On hibernation

When hibernating, an animal’s metabolism slows significantly: its heartbeat slows, it breathes more slowly (some animals even stop breathing for periods of over an hour) and its body temperature drops—in some extreme cases to below the freezing point of water (zero degrees Celsius).

Australian Academy of Science

It took me a considerable amount of time in this life to learn what hibernation actually was. Growing up I always assumed animals just gathered a bunch of food (as much as they could), gained a bunch of weight, and slept through the winter months. In retrospect, however, the reality of what hibernation is – well it makes much more sense.

During hibernation, an animal’s slowed metabolism allows them to conserve energy. It allows them to require less food less often – but despite the conditions that allow or require animals to do this I used to assume (incorrectly) that this meant they just slept it out through the whole winter – in reality, while these creatures are at rest or in a state of pause, they do still wake up from time to time. #Relatable

“A body at rest…”

During the winter months, I often joke about my “hibernation body” making light of a slight and natural weight gain that occurs around the winter holidays. But upon brainstorming what to post about today, I realized my experience with hibernation goes deeper than that joke.

Growing up I always saw myself as a “winter person” because being born during a snowstorm qualified me as such. And, don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few aspects of winter that I do still love. I love warm relaxed clothes, warm drinks, and lots of snow (even if I don’t get snow days anymore). But as I have grown I have also realized that, when there is an absence of the things I love about winter – I tend to enjoy it quite a bit less. For example, I really don’t like when it is 32 degrees or less and there isn’t snow on the ground. (I like beauty with my bone-chilling pain). And similar to that, I have noticed that the shorter days and the chilling cold can sometimes make it harder to manage the ever evolving complexities of my mental health. And to be clear, I am not a fan of that either.

Now depending on where you live this may not apply to you, but where I live this winter has been particularly wonky. Some weeks have been horribly cold, some have been unseasonably warm, and others have brought buckets of rain. Of course, this is all a roundabout way to say that this winter, being more than wonky than most I remember, has enabled a state of sudo hibernation that until recently, I didn’t realize I was in. And because an object at rest tends to stay at rest – this might make some of my upcoming adventures a bit harder to adapt to at first.

Beyond the “hibernation body”

As I write this I am realizing more and more how similar my life has been to a season of hibernation. And sure I could say how the highs and lows are like periods of being awake and asleep but I think it would be more notable to say that no matter my state, no matter awake or asleep – the season has slowed me much like it would an animal’s metabolism.

That said, lately, I have been moving slower, not to conserve energy but because I have been in between employment and the lack of structure encouraged less and less of a structured format to my day. Naturally, I have since adapted to this way of life. And naturally, I did so less than a week before I am set to start my new job. As an aside it’s funny how we argue about what came first, the chicken or the egg – rather than asleep or awake because for me it sometimes feels like both are true.

Now, to clarify, while I have been moving slower it doesn’t mean I have stopped taking care of myself. Unlike a bear in a cave, I have been spending a fair amount of time in the home gym and despite not having a set structure to my day I have found ways to create patterns in the monotony. But outside of the physical activity, beyond working on the “hibernation body” life feels passive. I find myself waking up, working out, eating something, watching something, writing something, eating something, watching something and going to bed. This is to say that I feel myself living to eat and sleep. This is to say that I feel myself waking up only to count down the hours before I can go to sleep again – and while that is often the criteria for depression, right now I’m not feeling depressed as much as I feel like life lacks purpose. And maybe work will change that or maybe it won’t but right now it just feels like I am hibernating through my life and as fun as it can be for a little while – the fun of it wears off rather quickly when you feel like you’re stuck inside to avoid the cold (and the unnecessary Target receipts).

The end (of hibernation) is near

As I look forward to work starting next week and to the air getting warmer in the coming months I know that my period of hibernation must come to an end. Soon I will be out, about, and not freezing, but seeing that I am still in this hibernation I wanted to take some time today to be aware of where I am. To spend some of these brief waking moments on reflection.

At the end of the day, it is important to give ourselves some time to rest (without being guilty); and in my opinion, hibernation isn’t a terrible way to do that. But it’s also important (for me at least) to keep track of where we are, know the name of cave we are in, and most importantly, know that there’s a time and way to leave it.

For me, the most important aspect of my winter hibernation is accepting it as it comes. Maybe you relate to this, maybe you don’t but my point of it all is to say – it’s okay. It’s ok to give ourselves permission to be where we are. Permission to be slow, and to rest. So if it wasn’t clear in the last few lines – this is me giving myself permission to rest – and if you need the same consider this your permission slip too.

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