Identifying My Needs Helps Me Improve My Mental Health

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by Charlton Harris |

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I recently started reading about addiction and depression, which led me to enroll in an online certification course in addiction therapy. I have come close to dealing with both, and I want to share those experiences.

When you think about it, life is all about stories, and you can’t tell a story without explaining the reasons for certain events. In my reading, I found out that depression and addiction can often go hand in hand and may result from experiencing a lack of fulfillment, acceptance, or love.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which depicts the five main tiers of human needs. At the bottom of the pyramid are our physiological needs, such as food and shelter. Moving upward, the needs are safety, love and belonging, esteem, and, at the top, self-actualization. According to Maslow, the lower needs must be satisfied before we can fulfill the upper needs.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on this subject, but given my own experiences, Maslow’s hierarchy makes sense to me.

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I was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis in 2004, not long after my mother passed away. She had just celebrated her 64th birthday and had stayed with me throughout my first-ever surgery, in which doctors removed nasal polyps. After she died, I’d often tell people that I felt like an 8-year-old boy suddenly left alone in the world. It was a traumatic and scary time for me and threatened my sense of safety, belonging, and self-esteem.

Some would say I was depressed during this time. I wasn’t able to fulfill several of my needs and had started to enjoy happy hour a little more than usual.

I knew I had to move forward, otherwise I’d get stuck and stop growing as a person. I took a step back and saw how easily my drinking habits could turn into an addiction.

And when it comes to depression and addiction, trauma often adds fuel to the fire. Fast-forward to present day, and I’ve been laid off from a job, suffered several spontaneous pneumothoraces, become physically disabled, and lived through the pandemic. I’ll take “the hits keep coming” for 300, please!

Struggling with my physical health has often resulted in me struggling with my mental health. This is a recipe for self-destruction.

It’s been helpful for me to remember that the world doesn’t stop, even when some of my needs aren’t being fulfilled. I mourn my losses, but I keep moving forward and don’t let them define me. Because of my chronic illness, sometimes I find myself holding on to the traumas of yesterday, but doing so only keeps me mentally and physically imprisoned.

To avoid the pitfalls of depression or addiction, I must acknowledge what I need in my life. After looking at Maslow’s pyramid, I think I have a handle on what I need to feel complete. While my physical health isn’t always in my control, many of the other tiers are.

For instance, fulfilling the need for intimacy can often be difficult with chronic illness. In February 2021, Pulmonary Hypertension News hosted a podcast in which one of my colleagues, Brittany Foster, talked about this challenge. Listening to it reminded me that I wasn’t alone, which improved my sense of belonging.

Even if I don’t fulfill the needs depicted on Maslow’s pyramid in order from bottom to top, I can choose to focus on the ones I feel are most necessary for my fulfillment. I don’t have to let sarcoidosis dictate my life.


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.

Comments

Unkle Woodchuck avatar

Unkle Woodchuck

Well said, my friend. And as usual, both useful and hopeful. The thought of you continuing to help others through therapy has the ring of truth. Knowing you as I do, it makes perfect sense.

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Charlton Harris avatar

Charlton Harris

Thank you so much Unkle Woodchuck!
As a seasoned writer yourself, your sentiments mean EVERYTHING to me! Thank You for reading and PLEASE continue to share your thoughts. I only wish you were still local so we could have a beer, people watch and laugh in the memories!!
-C-

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