Stuck at the Second Level

Sitting at your kitchen table at 7 a.m. trying to determine where mental health fits on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably not a good sign. It’s probably a sign that you need help.

I didn’t get a satisfying answer from Google (one site suggested that failing to have needs met at any of the stages can lead to depression or anxiety, but I think it has to work the other way around as well, i.e. that mental health issues can prevent people from moving through the stages) so I turned to a friend who is wise in the ways of psychology and mental health. “I would put it in the safety band,” he said, “but really, mental health is a precondition for all of the four levels above physiological.”

That makes sense to me, and it’s why I had turned to Google for answers that morning.Maslow's hierarchy of needs

What I had secretly been hoping for was for someone to suggest that mental health was a requirement for functioning properly in this world, that it fit squarely in one of the levels as a clear and understood need, as though I could then point to this theory and say, See? I have a right to good mental health! and someone, somewhere, would then be obligated to ensure I got it.

This, needless to say, is not how life works.

The idea of it being a precondition to the higher levels does fit squarely into the thought process that led me to Google, however.

Many of the things I would normally aspire to, like being involved in my community or deeply pondering or even pursuing answers to life’s big questions—the things that normally make me feel alive and grateful for this life—now exist mostly as a sidebar to the story of my life rather than being woven in as a fully developed theme.

looking up from inside a building courtyard surrounded by walls

I know I have important needs that are not getting met. I even know what some of them are (lately, a lack of sleep has been putting me firmly at the bottom level of the triangle).

Other needs, though, are less easy to defend as legitimate. The need for solitude and for quiet, the need for living space that isn’t constantly terrorized with the mess and energy of three other people, the need to be able to do my own thing sometimes without the burden of guilt caused by leaving more of the childcare to my spouse who is already home with them full time – where do those needs fit? And why does not getting them met cause me to spiral?

I don’t know how to reconcile these needs AND be a mother. I don’t want these needs to rear their ugly heads on hard parenting days and, while I’m down, kick me once more with the knowledge of how significantly (and negatively) I can affect my children’s place on the pyramid. But it feels like admitting these needs is taboo. Not okay.

I’m stuck. I’m struggling. And admitting these needs is scary, especially when there’s no clear path to getting them met.

Finding Slow Amid Fast

It’s 10:30 p.m. as I write this, a good hour after I had intended to be asleep. The boys were both up at 5:30 this morning and, after busy days both yesterday and today plus too many too-late nights, I’m desperately tired. But Connor is asleep next to me and I don’t want to move him just yet.

When I left work tonight the sky was almost dark – the sort of fading light that comes right before the sun disappears entirely until morning. By the time I wound my way around the roads and through traffic and reached home it was dark dark. Inky blackness all around, with only the lights from cars and street lamps showing the way.

snowy field

This is the way it is now. The sun is just finishing waking up as I leave in the mornings, its rays stretching, reaching out to tinge the clouds with golden pink. My boys are finishing their morning rituals as I exit the house – eating the last few bites of breakfast, choosing clothes for the day, brushing teeth.

When I pull my car into the driveway at night the sun is gone. By the time I get home the boys are finishing dinner and are ready to start heading to bed. We reverse the morning’s routine—getting undressed, putting pyjamas on, brushing teeth—and then the day is done. The night has come. It’s somehow even darker than before, and quiet.

I walked the dog tonight – late enough and dark enough that it felt as though I shouldn’t have to go out again. And it was cold, the kind that bites at your cheeks and leaves them red. It was snowing, and the flakes looked like silver glitter falling from the sky, slowly falling and twirling. But when I caught them with my camera they appeared to whizz, like shooting stars, determined and fast. It felt like an apt metaphor for my days: I’m slowly moving, dancing, twirling, but when I stop to look I realize how fast the days go by.

snow flying in the dark

With the dog walked and one more thing checked off my list, I came back inside and got ready for tomorrow—tidying and making lunch and checking to-do lists—before sitting on my bed with a cup of hot chocolate and my laptop. It’s quiet here, just the way I like it after a day at work, and my LED-light candles glow in the corner.

I suspect that’s what attracted Connor, and why he is now asleep next to me.

LED candles in the darkness

He made a request earlier for a pyjama party with mama and the glowing candles, but Ethan wiggled at bedtime and needed extra cuddles and Connor was in bed by the time I was done. Tomorrow night, I promised him. We’ll have a pyjama party and turn on the candles tomorrow.

The promise wasn’t good enough, apparently. I heard his door open and his small feet coming down the hall. He looked in slyly, expecting me to scoot him back to bed; I didn’t, and when he crawled up on the bed and put his head in my lap I knew he would go back to sleep.

So here I sit. I’ve shuffled him off my lap to get him under the covers and so I can tuck my own feet in, too. He’s nestled against me and if I listen hard I can hear his quiet breathing, but mostly he is silent. It’s a moment of slow in a life filled with fast. It’s unusual, and I relish it.


I’ve joined Greta from Gfunkified as co-host of #iPPP (iPhone Photo Phun), a weekly link-up that requires nothing more than a blog post with a photo from a phone camera (any phone camera, not just iPhones). We want to see your funny, your yummy, your heartfelt, your favourite phone photos of the week. Link up below!


An Explanation, In Part

I can’t wait for the time when I will get night after night after subsequent night of uninterrupted sleep.

“One of the Georges - I forget which - once said that a certain number of hours´ sleep each night - I cannot recall at the moment how many - made a man something which for the time being has slipped my memory.” ― P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh

When does that happen?


Featured on Mamalode

My words have been published on a site I love today and I’m honoured to be there (even if my name is spelled wrong in the image – to be fixed!).

Maybe you’ve read them here before, but would you come and read them now when they’re featured on Mamalode? Pretty please?


Grey Skies and Runaway Trains

It rained yesterday.

We don’t get a lot of rain here. We get snow, which is mostly accompanied by brilliant sunshine, but grey skies are rare. It’s one of the reasons I love living here.

Last week spring made a valiant effort to overtake winter. The sun shone, the temperature rose, and the mounds of snow by the sides of the roads melted. I was living in the sunshine and loving it. But over the last few days the skies have turned grey.

train wreck circa 1900

Click for image source

Life is not always sunny, of course. But for me it has been sunny more often than not, and I’ve been able to pause in those catch-your-breath moments and really soak it in. But my ability to see the sun can disappear as quickly as the sun itself.

I don’t function when I don’t get enough sleep, and I’m not getting enough sleep. And I’m losing hope that I will suddenly, miraculously start getting enough. After a long week followed by a couple of rough nights, the rain entered my life yesterday – both literally and metaphorically.

I’ve been here before and I know exactly where this sleep deprivation road leads. And I have no desire to take that path again. I don’t want to feel that way and I don’t want to have to say, Actually, it happened again the second time too. 

I want, with every fibre of my being, to be able to push the emergency button and make this runaway train stop. But I’m feeling the desperation an engineer must feel when he knows the train is going to hit something in the tracks. It’s there, it’s in front of me, and the momentum feels like too much right now. It’s bigger than me and I’m not in control of the outcome.

I was hoping today would be better, but instead I woke up to snow. It’s time to hit the brakes.

Wish me luck.