June 5, 2015

Iceland Pt. 1

Now that a year has passed I think it's time to start recapping my crazy wild adventure in a bit more detail. I'm super punctual.

I have honestly been reflecting on the four weeks I spent in Iceland since I left. For a long time I was pretty angry and bitter about it, but then suddenly I wasn't. I was more annoyed, but also amused. Then suddenly I was amused and appreciative. And now I find myself thankful. I've spent a year trying to make sense of everything that happened, and suddenly a very few weeks ago, it all did. I was sitting in church on a Sunday when it hit me: I was grieving.

Last May was rough. May 5th my Great Grandma, an amazing woman who forever inspires me, passed away. I got to be with her that day and while she was in her nineties and we'd known this was coming for a long time, it didn't make her death any easier. I still get teary eyed thinking of her and I will continue to miss her for the rest of my life. On May 11th we spent Mother's Day celebrating Grandma in a very appropriate way,by visiting an Arboretum. May 12th was her funeral, and I left May 15th. It was rough.

Aside from that, there were other relationships in my life that were ending. Specifically one that was, again, a long time coming, and ended on a rather passive aggressive note. It's something I still mourn, and try and think of ways to fix, and maybe someday it will be fixed, but it hurt just below the hurt from my grandma's death.

At the same time I'd spent almost two years back in California with no clear idea of how to do what I wanted to do. I kept telling myself it was temporary so I didn't get involved in anything. I went to work and stayed at home and I grew really bitter about a lot of things. I felt like I'd used all my chances and was destined to always be someone who could never quite be successful in anything I did. I lost a lot of my passion for life, lacked any kind of direction, and just kind of gave up in a lot of ways. As I told my mom last year, I had checked out of life.

So some of this might sound like rationalizing, and it is, but it's also accurate. I think a lot of people who know me in real life would roll their eyes at me talking about how badly I was hurting because I probably acted fairly normal, but the fact is that I've never been one who easily tells other's their pain. In fact, I really pride myself on being the person that other's can come to, but I am not good about letting other people in on my own hurting. I always have to be strong, I can cry, but I've got to get over it quickly. Maybe it's because I'm the eldest, but it's who I am. And frankly I actually like that about myself most the time. But in this instance I'd let too much accumulate and refused to deal with any of it.

A side, really actually TMI story here,that is actually kind of funny is that I was supposed to have started my period around the time my grandma died but because of the stress and craziness I ended up starting two days before I left. I have NEVER had a worse period! To my mother I referred to it as The Great Bleed (I know, GROSS!!), because I actually ruined several pieces of clothing that week. Cramps, cravings, instant mood swings, I am not joking when I say it was the actual worst period in the history of womankind. You guys, I brought those pads you lay under children who pee the bed because things were SO BAD!

So there I was throwing up in a bathroom, dealing with the worst visit from mother nature ever, scared out of my mind, and trying to be brave and tell myself I was super duper A-OK.

Then I got to Iceland.

I'd read all these other people talk about their trips to Iceland. Full of sweeping landscapes, soothing mineral pools, and spiritual awakenings. In my mind I kept thinking of how awesome it was going to be for me, how my breathe would be taken away, and I'd like, reach some level of higher consciousness. I really looked forward to telling people about how Iceland had a magic in the air that seemed to enlighten a person, about how it changed me. As I look back now at the things I posted on Social Media about this trip the first few days are so hopeful and seem happy, but I remember that with everything I posted I was desperately trying to make everyone think I was already experiencing this magical transformation, and most of all I was trying to convince myself.

The reality is that an hour and a half after I arrived in Iceland I was sitting on a bench in a shopping mall, that was in itself a super amazing Nordic adventure, bawling my eyes out. Things immediately started to go wrong. I couldn't use the SIM card I'd just spent 3000 krona on (about $24 at the time), and I had planned on doing that rather than getting an absurdly expensive international plan. I was carrying too much stuff. One strap of the vintage military backpack I bought specifically for this trip broke, and just as I finally got to meet my host, the other one broke. And then there was the farm...

Oh man, oh man. Where do I even begin? My hosts seemed nice at first, and then suddenly told me I wasn't going to be able to leave the farm for for the first three weeks. They'd lied in their emails about my specific jobs, one of them turned out to be an alcoholic, their children were actual monsters and I love kids, the kids cut the laces off my shoes, the cracker box I lived in with 3-4 other people was freezing cold and had one eastern facing window with a blackout curtain (which is a big deal when the sun doesn't set), the farm itself was filled with junk and dead animals laying around (I just remembered that one), the dairy was literally falling apart, the cows were the mangiest looking cows I've ever seen, the manure you had to walk through to just get in the dairy was 2 feet deep and was mostly firm on a good day, the milking station was in shambles, the three calves lived in the tiniest pen known to man, the food was awful, and not just like, oh this is culturally different, I'm talking had gone bad, rancid, this tastes bad so let's throw an apple in there to try and make it decent (?), I didn't have a single day off for three weeks, and there was just so much more that went wrong. The other people who were staying there got to do these interesting jobs and I had to chase down cows. The other people there all spoke the same language and refused to speak English unless directly talking to me. I felt totally alone, defeated, and cranky that my Magical Nordic Spiritual Awakening
had turned into Cow Shit Weird Apple Food Nightmare.

