate that they aren’t following the rules when I, and others, are following them. It just makes me feel like, who do you think you are?
Our pastor has been talking about loving people lately. He said that God calls us to love each other. Our parents. Easy. Our neighbors. Sure. Strangers. Eh. And our enemies. Ugggghhhh. Our pastor specifically pointed out how it can be challenging to love each other when we are in such a strange and scary environment, all stuck together in the same house for so long. I didn’t really think that applied to me all that much. My husband and I are cool. We get along really well and have worked consistently throughout our marriage to be able to communicate needs and love. We don’t have kids to sort of mix things up, and although we miss them, our families all live too far away so really ask anything of us.
But then, I found myself standing in line to check-out, a woman in front of me and a man behind me. Neither of them did anything of note. They wore their masks over their mouth and nose and stood on their designated distance sticker. But I still felt like they were the enemy. I was prepared to summon up my anger if either of them took a step closer to me, or cleared their throat. Then I remembered the whole thing about loving people. Ugh, but people are awful. They are rude and selfish and loud and angry. It was hard for me to imagine loving people, so I tried to just imaging loving these two people. If there was an earthquake, or some kind of disaster, would I love them enough to try to help them to safety? Or would it be a save yourself type thing? I don’t know them. They’re probably fine people. Or frustrating people. This loving thing actually is hard.
Have you ever been to another country? I have traveled a little bit in my adult life now, and there’s always a moment, usually multiple, where I just become overwhelmed with panic. I always feel it at airport security for sure. Then on the public transit. In shops. Ordering food. Every culture, even every city and home, has their own metaphorical language. They have “the way we do things here”. Even large chain coffee shops have the way you are expected to order and pick up your drink, and if you don’t know, it can be overwhelming and embarrassing. I think we always want to fit in. We don’t want to be the tourist. We want to order correctly and not make a scene that tells people we don’t know what we’re doing. But I’m feeling that all the time now. I think everyone is. When I pick up take out from a restaurant, everyone has their instructions on how to distribute food safely, but they all do it a little differently. Should I call when I arrive? Should I go in? Why are people standing around? Is this a line? You kind of just start guessing and hoping you’re right. Maybe it’s because of my need to not get in trouble. I don’t like to get yelled at or told what to do and I don’t ever want to make someone else feel uncomfortable. So maybe it’s extra pressure to want to just go unnoticed. Order your coffee. Pay. Go. Not problems. But when we are all foreigners, then what? I don’t know if that’s better or worse, but it’s where we are I think. And I’m still overwhelmed. I often have to lay down when I get home because the whole experience was just so exhausting.
I think I might be becoming a little agoraphobic. Maybe that’s insensitive to say, but I don’t think it’s untrue.
We were in Iceland last May. I think about it often. Overall, our trip was not easy. Traveling is always kind of a struggle, right? The stress of planning, packing, arranging, carrying… But you’re going somewhere exciting! That should be enough right? Well, you’re also going somewhere foreign and confusing, and you probably have to take at least a handful of different forms of transportation to get there.
This time in particular was one of my most challenging trips. A couple days before we were scheduled to get on a plane, I experienced what my doctor called a “vasovagal episode” in my therapist’s office. It’s pretty much a fainting spell. I had one while we were in an empty bar Amsterdam a couple years ago as well, and I’ve had one or two others, in slightly less inconvenient locations. While this isn’t a long-term illness or anything, having an episode right before we were to leave left me feeling a bit anxious.
I also caught a cold. My husband was in the last couple days of his cold, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t keep it away. This cold would last our entire trip and was a major reason for stress and discomfort.
There were a lot of things to do leading up to our trip. My husband had TONS of work that needed to get done, all the while trying not to think about how tight our connecting flight was. We needed a cat sitter, which is always a giant force of anxiety for me. We can never find anyone available or willing, and Jude has some specific needs that have to be met as well. I always end up crying about it.
My worsening cold caused it’s first major aggravation when we had to run through the Boston airport to make our connecting flight. Oh man it was terrible. Heavy bags flopping on my body, and trying to seriously book it in what is hopefully the right direction, dodging slow pokes and their bags and children. This was torture. My head was pounding and my body aching. I literally told my husband “go on without me!”. But we did actually make it. With SECONDS to spare. Literal seconds. We heard our names being called over the speakers, announcing that this was the last call for boarding and for these two passengers to hurry it up. I was so sweaty. And in so much pain from the cold aches. We were both still catching our breath as we entered the sky.
