When you are going through what is known as a “mental health crisis”, everything feels like such a mess that you cannot even begin to start tidying it all up. Tiny jobs become momentous tasks, trying to survive an hour feels like trying to survive a millennium and it all feels completely unmanageable. Unhelpfully, being in the 21st century, the general busy non stop, non sleep, 24/7 side to modern life does not help matters (on the other hand there is the positive that, helpfully, we are not in the 16th century where, although it was less busy, you had a higher chance of being murdered by your husband if his name was Henry and he happened to wear a crown).
In simpler times your daily activities may have simply comprised of getting some water from your well, milking a few cows, doing a bit of hoeing out in the fields and then perhaps settling down by the fire with a nice bowl of homemade stew, (it is my understanding that in the olden days people ate nothing but stew). Nowadays however, the list of tasks one must perform to get through the days are endless.
Instead of walking out to a field there are specific buses you have to run to catch for work, computer programs that randomly malfunction and delete all the work you have done for the past week (something that never happened when “work” mainly focused on hoeing), specific coffee orders you have to remember for your boss to avoid being fired over a missed shot of espresso in their large cappuccino, bills to pay, TV shows to catch up on, appointments to make, social events to come up with excuses for, washing machines to fix, ironing to do and earphone wires to untangle (SERIOUSLY WHO IS TANGLING ALL OF THE EARPHONE WIRES WHEN I AM NOT LOOKING AND PLEASE CAN YOU STOP IT). It is exhausting and when in crisis, you need to delete it all and focus on one thing.
I am not talking your equilateral triangles, your scalene, or even your isosceles. I sneer at your Bermuda triangles, love triangles, even your 3D Egyptian pyramid triangles, for no triangle is better in a crisis than the great “Maslow’s Triangle” (toast triangles are a close second for being helpful in time of a crisis though, because you can have peanut butter or marmalade on them).
“What is this mysterious Maslow’s Triangle?” I hear you ask? Well I’ll tell you!
Basically there was once this psychologist named Abraham Maslow (I hear he was quite the dude), and he came up with this list of things needed to fulfil humans and reach “self fulfilment” or “self actualisation”, aka “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” (that is the official term in all the text books but I am calling it Maslow’s triangle because it looks like a triangle, that is a catchier name and it meant that I could sound smart in that first paragraph by talking about other kinds of triangle which are now irrelevant to this post…calling it this also gave me the opportunity to mention toast triangles which are tasty, so I went with it and now here we are).
These needs are pretty much all Maslow thinks you need to become a whole and happy person and who knows, he may be right, but right now it doesn’t matter if he was right or not because to be honest, survival is what we want and aiming for his idea for self actualisation is a bit of a stretch at this moment in time/any moment in time during a mental health crisis. As I always say, we need to learn to waddle before we can fly.
“What does this mysterious Maslow’s Triangle look like?” I hear you cry! Well I’ll tell you that too (and may I say you are asking a lot of questions today…)
So here it is:
As you can see, all of these “needs” are prioritised in order of importance with the most important on the bottom and the least important/ones that will make you happy but are not essential for purely physical survival, on the top. It is like a pointy version of Jenga, you have to have enough of the blocks to make up the bottom or else it doesn’t matter what is going on at the top, that pyramid is going to fall and there will be sand EVERYWHERE.
In times of crisis, I think people (by which I mean I), try to keep going with all the busy things of modern life that make up the entire triangle and in doing so get overwhelmed, miss out some of the more important things, and consequently make myself/my health worse. For example my magnifying glass and entire life focus is pretty much entirely zoomed in on the second from the top level, “esteem needs”, and because I hate myself oh so very much and thus have very low supplies of the “esteems”, I forage for these like a bear who is late in preparing for hibernation, without caring about anything else because in my eyes it is not as important. In my head, I need to feel worthy of and deserving of life before I can do all the things people need to do to actually survive…and yeah…it doesn’t work like that, hence why my pyramid has fallen, leaving me in hospital, in crisis, and trying to pick sand out of all the crevices (like I said, it gets EVERYWHERE).
In every situation I will sacrifice the bottom sections as I claw for that esteem level. When I am worrying about something like my blog/don’t feel productive/like I have accomplished or achieved “enough”, I ignore all other levels of needs until that achievement feeling has been somewhat reached (I say somewhat because, as I am sure many people can relate, no matter what I do in anything, it is never enough). Need to write a blog post but don’t have any time? Better cross “sleep” off the to-do list. Haven’t drawn that pesky diagram of the triangle you need to insert into this blog yet? No food or drink until that triangle is drawn! Not posted on Instagram and need an “outdoorsy” photo but it is freezing outside? Get out there and Valencia the hell out of some greenery even if you freeze to death in the process!
That is exactly what I do, what I think a lot of people do, and that is why mental health crises often get worse and spiral, because we are focusing on the wrong things when trying to survive and get through the day. Self actualisation is great and all that and we can work on getting to that eventually but if you are in a crisis, the most important thing to do is get your Maslow’s triangle out (and toast triangles if you are feeling peckish), and focus all your energy on the bottom levels. No “I should be doing this” or “I need to be doing that”, no, you are in crisis, it is time to prioritise, remove the stress and simply focus on basic survival. Only when you have got that covered can you start building all the other things on top and if you don’t, even if you work really hard at the achievement stuff, eventually it is going to crumble and remember what happens when pyramids crumble…SAND EVERYWHERE.
When you are in a mental health crisis you need to cut yourself a nice bit of slack. If it is necessary, take a mental health day off work to go to an appointment or get some rest, because without the rest you won’t be able to stay at work very long anyway. It is necessary to focus on keeping yourself hydrated (BUT NOT TOO HYDRATED REMEMBER THE SODIUM) and get yourself a cup of tea before sorting out all the ironing (which in the long run is not necessary at all…I don’t see ironing on the triangle…), and it is necessary, nay fundamental, to nourish yourself and give yourself a good supply of food at meal times before worrying about all the other things on your to-do list (I REALLY need to work on this one). In times of mental health crises it is OK to strip things back and take a step back from the things at the top of the triangle so that you can look after yourself and build your way back up to that self actualisation tip. Focus my friends, on the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife, I mean the BARE necessities aka the bottom layers of Maslow’s triangle (I think a bear even sang a song about that whilst dancing around in a jungle with a half naked child in orange pants but that might have been one of those weird hallucinations I have been having lately…they are wherever I wander…wherever I roam!)
So, why is it important to focus on triangles in times of mental health crisis? Because my dear friends, in times of crisis, you need to allow yourself to simply focus on looking after yourself, keeping yourself physically well and safe so that you are strong enough to survive that crisis and work your way back up to the top of your Maslow’s triangle with the fun, self actualisation stuff going on. Forget the other shapes, hold onto your triangles, and if those triangles happen to be made of toast, eat them with some jam and a nice mug of warm tea.
As always, take care everyone. x