By all accounts, hibernation is a painful process.
Mythologised by hopeful humans, we read it as an idyllic time for animals, when they get to eat as much as they like, pile on fat, and then slumber joyfully for months, missing the winter entirely. No cold, no depression, no dark thoughts. Just endless, delightful sleep. Every hibernation is a fluffy dormouse or a podgy black bear curled in its den, cute and inviting and perfect.
|"Grizzly just wants to sleep" by Corin Garnett-Law is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0|
Except it’s not. Hibernation isn’t really sleep. It isn’t really wakefulness. It’s described as an ‘energy saving period of extended torpor’ – which sounds a lot like depression or a bad bout of poor executive function. It’s a kind of waking nightmare of sleep paralysis, from which you have to rouse yourself every now and then to make sure you don’t die – ironically, so you can get a chance to sleep.
That resonates with me. Winter as a waking nightmare. Winter as a time when you’re trapped by the cold and the weather and the limitations of your own body and mind. Winter as a time when you lie in bed or sit on the sofa desperately wanting to do something, but just unable to move. It’s an inability to get the car started, an inability to strike a spark to make a flame. The world is there, but you can’t touch it, grasp it, and let you take it in its flow.
Today the weather is bright and sunny. Today is the first day in many months when I’ve felt able to write a blog post, the blog post I’m writing now. Today I feel able to put away piles of washing, do the washing up, make phone calls. Ironically, I also feel under the weather, so while my mind is willing my body doesn’t agree. Coughs and colds come hand in hand with grim weather and shorter days.
So, today I have woken up enough to realise that I do hibernate through winter. I don’t hibernate like a dormouse in a children’s story. I hibernate like a mammal who puts its head down and just tries to survive through winter, while the demons batter at the doors of its mind. I wake up every now and then, sometimes enough to scream at the darkness, sometimes enough to feel that I might be able to face it. Sometimes I look up and realise the days are getting longer. Sometimes I feel like there will never be long summer evenings of benevolent warmth.
Pancake day, Easter Sunday, May Day. These things will come, with creeping slowness, with creeping inevitability. When summer is here, I will no longer be able to imagine the darkness and cold. I will be alive again.