Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Being Sick is So Hard

Since I was diagnosed with MS two and a half years ago, I've managed to stay positive, to stay triumphant over the diagnosis.  In and out of wheelchairs, hospitals, clinics, procedures...I managed to remain with a smile on my face (don't worry, there were tears too - I'm not that superhuman).

But lately I have been struggling, getting to the point of "I can't even" with this sickness.  People look at my progress and they praise the journey, assuming I've been healed, fixed, I'm better.  When the reality is I just look really great...I feel like shit.

Why is being sick so hard?

There are the physical signs - your body is in pain, you are struggling.  But there is something deeper that is felt, and I tasked myself to help find an answer. 

And by tasked I mean I turned to google.  

Usually I try my best not to google health related things as the answer always is some degree of death (thanks webmd).  But I needed some type of explanation as to why life is increasingly becoming more challenging as each day goes by. 

It was here I re-discovered Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  I had studied Maslow and his need pyramid during my MBA to learn the how to's and the what's behind motivating people.

If the hierarchy of needs could be applied to the work place, why not to health life?  Could this be the answer? 

First, let's discuss the hierarchy of needs.  Maslow's theory states that every person has "needs"; these needs, when not met, will cause deficiencies in a person.  When needs are met, it enables a person to grow, to achieve fullness, to achieve happiness.  

There are five layers of needs, starting with the most fundamental at the bottom: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.  

Physiological needs are based on the basic requirements for survival : food, water, air, Starbucks.

Safety needs include security in the areas of personal and financial, health, and a fall-back plan when disaster strikes: i.e. illness, divorce, name being called during Hunger Games.

Love and belonging needs allow a person to maintain emotionally, significant relationships with friends, family, puppies.  Having a sense of belonging to a group in some way. 

Esteem needs include gaining respect from others and within.  Being encouraged by those around you as well as when you look in the mirror - even if your hair isn't that cute that day.

And at the top, self-actualization, is recognizing one's full potential and achieving it.  "What a man can be, he must be" - Maslow defined.

So how do these levels of needs play into answering of the question "Why Being Sick is So Hard"?

One word: deficiencies.  

If a prior need is not met, it disables a person to be able to grow to that next tier need, Maslow teaches.   At the end of the day, these deficiencies make it oh so challenging to become the best one can be, to achieve that top need - self-actualization.   

True happiness is achieved when a person is able to reach the top, reach self-actualization.  But in order to reach that need, one must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them in the daily life.  

When diagnosed with a disease or a sickness, it hits the second tier, safety, hard.  It rocks it, and not in a good way.  Health is one of the most fundamental needs of a human person.  With that need distinguished, it creates a deficiency.  It disables a person in being able to reach the other needs of life. 

When one becomes sick, the needs of love, esteem, self-actualization, become back burners, because you're stuck in level two - safety.  Yet you crave these needs, you want them more than before because of the deficiency.  

It's a vicious cycle - you can't climb up because you don't have the right equipment, yet you spend all your days thinking of only the climb.  

When trouble hits in life, especially in the safety area, there is a usually a social response.  For example, when someone experiences a loss, you send flowers.  When someone goes through a break-up, you bring out the Chardonnay.  When someone experiences money difficulties, people pass around the basket.  

Yet, when one's health goes away, while there may be support of some kind in the beginning, it usually is diminished as time goes by.  And this is understandable - if you do not have health deficiencies, if you do not lack in the safety need area, you are focused on the higher needs - the end goal of self-actualization.  When someone around you becomes sick, you do not realize the burden of losing that need, for it is second-nature to have it.  

Maslow teaches that the area of safety is most important to children - for that is when you are most dependent.  But as we grow into adult lives, those needs of personal, financial, and health safety are so intertwined into our lives that a loss of it becomes unimaginable.  

Yet, for some, we wake up one day and can no longer walk.  And that intertwined safety need gets stripped away.  And the rest of the pyramid wobbles, crashes, burns.  We are left with pieces to rebuild, yet we are rebuilding on a rocky surface.  

And this is why being sick is so hard.  

Now, I really like Maslow - I really like his theories.  But they lack in some ways.  For he teaches that without the needs of the bottom, you cannot achieve the top.  I know this not to be true.  

For there is an additional theory - The Sparkled Theory

The Sparkled theory, in summary, states: that with hope, additional needs can be established despite a deficiency.  

The Sparkled theory believes that even when health is taken away, and a person should hence be stuck in the "safety need" tier, it does not mean that they can not master the other needs.  

Its just a lot harder. 

At the end of the day, no matter how positive or negative it was, if you are sick and lacking in the safety need department, it's a struggle.  No matter what diets you choose, or medicines you take, or therapies you try, there is still a deficiency that makes achieving the addition hierarchies of need ever so challenging.  

This is why if you know someone who struggles with being sick, with a loss of the safety of health, have compassion.  Take the time to help them build their pyramid again.  Health will always be deficient - but that does not mean that every other need must suffer as well.  

The Sparkled Theory provides evidence that with that hope, one can rebuild.  One can restore.  One can achieve self-actualization.  

If you adapt your hierarchy of needs with that of hope, you can reach happiness.  Despite any deficiency.  Hope is the secret, hope is the key.

Love, Eliz

PS: Thanks google!