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Chronic illness & Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Everyone says your health is the most important thing - that as long as you have good health you can have gratitude and feel lucky. This is something healthy people say. But if you're ill, chronically, constantly, where does that leave you?

Maslow's hierarchy of needs concludes that unless our most basic needs of food and shelter are met, then we can't reach the ultimate goals of fulfillment and self actualisation.

I'd like to challenge that.

image via teach-nology.

Amidst ongoing physical suffering, I've done lots of wondering, or - self-actualising. I've continued to contribute and create.

And yet I know that bad health can bring you down beyond belief - it can get into your thoughts and take you to dark places. Imposter syndrome is rife and self worth is a struggle as you feel like you've tricked people into giving you jobs, or that you're holding friends hostage in a difficult situation. You can feel like a burden and like you don't belong.

Illness gives you space and provides breeding ground for those kind of thoughts - so you have to fight them off, and you need to be equipped to do that. Which is why I think Maslow's triangle needs a new base level, of the the crucial characteristics we need to survive and thrive - even without the most basic of needs (like being able to stand up without losing consciousness).

I would add:

Compassion
To your self. To know that whatever is happening, you're doing your best, you are worthy and you are loved. And to other people - because if you can keep thinking of other people, and helping in some small way - that will help you too.

Determination 
To keep going and not give up. No matter what. To cling onto even the smallest of joys. To be resilient - to suffer relapses and find a way to get back up, time and time again.

Creativity 
And I don't mean art. I mean in flexibility and finding new ways. Finding that if you have to make a cup of tea from the floor, you're still getting a cup of tea. This always needs to be combined with compassion so you don't feel like a ridiculous person and experience a wave of sadness. But yes, creativity in its truest sense too, because if you can create something, even if it's not something you would share, I ensure you - your spirit will lift, just a little bit.

Connection 
Even if it's online or by phone - sincere connections are what will keep you not feeling alone, but part of something bigger. To allow yourself to be vulnerable with those you trust and love - to open up and sit with the sadness. To let yourself have that release when the relationship allows. Or to have a normal conversation, about someone else's day, to reminisce, or discuss television. Just talk. And listen.

Humour 
Because if you can't see the funny side, then all of this will be so, so much harder.



I'm speaking about illness only here. I'm not saying if you're on the streets that getting a sense of humour will help you out - I know I'm lucky.

So with this in mind - I think everything is harder if there is a physiological struggle, but I do not believe this inhibits us from reaching our potential. That's a really depressing idea that doesn't help. I believe our prospects and practical possibilities shift when we are held back, but that we shouldn't stop dreaming, or making things happen. Even if that happens when we're horizontal, unable to get out of bed.

If we believe life can't be fulfilling unless our basic needs are met, we'd feel worthless and give up. So let's give ourselves a new baseline. Not just those with chronic illness, but all of us - because if we don't stay compassionate, determined, creative, connected and with a sense of humour - then how can we be living life to its fullest anyway?

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