Panic in the Land of Fire and Ice

Posted On October 9, 2019


I recently returned from a wonderful first trip to Iceland.  Near our cabin at the base of an extinct volcano,  I found a lake where I could try my luck fly fishing.  In the process of learning about fishing in Lake Baularvallatvatn, I discovered a fascinating legend about a farm nearby.

The legend goes like this: In the mid-1800’s, there was woman caring for her children while her husband was away. She heard a loud noise in the middle of the night and an icy wind filled the house.  She was terrified for hours. When she finally went outside to explore, she saw the sheds near her house had been knocked down.  She discovered the tracks of a monster leading to an ice hole in the middle of the frozen lake. She immediately left with her children, found her husband, and refused to ever return to the farm. It’s been abandoned ever since.  

In this intriguing legend, I see a fascinating triad related to panic attacks and panic disorders.  First, we have an external event that is experienced with terror.  My guess is that the poor  mother was awakened by a sudden winter storm.  This external event was perceived as representing extreme danger that caused a panic attack (think of sudden airplane turbulence as a more modern example).  Her reaction was heightened by separation anxiety (home with small children while husband was away).  The experience provoked an agoraphobic avoidance (the farm was abandoned in order to avoid the monster).

There is a strong relationship between separation anxiety and panic. In an upcoming blog, I’ll talk more about it.

I have to admit that a part of me is disappointed that I might be spoiling a great legend. After all, some locals claim to have seen as many as five monsters who sun themselves on the banks of the lake.  Who am I, as a vacationer, to dispute eyewitness accounts? And besides, I didn’t catch any trout.  It’s probably because the monsters ate them all. It definitely couldn’t be my fishing skills.

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