We’re all individual and cope differently with chronic pain and illness. Our coping strategies are complex and will depend on our innate personalities, upbringing, beliefs, past life events and current living arrangements. I sometimes beat myself up that I get fed up, angry, frustrated and tearful about my life where other people with chronic illness seem to “rise above” their situation on a cloud of calm, accepting gratitude. That was, I did beat myself up until I realized that the people who are further along the path to self-actualization to me live very different lives to me.
I learned at school about Malow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which looks at the motivations behind people’s behaviours. Maslow’s original work proposed 5 stages to reaching self-actualization:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Social Needs – belongingness, affection and love from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
Only when our lower level basic needs (eg. food, shelter) are satisfied can we progress to meet higher level growth needs (eg. achievement, status). And once these needs have been reasonably satisfied we may be able to move on to reach the highest level called self-actualization.
Christopher Reeve, who became quadriplegic following a horse riding accident, was truly inspirational, meeting the challenge of his new life with positivity, determination and a passion to improve the plight of others with spinal injuries. He had a loving wife of many years, healthy children, a beautiful million dollar home, the best medical advice in the country, hand-picked carers, all the latest equipment to aid his disabilities and support from highly influential friends who helped him fund raise to achieve his goals. I often wonder how he would have faced the challenge of his new life if his wife had left him, he was broke, lost his home and had to live in a rented house in a poor neighbourhood, had state carers who visited him for 15 minutes a day and who didn’t have time to see to even his most basic needs, had no health insurance, had rubbish doctors and his friends and family abandoned him in droves.
I admit to getting irked with Oprah when she harps on about self-actualization like it’s achieveable for all. It’s really not. Oprah had a tough life, but she managed to escape her childhood. What if she hadn’t? What if she’d been illiterate and unemployable, or sick and unemployable, and was still living a dirt poor life in the town where she was born? Would she still be the person she is today under those circumstances? I’m guessing not.
From comments made on my blog it seems to me that the most important factor in coping well with chronic pain and illness is whether or not you live alone. The more self-actualized amongst us all appear to be married or living with parents or other care-givers. Their basic needs are met. They have food, shelter, love, companionship, care and financial security through another’s ability to work. They don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from or the fact they’ve no clean undies because they’ve been too sick to do the laundry (having spent 3 days in the same knickers last week, trust me when I say it’s truly icky). Having our basic needs met makes the difference between living well with pain and illness and merely existing.
I take my hat off to all those living alone yet still managing to live life with passion, humour, grace, fortitude, determination and empathy for others. You are stronger than the Oprahs and the Christopher Reeves of the world and I, for one, salute you.