(of an animal or plant) to spend the winter in a dormant state
(of a person) to remain inactive or indoors for an extended period
Animals hibernate when it gets colder and food starts running out. Their metabolism drops and they go into a state of torpor. Months later, when they emerge, they exhibit a “waking-hibernation” which lasts for weeks. They tend to sleep a lot and won’t roam very far.
Humans hibernate in reaction to global pandemics. This is to protect themselves from environmental conditions and fewer food sources. Their breathing and heart rates slow and there’s a drop in mental acuity, generally brought on by the death march of the box set.
In 2020 we hibernated between January and June (depending on the country). When we surfaced it was also into the waking-hibernation phase. We continued to sleep a lot and were not permitted to roam very far.
In the first few weeks of Lockdown we told ourselves this was Our Time. Our time to clear the garage. To learn to bake. To perfect our Downward Dogs. What did we actually do? We ate too much, we argued too much, we washed too little. We’re now in the Great Telling Off phase. “How did those months pass by so quickly? I was going to learn Japanese!”
But it’s difficult to reach the peak of Maslow’s Hierarchy (Self-Actualisation) when you’re a bear with a sore head. It’s no wonder our transformation plans were put on hold. Stress levels were high and “me-time” withered to nothing. When we think back we feel guilty. We stand outside the Head Master’s office waiting to account for ourselves. OK, so I remember April. But where did May and June go?
We’ve been hibernating for months, brains on go-slow, actions on hold. It’s been too hard to focus. Yes, we wanted to work on our relationship, yes, we wanted to find a new job, yes, we were going to lose weight. But it’s one thing to have the intent, another altogether when there’s a tsunami roaring in.
In the last few weeks many of us have started emerging from the Great Lockdown. Stumbling out of our dimly lit caves into the bright light of summer. We’re irritable bears with empty stomachs.
But it’s time we had a mind-set change. We need to pivot away from, “I’ve failed. I didn’t invent a cure for cancer in Lockdown.”
Rather than hibernation can we adapt the metaphor? See those months less like bears snoring in the dark? More like caterpillars wrapped up in warm and dark cocoons? Going through a metamorphosis, soon to emerge with crumpled butterfly wings. We’ll rest a moment, let the wings unfurl, then fly away. A beautiful new thing in the world.
Oh alright, it’s fanciful stuff. But still, we need to adapt the way we talk to ourselves. We may not like the image of a butterfly, but we do need to shift our negative self-talk. We need to change the narrative from, “I’ve failed” to “I was resting, thinking, working out a course correction.” It’s more motivating. Or the alternative (if we like self-flagellation), is that we continue to beat ourselves up.
Change is hard work. It may look like nothing is shifting from the outside. But deep within, the pupa is going through a re-invention. And we need to do it in our own time. It can’t be forced. It’s up to us when we’re ready to emerge.
As Maya Angelou said: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.
Photos copyright of Charlotte Sheridan