In the years since I became chronically ill, I have learned that having a “hibernation bubble” is a vital part of my self-care and coping toolbox.
There are days or weeks where my symptoms and the associated pain which accompanies them are so overwhelming that I hardly know how to get through the day. This is differs from a few years ago in the earlier diagnostic stages, where I was petrified by pain that wouldn’t stop and actively pursuing acute rescue protocols with my doctors in the hope that something (hopefully a pill or treatment protocol) would quickly return me to my “normal” life.
Today, I know that part of my chronic illness involves pain flares that last well beyond the parameters of what feels “fair” or resemble something I feel I can actually handle.
Currently, some of my flares persist with reckless perseverance, like wildfires ripping through a forest on their own path and timeline. They simply burn until they don’t — no matter what I do to try and stop them.
When one of these wildfires erupts, I am forced to go into self-preservation mode. At those times, I retreat to my hibernation bubble; a “code-red”, full-blown survival mode. For me, it is the only way that I can make it through days (or nights) of constant unrelenting pain.
To create my hibernation bubble, I put my phone on airplane mode, pull my blackout curtains closed, put on cozy clothes, light a calming candle, grab an ice pack from the freezer, snuggle under my weighted blanket and do whatever I need to do in that very moment to create calm.
Once I am cozy in this safe space, it is helpful to engage in some type of activity which is either comforting or distracting (or both!). Sometimes I need to cry and journal. Sometimes I put on a movie I’ve seen a thousand times and escape into the familiar storyline. Sometimes I binge-watch a new Netflix show without any “limit” on how many episodes I allow myself (even when looking at screens hurts my eyes). Sometimes I put on a yoga app or calm music and stretch in bed, or on the floor next to it. Sometimes I start a new audiobook or podcast and listen to it until I have regained enough strength to deal with my own life.
There is no definite itinerary when I am in my hibernation bubble — it’s merely a time where I remove any internal pressure to answer phone calls, reply to texts, check social media or manage any emotions outside of my own. When exasperation or pain levels reach the point where I feel as if I’m at my full coping capacity, this bubble is an oasis of safety; a place to retreat to until I feel I am capable of taking on life again.
When I decide to expand or widen my bubble and “re-enter” the world, I do so gently and mindfully. I turn my phone off airplane mode and reply to texts only from a very select few. For as long as I need to, I put zero pressure on myself to even read other messages that might have come in, so that I don’t feel obligated to respond. I don’t listen to voicemails, check social media or email until I feel like I have enough of an emotional buffer to do so.
This coping tool might sound extreme to some, but dealing with chronic, severe, unrelenting pain is, at times, extreme.
During the most intense chronic pain flares, it’s important to learn what your personal recipe for minimizing unnecessary stress looks like. “Stress” will look different depending on how much pain you are dealing with and how long you’ve been doing so. It’s not uncommon for a long flare to significantly lower my threshold to stress, and for “normal” things to tip me over the edge — intensifying my pain and causing me to experience emotional reactivity. My hibernation bubble is reserved for those times when I simply do not have the physical or emotional stamina to do anything other than get myself from one moment to the next.
I think that it’s important to note that this bubble is a temporary coping tool. It’s not something that can or should be sustained long-term and for me, it is usually “bookended” by me asking for help from the people closest to me in my support squad.
Your hibernation bubble will look different based on your circumstances and needs (kids, work, roommates, etc…). But, the premise remains the same — that this tool is a permission slip to take a break and to put yourself first — wholly and completely!
It represents one pathway to get to the other side of an enormous mountain of pain. Give yourself permission to stay in your safe lil bubble until your “resiliency” tank has reached a level at which you can once again more fully engage in your everyday activities. I hope that you will create a personalized hibernation plan, and that it will be as helpful to you as it has been for me.
As always, sending you so much love and strength, hang in there warriors! ♥️
I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.
Natalie, your routine sounds so similar to mine (just replace cat instead of dogs!) It’s so important to share this and normalize this part of the recovery. It’s not selfish or lazy to take this time, it’s 100% necessary in order to build back up our reserves. I know my struggle is finding the balance and not hibernating or cocooning too long, because it feels safer and easier than climbing back out. Sending strength your way, and wishes for easier days ahead. -Karen
I resonate with this so much. As a chronic Lyme warrior, I know those days of "survival mode" well. They are rough, but having that bubble of peace, stillness, rest and freedom to NOT engage with the pressures of life (however small) is so critical. For me, if I am not too exhausted, I love to read fiction books and have found such inner joy and spark from that. Or, like you, turn to a go-to show or beloved movie. Or journal/sketch. And most of all, I pray, pray, pray and apply my faith that this is happening for a reason and it’s okay. I give myself permission to wait it out and be confident that I can grow and learn from it and know I am getting stronger. It’s a BATTLE! But I love reading about how others take this on. You are an inspiration! Feel free to check out my blog, too!
Keep up the good fight!
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