You probably guessed it, but our bags didn’t make it.
When we arrived at the Keflavík airport, we groggily set out on our mission to find our bags. We knew they weren’t here, but had to figure out what to do now. It took quite a while to go through all of the steps, but not on the fault of the airport employees. More so because it was 6am. I sat down for a bit while my husband dealt with it, and he went back and forth to the baggage counter a few times because he forgot the form, or his passport, or his passport again. At some point we tried to purchased some drinks and snacks from the duty-free store, but somehow we were on the wrong side of security? I don’t quite remember what happened there or how, but we had to drop all of our things and get all the same things again from the same store in another location. We missed our shuttle to the car rental place. My husband forgot his coffee somewhere. Basically, there was a lot of wandering back and forth to the same place.
Eventually, we managed to get some coffee and food and took another shuttle to get our car. We struggled at first, trying to work the GPS in a new country first thing in the morning on no sleep and very unreliable internet access, but we did finally get on our way and drove to Blue Lagoon for a much needed rest.
While the lagoon was breathtaking, I felt so sick by the end of our stay there. My cold was really kicking my butt. I was on a very strict schedule with my cold medicine, but it just wasn’t enough to combat all the travel and exhaustion. I just wanted to sleep for several days in my own cozy bed. We did have a good time though. The water was warm and the air was cool. The water extended from the inside of the building to outside with the rocky, mossy mountains. I had a mimosa at a stone table in the water, and washed my body in what was like a posh cave with gritty minerals that washed away all the stuffy airplane juju.
Our next task was to find some food and find our bnb. We drove into Rekjavik to get lunch at the restaurant I had picked out. I like to have a rough plan for our stay so we aren’t spending our time wondering what to eat, and I especially like a more detailed plan on the first day to ease the transition. Unfortunately, plans can’t be perfect, and can’t always account for the massive amount of one way streets we can’t be prepared for because we aren’t sure if that’s a “wrong way” sign or a “no parking” sign. We drove in circles, and back in circles, the wrong direction, until we found a lot to temporarily stop in to get our bearings (paid or not? There were signs but we didn’t know what they meant!). I felt sick. Not the cold, but that tremble you get in your stomach when you’re scared. We were totally lost and didn’t even know how to move to try to find our way. We spent a lot of our time trying to translate signs and even wandered down the street a ways to try to figure out how to even get out of here.
Eventually, we crept back out into the street (thankfully Reykjavik isn’t a super congested place) and carefully made our way to the restaurant, parked in what was probably a parking space, but one that was much smaller than we were used to, just to find out it was closed for the day.
There have been a few times in my life were I just want to sit on the ground and close my eyes and hope it’s all a bad dream. This was one of those times.
The restaurant had only just closed up, so the door was still open. We found out we were too late when we walked in, but this gave us the opportunity to talk to someone. She recommended the eatery just down at the end of the block. Not having any more capacity to make decisions, we just walked down there and finally sat down and had a bite to eat.
This helped. Stopping. Eating. It was a little tricky for me, as it always is when it comes to eating out. I think I had soup.
We eventually made it to our bnb. The instructions were confusing and we ended up walking past the door three or four times, not knowing which door was ours. When we got through the door, I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. We’d been traveling for so long, and nothing made sense. My contacts case and solution were in my lost luggage, as well as my toothpaste and toothbrush. I had packed a “just-in-case” bag as my husband had recommended, but I wasn’t very skilled at making it, turns out.
I wrote in my journal that I was starting to hate it there. I didn’t think I would continue to feel this way, but every single step on the way felt so hard, and we were so tired. Our room was weird, and we could hear people walking along the street by our heads as we tried to sleep in a land where the sun never sets.
The next morning, we discovered that someone from the airport had called do confirm the delivery of our bags. But, since we were unable to take their call (they called just before we woke up at 7:30am), we got the impression we had missed today’s opportunity. We spent some time in our room, recovering and working to figure out what to do next, and I used my time trying to fix my film camera that seemed to not be working.
It took the whole morning. I didn’t have any tools with me, so we scrounged around for a small screw driver, a mallet, a coin, a bobby pin, a pen, and finally, a razor blade that finally did the trick. Just as soon as I opened one compartment, there was another locked door that I couldn’t get through and I’d need to find another, smaller tool. I felt defeated over and over again. I pored over blogs and articles and forums trying to find the solution, and every time, it didn’t work. I think it was when I was able to get it to fire again (for seemingly no reason), close it up, and then it didn’t fire anymore, that’s when I finally cried. I felt awful. Sick. Tired. Worn. Broken. I wanted to just go home and be in my own bed and in a place where I could understand anything.
