I woke up this morning from a dream where I was talking along the field outside my parents’ house in NJ with my best friend (who actually lives in California). I was annoyed because the neighbor was blaring country music since it was warm enough for them to be lazing about outside, and their giant dog, who was unleashed, came barreling towards my friend and me.
This is the last time I deal with their shit, I thought to myself and began to storm towards their property.
Right about then my alarm went off. I was awake, but not really, and the sounds of the birds outside and the rain on the window were familiar enough to let me believe a little longer I was home. As I re-oriented, I began to remember where I was, which in turn made me realize how far away I was from the things that just felt so close. And suddenly I found myself dealing with the thing I’ve managed to stave off pretty well up until now: homesickness.
I’ve now been in Iceland about 12 days–a little less than halfway through my trip. I won’t say that I haven’t missed home before this point, but I think I was able to suspend the realities of the two enough where I did not allow the feelings about one to affect the experience of the other. It’s essentially the same backwards logic I used the other day when visiting the Víðgelmir Cave during my road trip to West Iceland. One of the other girls from the residency and I decided to go explore the western part of the island, and saw info for this trek into the largest known cave in the country (the guide informed us that because of the porous nature of the lava rock that has formed this place, there are most likely thousands more yet to be discovered). When we agreed we should check it out, I wasn’t really considering the potential triggers for panic that this excursion might cause–being that I am very claustrophobic and not really great with heights, either.
When we got there, I asked the guide if the claustrophobia would be a problem. He assured me that beyond one area where you had to duck your head to get in, it was very open and you could stand with no problem.
“OK, I can do that,” I thought.
A little rush of panic started to set in as our guide gathered the others in our group together to explain the little journey we were about to complete, and I could feel my heart start to race more as he opened the entryway into the cave and my brain began to process We Are About To Jules Verne This Shit And Journey Into the Center of the Earth. After descending down a very narrow, very spiral-y staircase (I mentioned the heights thing, right?) there we were–in the middle of this dark gaping hole hundreds of feet into the Earth. The entrance to the world above was still visible from this room, and the light looked so tiny and far away. The small rush of panic very quickly turned into a full-blown siege and I began to think I should tell the guide to let me back up. My mind began racing and I was simultaneously trying to control my breathing and relax and prepare myself for a fast and immediate exit.
I literally was moments away from just screaming, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” but the practical/prideful part of me was like, “You already are doing this.” And to keep doing it, I had to separate the reality of the light/outside world to the reality I was currently in–It was a big space, the air was cool, and there was plenty of room in there. I could not allow myself to look at it as being trapped beneath the Earth–I had to just see it as Being In Some Place That Just So Happens to Be Hundreds of Feet From The Surface.
The way we adapt to survive is weird and interesting, and I in no way think I was really challenging that ability with a tourist trek into a cave. But it fell into the ongoing theme of this trip: stepping outside the comfort zone and being willing to press on, even when most of me is screaming out in some way THIS IS NO WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR.
I keep joking to myself that I’m collecting plenty of “college entrance essay” fodder, about 10 years too late, but it’s also making me realize/remember these kinds of growing and learning experiences should above all be for me and not just material for some revelatory essay or blog post or interview process. I am seeing beautiful things here, and having a tremendous experience, but at times I have been exhausted and frustrated, disappointed, and most recently, homesick. In some ways, I’m stoked that I have 18 days left here, and in some ways that thought makes me want to cry. But I have to suspend my other reality for a little bit longer, and just keep reminding myself that I can do this, that I am already doing this, and just continue to do it.