There's another side to me that's a little bit geeky! I love to learn. Whilst at university we looked at one particular theory that always fascinated me. It was something that came back into my mind when I started to think about my mental illness recovery and how I could prevent (as far as possible) another breakdown. That theory is by Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) and his Hierarchy of Needs. The theory looks at what a person needs in order to function at their full potential and how when needs are not met a person cannot be the best version of themselves. Imagine you are at the bottom of the triangle and you need to work your way up through each level. You cannot skip levels and will struggle to obtain anything in the higher levels without the lower levels being met. The belief behind the theory is that these needs are what helps people stay motivated and that we naturally strive to meet these levels when deprived; such as feeling thirsty the longer you go without water.
The level of needs are as follows....
So how does this relate to mental illness?
I believe from this theory that mental illnesses chip away at the triangle. Let's say you are at the top level and then suffer with mental illness. You begin to lose sleep and have less appetite, you feel paranoid or uneasy, relationships become affected, you doubt yourself, you don't enjoy the things you used to, you don't feel like taking part. Each level of the triangle becomes affected. So to help conquer your mental illness you need to refuel your triangle!
You can't fill your triangle and that's job done. You need to do this daily, sometimes several times a day. You might be at your peak working on something creative and begin to struggle with the task. If you were to stop and look internally you may realise you are thinking about an argument you had with a friend or are beginning to feel hungry. This then affects your ability to be at your peak. You may be able to carry on and remember that many people achieve greatness when deprived of some of their basic needs but prolonged deprivation can greatly affect your chances to reach your full potential.
Now when I feel that I am starting to struggle I think of this Hierarchy of Needs. I look at my very basic needs- concentrating on sleep, eating small meals, keeping hydrated, I have my home and intimacy. I remind myself I am safe and not at risk. I make sure I am showing attention and love to friends and family. I self-praise and reflect on what I have achieved (even the smallest of things.) Then I concentrate on myself and look at what I can improve.
The example I have used is Maslow's original theory. Later three more levels were added so that after Esteem came Cognitive Needs (knowledge), Aesthetic Needs (balance and search for beauty) and after Self-Actualisation came the highest level of Transcendence (helping others achieve Self-Actualisation). I will look at this improved theory in a later post.
The main lesson we can learn from this is when you begin to struggle try to concentrate on meeting your basic needs. It gets you started on the triangular path to your highest potential!