I recently devoured, I mean read, The Fault in Our Stars, the wonderful novel by John Green. It’s just been made into a movie, too, which I have yet to see, but would love to. The book was so beautiful, telling Hazel Grace’s story of meeting and falling in love with a boy named Augustus, all while dealing with cancer and the never ending quest to get her questions answered about a favorite book from its reclusive, and slightly mad, author. It’s not a book about cancer, she says at one point. I get that. Hazel wants to be the leading lady in her story. Cancer is something she has to deal with; it isn’t her whole identity. I loved that so much about her character.
There was a lot I admired about this book, and a lot that I was surprised to find that I could relate to. POTS is not fatal, and it’s not that I was comparing my condition to Hazel’s. It was more about the similarities of being a “sick kid”, and of the familiarity of the experiences and situations she describes. Something that really stuck out to me was this:
Starting at the end of page 211 until page 213 (hardback edition), Hazel discusses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Having taken Intro to Psych, I had some vague knowledge of Maslow and his pyramid, but I don’t think I ever paid much attention to it before I read Hazel’s assessment. She says about the hierarchy:
Once your needs for food and water are fulfilled, you move up to the next set of needs, security, and then the next and the next, but the important thing is that, according to Maslow, until your physiological needs are satisfied, you don’t even worry about security or social needs, let alone “self actualization,” which is when you start to, like make art and think about morality and quantum physics and stuff.
According to Maslow, I was stuck on the second level of the pyramid, unable to feel secure in my health and therefore unable to reach for love and respect and art and whatever else, which is, of course, utter horseshit: The urge to make art or contemplate philosophy does not go away when you are sick. Those urges just become transfigured by illness.
That last bit digs into my brain. She is so right.
Maybe Maslow’s hierarchy works for some people. Maybe it works in a really broad and general sense. But for me and Hazel, it’s all out of whack. We may be stuck in the second level, insecure in our health in our own ways, but we’re not empty inside. Our bodies may be eternally stuck in some form of “survival mode”, but our minds are not. Although my needs may be “transfigured by illness,” they are still alive and well.
I need to be social. I admit I’m not the best at this. I want more than anything, to be a “Yes!” person, to be able to make spontaneous plans (or really, any plans at all), but my illness gets in the way. But being holed up in what I affectionately refer to as my “Hobbit Hole” (read: my house), doesn’t mean I don’t feel the need for other people’s company. I find ways to reach out, namely through the Internet (like right now!) and sending cards and small presents to my friends to let them know I am thinking of them. My health situation might be dead center in my line of vision most days, but on the periphery, I see others. My social circle may be small, but it is made up of such gut-burstingly fantastic people who take my efforts and return them with an “I see you, too.”
I need self-esteem and accomplishments. I’ve had disappointments in this area, I think everyone has. For a long time, I felt that in order to consider myself “accomplished” I needed to finish my bachelor’s degree in college. POTS has made it very clear that this just ain’t happenin’ right now. But that’s not the only way to be accomplished. What a lot of you don’t know is that earlier this year, I wrote a book. Yep, a whole novel. Those 71,109 words mean so much to me, because it means that over the course of 5 months I committed to a project, and completed it. It has a beginning, middle and end. It may not be publishable in its current form, it may not ever reach a stage where it is considered more than a rough draft with lots of potential, but it is printed out, all 271 pages, sitting on my desk, to remind me that I can still be a person. Not just a person, but a person who does stuff, even though I am often dealing with illness-related what-have-you. I’ve even started a second one. I’m just that bold.
I need to be self-actualized. Can we count this blog as my own journey of self awareness and personal growth? Because writing to you each week is leading me to sit down, think about what I want to say and how to say it. How do I share my experiences with you? How can I relate to you in a way that allows you to stand in my compression stockings for the 15 minutes you’re reading this blog? Am I just going to sit here and tell you what I did today, or am I going to also challenge myself to do something bigger and better tomorrow?
For the record, I like to make art and contemplate philosophy (#showoff). I paint, I make crafts, sew and crochet. I write (which I absolutely count as art). One of my favorite books is called “Xmen and Philosophy,” which may seem silly, but it’s easier to visualize complex topics when you insert superheroes into them. Or at least it is for me. I have not one, but TWO friends who actually majored in Philosophy in college, and every once and a while we chitter-chat about things like space and time. You know, for funsies.
I love that John Green made this conversation a part of his book, however how small or passed over it was in relation to all the other wonderful things he brought to life through Hazel Grace. She concludes by saying:
Maslow’s pyramid seemed to imply that I was less human than other people, and most people seemed to agree with him. But not Augustus.
All anyone can hope for in life, Chronic or not, is for it to be filled with Augustuses. People who see that you are a whole, well rounded person. Not <in spite of> or <for a sick person> or <while dealing with____>. Just you. As a whole. As a person.
This is my 9th post. I’ve been writing for just a short 3 weeks, but the love, love, love you are all sending me makes me feel ooey gooey inside. It makes me feel whole. It makes me feel like a person. So I love you, friends new and old, relatives who care, people I’ve never met in far corners of the world, who are all tuning in. My Chronic readers, as Sam S. gets credit for naming you (don’tbesorryforthatjoke!). Thanks for being my Augustuses.
I promise to write about something completely ridiculous and un-heavy on Monday to make up for what turned into an emotional blubber-fest, at least on my end. John Green has a way of doing that to people.