The Essence of Life

I recently read a little about Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. It’s interesting – have a bit of a look if you have the time. And the inclination.

The essence of our lives can be broken down into five fundamental human needs, and the most basic are of course physiological. We all know that.

air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep

(Although to be honest, as a middle-aged woman with a quarter of a century of marriage beneath her belt, I no longer consider sex a basic physiological need.)

I am fortunate to live in a place where air quality is sublime, access to safe, fresh water is in abundance, and I have the material means to meet my basic requirements (and more) for shelter and warmth. Sleep is problematic – I have a sleep disorder – but for the most part I manage it quite well. I get at least some shut eye almost every night.

Food? Well – it may be a primal need, but I fight it with every ounce of my being. And the trouble with fighting a fundamental human need, is the body’s natural desire to stay alive.

For a couple of weeks I haven’t eaten. I go three or four days with nothing but cups of tea, then the desire to binge becomes utterly overwhelming (usually right about the time I worry about fainting) and I eat-purge-eat-purge for a few hours. I’m overwhelmed with a need to eat then hate myself for eating. I swear to stop and the cycle starts again.

This is my long-winded way of confessing to relapse.

I’m going on a cruise in soon – to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary (and aforementioned absent libido). The thought of being cloistered with 2000 people, and having ready access to restaurants full of free help-yourself-buffets where every food imaginable is laid out in all its splendid glory – is quite frankly, horrifying. I simultaneously want to eat every single morsel of food on the ship, and never eat again for the rest of my life. People will see me eating and I will feel judged. Will they be judging me? Highly unlikely. Will I feel judged anyway? Yes.

Now apparently cruise ships have lots of swimming pools. I absolutely adore swimming – so much so I’ve purchased new swimwear. But wearing swimwear is highly confronting for most women and doubly so for those of us with body image issues. I don’t know what I actually look like, but I feel like a beached whale. Unfortunately perception trumps reality. There is nothing to hide behind in swimwear – I’ll pretty much be parading around in front of a pile of strangers in nylon underwear. Of course the other 1999 people will also parade around in their nylon underwear, but I’ll still feel judged. I always do. Who’s judging me? Why, me of course. I always have.

Coupled with my run-of-the mill anxieties, the cruise tipped me over the edge again. This too shall pass no doubt. We aren’t moving permanently into the penthouse suite on the cruise ship (yes – the penthouse suite 😀 We were offered an upgrade at a too-good-to-pass-up price) so I can confidently say within three weeks it will definitely be past history and I’ll look back going, “What the fuck were you thinking?!” And of course the answer to that question is, I wasn’t.

When I look at that heirarchy of needs, I see so many things I am blessed to have. But also core needs I struggle with. Food obviously, but also esteem and self-actualisation. I also look at that heirarchy and wonder if it’s possible to work on the top of the pyramid, when foundations are crumbly. I don’t know the answer – but I do know disordered eating messes with cognitive function and it borders on impossible to work on higher order needs when you can’t think straight.

Life is an interesting ride, and figuring out why I’m here and what I’m doing is kind of tricky. Fighting the body’s intrinsic survival instinct is utterly exhausting, but nowhere near as exhausting as fighting an eating disorder.

If the essence of life is five basic needs, my essence is somewhat lacking. I continue to search for the missing drops.