I'd like to think that if all that happened to me again today, after a long time of learning and reshaping, that I'd deal with it with far more humour and charm, because let's face it: with my luck, of course all these things were bound to happen! I think that today I'd call my parents and complain in a way that makes them laugh, go for a walk, have a beer  and chocolate, watch a funny TV show, go to bed and be over it. I'd begrudgingly get up each morning cranky has heck, but I'd try to find some sort of humor in the day. But this wasn't how I functioned last year. Last year, I threw a temper tantrum. I was so mad, bitter, belligerent, just so very angry. I was actually just hurting so badly. I'd had these huge losses I'd never dealt with or had the chance to mourn, and instead of being able to see that and act accordingly, I turned that into hate. I mean it. I hated everything. I couldn't appreciate the opportunity sitting in my lap. I couldn't see how fortunate I was to be where I was, doing what I was doing. And so I acted like a bratty three year old.

I actually deleted a few of my more amazingly disgusting facebook posts and I am eternally grateful to my past self that I will not have to relive those dark, spoiled moments. There was one day I was on skype with my mom crying and begging her to let me come home and she just let me have it. 26 years old and my mother had to tell me to stop acting like a spoiled brat. I don't even remember her exact words, but they hurt me so badly. I texted my incredibly honest, holds nothing back, gives it to me straight, dear, darling friend Spencer and asked him if he thought I was acting like a spoiled brat. For the first time in our friendship he avoided giving me a straight answer and that was when I knew I was being... There isn't a strong enough word for how I was behaving. Spoiled, bratty, selfish, childish, ridiculous, disgusting. None of those quite say it all.

I'm honestly not trying to make excuses for my behaviour then, just putting it into perspective. And like I said, it wasn't even until this past week that I fully began to realize the reasons behind how I acted. I was experiencing a lot of emotions I didn't know how to deal with and so I expressed them in the simplest form I knew how to. Which brings me to the next portion. Growing pains. Physically I was doing things I'd never done before and working super hard each day and was incredibly overweight. those things brought with them their own challenges. While they were changing me physically, all this other stuff was changing me emotionally. One particularly terrible day I had to chase down the cows, too many came into the dairy, a few got loose in the shed and I had to chase them down again. I finally got them all in the milking stalls and attached the milking machine and went to go feed the bulls. I was carrying a pitchfork and the farm dogs, who I also fed and were apparently starving, kept crowding me. I triped over one of them and went flying in the air. the pitchfork twisted in my hand and I knew I was going to land on it, so I flung myself (while mid air) to the side and landed with my butt in a fresh pile of manure. I sat there and cried for what felt like a solid ten minutes before I finally got up to finish my chores. The name of this chapter of my life would probably be Shit and Tears.

I spent a vast majority of the first three weeks I was in Iceland crying. I don't even think I knew what I was crying over. I just cried and was angry and didn't know how to shake off those feelings. And one day I went for a walk. I walked the "town" and tried to find things to cheer me up. I bought a cup of really good, really strong coffee. I hiked a smaller hill and once at the top I took in the panorama of my surroundings and just sobbed. I sat there sobbing for probably an hour. sobbed, ad sobbed, and sobbed some more. It was so beautiful and yet I felt so terrible. I fell asleep on a patch of grass and moss on the top of a random hill surrounded by open fields to the west and a friggin volcano to the east. And when I woke up something had changed. I felt a lot more at peace. My situation hadn't changed, but somehow between the tears, the nap, the caffeine,and the cold mist as I napped in the grass, my perspective changed. I left the hill and continued to explore the town. I found a coffee shop with delicious pastries. I found a pizza shop and hair salon. In the same place. I found trees! and hugged them. I found an inexplicable chicken coop in the middle of a tiny forest. I found an old church and explored the cemetery. I found an older couple walking down a pretty tree lined path, laughing and smiling, hand-in-hand. I found a pile of empty beer bottles and cans in a little clearing in the trees where they had obviously been an raging party. I found a badass playground with a zipline. My eyes started seeing things a little differently and some of the weight in my chest seemed to lift.

That was really a turning point in that trip. A few days later I got to see Skogafoss which was one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen. And at some point I started taking walks everyday. I'd walk to get ice cream, or a cup of coffee. I'd walk to the grocery store to buy Scandinavian versions of Oreos (which were far superior!) or browse the wool selection. I tried fish jerky (nope.) and scary looking Chocolate milk that ended up being so. damn. good. I walk through fields, I walked through ravines. I talked to horses and I picked flowers. I found cute cottages and wild rhubarb. I found random hunky Icelanders in kilts having a Highland Games day.  I got excited about this trip again and slowly but surely things got better. I was less angry, or rather I started to realize what I had been angry about, and started to actually begin to deal with all those things. And it wasn't so much that things got better, but that my attitude did. Life wasn't any easier, but it also wasn't so very terrible anymore.

I spent many many moths since then feeling guilty and bad for acting so poorly, but putting everything into perspective, I've managed to forgive myself for that behaviour and also realize that every single thing I went through needed to happen. Iceland tore down some pretty strong walls I built up that desperately needed to be torn down. Those first three weeks were like clearing a field full of brambles, and stones, and trees for planting.  It was horrible, back breaking, and utterly miserable. But in the end I had this rich soil in which to plant new things and grow new life. So I did have my own unique spiritual experience in Iceland, it just wasn't what I thought it would be. But just as the good Lord knew, it was exactly what I needed.

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