I just had to give up for now. Later in our trip, I gradually found out the pattern to why it would shoot sometimes and not others. It was still broken. I ended up having to use an app to meter light since my camera couldn’t measure light anymore, and I made a temporary solution with a popsicle stick and a bobby pin I found in the women’s bathroom.
I don’t remember exactly how it all shuffled out in the end, but we were informed at some point that our bags did in fact make it, and they could deliver them sometime in the afternoon. There was a lot to be unsure about. The window of delivery was so large that we weren’t sure if we could even leave our room or not. It got postponed, or lost, or something, but we did, very eventually that evening, get our things.
Things calmed down for a bit after that. We had a couple hiccups here and there, but nothing major. But, when my second camera failed, I was really starting to feel the pressure. While this also eventually was able to be fixed, I was overwhelmed by all of the challenges that were piling up on top of me. Why was this all happening right now? I mean, it’s too much, right?
One evening, we decided to go out to have a beer. The sun was as low as it was going to get for the night. It was truly magical to have such a long dusk. I took pictures of everything with whatever camera was working at the time. As we neared the pub, I noticed a comically realistic toy rat in the window of a high-end men’s clothing store. But…actually, I think it’s real??
Yeah, that was a real rat. And I just laughed so much! It was such a silly thing to see during this weird series of what felt like non-stop torment. The rat stayed with me for a little bit, long enough to take a picture, and then he retreated back inside. It reminded me of that movie with the mannequin that comes alive when the store is closed. That wasn’t a dream, right?
It felt like a comforting pat on the head, or a light nudge in the arm. Just something that said, “It’s fine.” and it really did make me feel fine.
At the pub, we talked about how we felt like we were climbing a steep, endless mountain. We talked about how the rat brought some comic relief to our trip. And in the end, we agreed that we were being taught something.
Was it patience? Not exactly. Trust? Sort of. It was like God was telling us it was ok to give up control, because ultimately, we aren’t in control. I couldn’t have forsee my Camera issues, and I couldn’t have forced our luggage safe, timely passage. Despite all of out preparations. We got lost, we were hungry, our timing became flawed. But we were never hurt and always made it back home. It was maybe the truest “adventure” we had ever been on.
Every single thing worked out. It was just hard. I felt like I had reached my wit’s end, but in the most gentle way. By gentle I mean that everything that happened was mostly an inconvenience and not life threatening (although I did wonder once if this was what people meant when they said “so-in-so died of exposure”).
We had to change some of our plans because I just couldn’t stomach being in the car anymore with all my aching and fatigue. When I ran out of Sudafed and ibuprofen, we found a pharmacy that carried a nasal spray, “Otrivin”, and it made me wish I had run out sooner! It was seriously so much more effective and I wish we could get it in the US.
I prayed a lot on that trip. Most of it was just “please fix this”. I stressed and groaned and cried, but I was often reminded that I wasn’t doing this on my own and that everything would be ok. The reminder was in the form of a funny rat, or a cat wandering down our road usually. I don’t put a lot of thought into “signs”, but I do find joy in gifts, especially those that are really only meant for my own heart. I absolutely believe these critters were here to cheer me up.
When I felt well enough, I drove to one or two of our destinations. I never would have guessed that driving would be one of my fondest experiences in Iceland, but it was so peaceful and beautiful. The roads were narrow and windy and empty of all other humans. We were almost always alone, except for the occassional horse or nosy sheepdog. Even the wildlife was quiet. I don’t think we saw a single insect, and maybe only one or two birds. Iceland felt like uncharted territory, or like some intangible mystery.
I hope we go back. I usually feel like I want to return to a place after we get home. I want to visit the places we didn’t get to and pretend like I’m not a tourist. But there are so many other adventures to be had in new places. Iceland, though, despite being a small country, feels like it holds so much more for me. The peace we experienced there felt like the peace I had when I was a kid. The quiet freedom that you can only get from being completely detached from all other plotlines of your life.
Maybe next time we’ll make it to Northern Iceland like we had planned. or, we’ll have another series of misadventures. Either way, I won’t Soon forget to give up control. Plans will change and things will unexpectedly break Sometimes, but I won’t be alone. As much as it might feel like we’ve been forgotten, God knows where we’re at and he’ll take care of it.