Waking from Hibernation

Years ago, while working with an Employee Assistance Counselor in a vain attempt to save my marriage, I discovered something about myself –

I’m a Hibernator….

Not in the usual sense – I don’t sleep through winter and eat all summer – rather, I work feverishly on one or more projects, then must, simply must, rest, renew and rejuvenate before starting the next cycle of productivity.  If I did not take a break when I knew I should, ill health soon made sure of long stretches of low-activity.

For years loving family members begged me to quit doing this to myself.   Couldn’t I just pace myself and skip the roller-coaster ride of the high hills of productivity and imminent valleys of illness?

The day I discovered my hibernator status is etched clearly in my mind.  After speaking of my pride and sense of accomplishment following the completion of a huge project at work, I spoke about my need to rest – that the past 6 weeks had been brutal and how I wanted nothing more than to stay home for awhile, reconnect with my family and get my kitchen back in order.

(Non-gourmet Hubbies never put spices and kitchen tools back in the cupboard or drawer where they belong – I once burned a batch of pancakes trying to find where the male personages had hidden the spatula…I found it in the drawer with the pot-holders…Made sense to them…)

Missy Counselor smiled at my confession and asked, “So, why aren’t you taking a break?”

“Because it’s not my time for vacation yet – I’m covering two other positions, while they’re on vacation…”  I smiled, sort of…

“So you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to take a break, right?”

“Well, I guess… but I don’t see that happening.” I laugh at the absurdity of my boss doing just this, or my family deciding they’d love to get up early Saturday morning and do the laundry.

“The trees and bears feel winter’s approach.   They do not wait for someone to tell them to shed their leaves or retreat to their caves.  They simply do.   They know their rhythms and their seasons.   They move within their own cycles and make no apologies for it.  Discover your rhythms, fashion your life around them and do not wait for someone to give you permission to be yourself.”

We ended the session early that day – what more needed to be said, after she had graced the affair with this simple, but profound, pearl of wisdom?

I took that advice to heart and have never looked back.

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It’s not always easy being a Hibernator – it’s nearly impossible when working for someone else and the financial juggling one must do while being a self-employed Hibernator has it’s stressors, as well.

But I’ve never forgotten this advice.  And year after year, I try to follow it.

Sometimes, I fall off the wagon.  Sometimes, I think the needs that must be met take precedence over what I’d prefer to do.

But I’m still committed to the day when I trundle off to Hibernation and when questioned, simply gaze in amazement and say,

“What? Isn’t this what everyone does?”

Would Baboons Like You?

Thursday nights are “Tamrah’s Pick” of what to do after dinner.    I really look forward to my nights, because its the only time the male personages in my house will sit through a chick-flick or documentary…

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Last night, we watched National Geographic’s “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” (2008).   Not as much of a downer as you might think.  Yes, they cover what chronic stress does to your body.   And they highlight the main cause of stress in populations.

But they also tell you what fixes and repairs the damage done.

Though they covered many studies, much of the program focused on the work of  Robert Sapolsky and Sir Michael Morat.

Want to guess who the test subjects of their studies were?

Baboons and British Civil Servants.

Hmmm…..

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Baboons first – Mr. Sapolsky has spent 30+ years studying baboon populations in Kenya.   Here’s the highlights:

  • Baboons spend approximately 3 hours a day foraging/eating.
  • The other 9 hours, they fill with picking on each other (I suspect because they don’t have Xboxes, TV or an Iphone to keep them entertained.)
  • Baboon society is of strict hierarchy – Alpha males pick on subordinates (usually females and non-alpha males), who in turn kick, chase, taunt those below them (teenagers and children)
  • Thousands of blood tests over the years have shown – If you’re near the top – Low Stress and better health.    Bottom?   Oober Stress and attendant stress-related health disorders

The baboons all eat the same diet.   They all have the same health care plan.   To date, none of the baboons have been observed drinking beer, smoking cigs, driving a classy car or showing off their designer jeans to those in the clan who can’t afford them.

(The levels of chronic stress in the “low-class” baboon population tells me they probably would smoke and drink, if only they had access to such things…And I bet the alpha-males would just love a red sports car…)

Those at the lower rungs of the social scale exhibit many chronic ailments that in the human world are associated with Poverty, Malnutrition, etc., etc.

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While Mr. Sapolsky is learning how aggressive, underhanded and backstabbing baboons are, Sir Marmot is half a world away wondering if the strict hierarchy of the British Civil Service produces the same kind of health problems as observed in the baboons.

The answer is Yes.

  • The lower down the hierarchy, the less autonomy and control, the higher the stress and the bigger number of sick days.
  • The higher up the subject was, more job satisfaction, lower stress and better health

Although wages were not the same, all civil servants have access to the same healthcare.   They all work in the same physical environment.   But those at the bottom suffered from more health problems than those at the top, which, in turn, kept them at the bottom (apparently, poor job performance does not result in promotion at Whitehall…)

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What’s the good news?   The most fascinating portion of the program was the following:

A few years back, one observed colony of baboons took to dining at a local dump place.   Turns out, some of the dumped meat was contaminated with tuberculosis.    A large portion of the group died.

Want to guess which ones didn’t make it?

Yup.  The aggressive alpha males.  They all died.   The females who were left (who previously preferred to spend their days grooming and engaging in positive social interaction, which by the way has been scientifically proven to repair  vital parts of your working parts and boost your immune system) comprised nearly two-thirds of the remaining population.

The surviving males were, as Mr. Sapolsky joked,

“In scientific terms…they were the ‘good guys’.”

He was amazed to note that over the next 10 years, this clan not only survived, it thrived.

In the baboon world, if you’re male, then part of becoming an adult means hitting the road and finding another group to join.   Seems aggressive baboons who encountered this clan had a serious adjustment phase (usually about 6 months.)

Coming into this clan with aggression, taunting, kicking and in general, exhibiting “good” alpha male qualities did not result in the usual rewards.

The program didn’t say so, but I suspect the new males spent the first 5 months or so yelling,

“But this is how it’s done.   It’s always been this way!  Survival of the fittest!  You touchy-feelies need to get with the program!”

The clan liked their new way of doing things.  They knew it worked.   Daily life was so much better.   Their reply?

“Either be nice and participate in mutual grooming and bonding activities, or hit the road, Jack.”

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I’ve pondered for many years why we humans seem bent on having hierarchies/groups (and the freedom to cause misery for those below us or not of part of “our crowd”)

– seems like we don’t know how to organize ourselves any other way.

No matter how much we hate being at the bottom, or left out,  once we have achieved a higher level, or acceptance into a community, our mindset has changed:

“Hey, I had to work my way up – I paid my dues.  Now I can enjoy my success.   If those whiners at the bottom would just apply themselves…”

Okay – but there’s one group of baboons that won’t have us, unless we change our perspective….