Looking into a microscope is fascinating. Having the ability to examine the minutiae of things reveals an amazing world of intricacy that can make even the most mundane things seem to exist in a world of their own. We literally have the ability to see the universe in a grain of sand. While this is fascinating in a controlled environment when we can choose to see things this closely and choose when to draw back, it can be very uncomfortable when a person is deprived of this choice.
For some periods of time certain individuals will simply live too closely to things. We see the minutiae and become lost in that world—everything is magnified. Simple things become so much more complex in that space which can make day to day living difficult. When we can’t get a thought out of our minds, or can’t tone down our paranoia, we indeed see everything through a microscope. Dissecting bits of data, combing through copious amounts of information to reach what should be simple conclusions, and literally or metaphorically seeing things others simply can’t, can make someone feel crazy. In some cases, certain actions can make someone certifiably crazy, however I believe that for many people living on the edge of what may seems to be insanity there is something else going on entirely.
A doctor named Abraham Maslow developed what is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. It has been a guide for understanding the way human beings develop and where they may be on their current trajectory of evolution. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is traditionally an illustration of a pyramid outlining these principles:
This pyramid places basic needs at the bottom showing it is a foundation for our development. It also suggests that these basic needs should serve as the functional equivalent to our roots with self-actualization being the highest branch of our development. Imagine for a moment however, if someone inverts this period…
Such a person would invariably see life differently and have more difficulty relating to the basic aspects of living. Living in a basic way becomes something to strive for. Accepting things at face value, knowing how to regulate one’s sleep, eating habits, and other aspects of personal care become a struggle while the individual obsesses over self-actualization, self-esteem, and perhaps love and belonging. To the outside observer, this would appear crazy.
Bulimia is one way that such behavior may manifest. Eating is a basic need that shouldn’t require much thought, however for certain individuals, every calorie is something to obsess over. This is usually in service of what the individual sees as a goal of self-actualization. This is the microscope affect that is part of living for so many people.
Intensity of emotion and perception can make someone feel crazy, and if it is not channeled correctly, it can lead to self-destruction rather than self-actualization. Therefore, people who see through a microscope must force a return to the basic pyramid structure that Maslow developed. This requires seeing the big picture. The difficulty is that we can’t just choose not to see things through a microscope. If this is the way our vision is tuned, it is part of us.
What we must do is embrace our crazy. Understand that there may be two people living inside us. One is the adult trying to actualize goals that are at times agonizingly difficult, and the other is a baby that needs to be cared for and nurtured. We must parent that baby ourselves. We must make sure that our inner baby is fed, has a good night’s sleep, and is properly loved and attended to.
This dichotomy can be difficult for outside observers to understand. Taking time to oneself to be alone, not speak, and just daydream can be critical. It is nothing to be ashamed of. This is an important investment of time. Seeing and feeling everything through a microscope is literally exhausting. Others don’t need to understand this for it to be true. Others may view this as self-indulgent, and that’s ok. You wouldn’t tell someone that they were being self-indulgent for investing time taking care of an actual baby, so there shouldn’t be shame in taking care of the one inside you.
True craziness appears when this need is denied. When people who see life through a microscope don’t have time to recharge and process their findings, the behavior of the person may seem completely irrational. The bulimic person for example is most likely struggling with the self-esteem rung of Maslow’s pyramid. This person needs to heal themselves before they can stop displaying the craziness that likely has their loved ones alarmed. This requires down time. The person must baby themselves in order to reach the point where they are emotionally sated enough to continue on to the self-actualization portion of the pyramid.
But first imagine the person suffering from bulimia beginning life with the pyramid inverted.
The person likely had a strong belief about who they wanted to be in the world before they developed the self-esteem to reach it. They probably also felt a lack of love and belonging at some point. This likely made them feel unsafe and deeply insecure, so they likely stopped prioritizing their basic needs…like food. See how this inversion plays out?
We have to return to the basics and baby ourselves for a little while. This is not self-indulgent. It is correct for anyone seeing the world through a microscope. Anyone who finds that their feelings and perceptions are amplified to the point where they cannot withstand basic stresses (this is called anxiety) should honor their need for reflection and peace.
Understanding this need is what separates insanity from genius. The junkie from the artist. The abuser from the marriage counselor. The criminal from the saint. When we live life intensely we can use it to create great things, or we can use it to assist in our own demise. The person who lets their inner baby die of neglect is the one with no foundation for their pyramid. Their goals cannot be actualized. Somehow such a person will end up institutionalized for a health problem, criminal behavior, addiction, or mental illness. They fall apart and often take others with them. It is our duty to care for our own needs. We have to go within and not look to others to give us permission to nurture ourselves. This is how we become the hero in our own story.