On Hibernating

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I might be part bear.  

During winter, the bear emoji, which I completely overlook on my phone for the other seasons, shows up in my oft-used section.  That furry little ursine face is how I identify myself via text, giving a visual to the low-hanging trundling-towards-the-cave state of my energy.

I cannot say enough about the comfort of my bed, the draw of the flannel sheets, the cozy containment of a pillow over my upward-facing ear, blotting out all noise and stimulation, swaddling me into another hour—or two—of sleep.  I used to think this was depression.  (The truth is, it could be. After all, it’s seasonal, and taking to the bed is a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder, acronym: SAD.) One January, seeing me dig my warm bathrobe out of my winter storage box and change into it before dinner, my son said, “Oh no, Mom: you’re doing your housecoat phase again?”  That was when it dawned on me I actually had a housecoat phase. (And that my eleven-year-old son somehow knew the term for that 1950’s garment.) Not great for my self-image, not at all a depiction of the fun-loving Mom I wanted to be year-round, but true.

I’ve been working on accepting this downshifting of gears my body naturally goes into the first months of every new year. I still show up where I need to show up, but beyond that, I don’t.  Beyond that, you can find me under the covers, a pillow over my ear, in my “housecoat.” I lose touch with people, see my neighborhood friends less, take a little longer to respond to the outside world. Honestly, I don’t love this. I wish it were different.  But fighting against my inner current, which I did for years, caused tension and stress, an inner civil war.

I am noticing as I move along through this journey of life how many aspects of character, personality traits and tendencies, are healed by self-acceptance. That does not mean fixed. Or cured. It means softened, chastened, made easier to handle. I see this over and over again with clients and friends, and experience this myself: the balm of accepting what we wish were different in ourselves.  I wish I loved to get up in the dark cold morning hours to brave the elements in my running sneakers—or even brave the stairs to the coffee maker! But I don’t. I like to snuggy down and lure myself back into the dreamscape I was just enjoying. I choose not to do some of the things I would normally do in lieu of more sleep. This has an obvious cost to how effective I can be, but I am coming to accept being less productive, and more self-attuned.

There is a fine line here. One I walk with mindfulness, even concern. On one side of the line is pushing oneself, which I have done, in fact done too much of, at times burning out. On the other side lies self-indulgence, torpor, lassitude—which can look an awful lot like a housecoat and a pillow over the head! So I am cautious. Is this healthy?  Does this serve my wellbeing? What are the alternatives and what happens when I try them? Does my wellbeing meter go up? Or down? These are some of the inquiries that keep me honest with myself as I walk that line. And I notice those inquiries helping others as well, on a wide range of topics where someone is walking this same kind of line. Sometimes the questions yield an honest step towards more action and more initiative, other times, they bring about the healing balm of self-gentleness, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance.  

For me, what I’ve come to is valuing wellbeing over productivity. Yes, I have to produce. Yes, I have to show up.  And yes I want to both produce and show up.  But whenever possible, I want to do so in wellbeing. I want to have my inner reservoir full, and I want to transmit wellbeing to those in my midst. To be in wellbeing—and perhaps this is simply a synonym or definition—I need to be in synch with myself. And to be in synch with myself, I often have to adjust to and accept the reality of who and how I am, versus the myth of who and how I think I should be.  

When I work with other people and ask, “Can you forgive yourself for that?”, for me it is always obvious—and I do mean always, with no exceptions—the answer is and must be YES.  Not only are the actions or choices or personality traits in question one hundred per cent forgivable, but the cost of not forgiving self is staying stuck, living in inner conflict. Very often, the YES is not readily available. The person isn’t there yet. We might have to peel back layers, coming at the topic from a few different angles before they get to their birthright of: yes, yes I can forgive myself.  The result? Visible, palpable, contagious wellbeing.

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