Having just seen the movie, “Unbroken,” I really feel like I can’t complain. I don’t have some bastard tormenting every day for giggles in a POW camp. I don’t have to decide which is worse (from a life raft on which I’ve been existing for over a month): the planes above shooting at me or the sharks below my raft that want to eat me.
I live in a country where I don’t have to cover my face and walk behind my husband. I am confident that I will eat again in a few hours and the meal will include more than rice. I can trust that my kids are safe at school—that is, the few days the school is actually open–and the possibility of their classrooms getting bombed is rather low.
But I look around me, and there is so much suffering, even in the corners of the most fortunate.
Mary Cimiluca, a friend of mine who is a talented film producer (She produced Viktor Frankl’s documentary) has a serious lung condition that requires gentle lung care with oxygen. She is constantly teaching me how to make the most out of the present moment. “Meaningful moments lead to meaningful days,” she says. She does that by looking for opportunities each day to help someone. Despite her own health condition.
Another friend, Mike Leach, is caring tirelessly after his wife with Alzheimer’s Disease, and has been for the last 10 years. This man is as calm and kind (maybe kinder?) as the Dalai Lama. He bathes her and feeds her and tucks her into her hospital bed in his living room. He has done nothing in his life but show others unconditional love. If anyone’s karma is spilling over with blessings overdue, it’s his. This should not happen to a person like that!
Finally, my friend Pam’s marriage is dissolving due to the immense amount of stress involved raising a son with special needs. The divorce rate for couples with special-needs kids hovers around 80 to 90 percent, right in the range of couples in which one person is bipolar. She did nothing to deserve the kind of debilitating tension she goes home to every day, but man does she struggle.
I look at these three lovely people and I get angry that their lives are so difficult.
My hardship pales in comparison to my friends’ but that doesn’t keep me from feeling the disillusionment, the punch in the gut—the feeling every person experiences at some point in their life when they realize that Disney lied to them. Happily-ever-after scripts are crafted by talented screenwriters who make a nice salary to suck us in and tell us what we want to hear.
For a few months now I have been operating by the philosophy of John Burroughs: “Leap and the net will appear.” I leapt, yes indeed. And the support that I had hoped for wasn’t really there. So I’m back to working two jobs out of my son’s bedroom and trying to fulfill my dream of running a foundation for persons with chronic depression with all the extra time I have as a mother, wife, and as a manic-depressive who spends 20 hours a week on her mental health (exercise, shopping for fresh produce, doctor’s appointments).
But there I go being a white, whiny woman again.
Mary, the producer, posted in my depression community an article on ThinkingHumanity.com called “7 Important Life Lessons Everyone Learns the Hard Way.” I liked the last one the best: Unanticipated hardships are inevitable and helpful. The authors, Marc and Angel, write:
“Nobody in this world is going to blindside you and hit you as hard as life will. Sometimes life will beat you to the ground and try to keep you there if you let it. But it’s not about how hard life can hit you, it’s about how hard you can be hit while continuing to move forward. That’s what true strength is.”
They go on to quote Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
It reminded me of something that often helps me to feel better or at least puts things into perspective, but that I keep on forgetting: the amount of suffering I feel is almost always related to the expectations—conscious or subconscious—living somewhere inside my head. My recent disillusionment is a result of expectations that were as high as I was at my high school Homecoming Dance. I expected too much of myself. Of other people. Of the nonprofit world, which I don’t understand.
Since I spent the first half of my life wanting to be a nun, I consult the world religions’ view on suffering when I’m in this kind of pissed-off state of mind:
Atheism: I don’t believe this sh*t.
Buddhism: Sh*t happens.
Catholicism: If sh*t happens, you deserved it.
Hinduism: This sh*t has happened before.
Creation Science: We have proof that God created all the sh*t that happens.
Darwinism: We came up from sh*t.
Presbyterian: This sh*t was bound to happen.
Lutheran: If sh*t happens, don’t talk about it.
Quakers: Let us not fight over this sh*t.
Although I’m definitely Catholic—Feeling like shi*t is compounded by the guilt I accrued for having caused the sh*t–I am most helped by the Buddhist perspective. It just is. Not because I did something wrong, or because the divine entity I worship has a bone to pick with me. Whenever I start to think that life should be easy just because I’m trying to do good things, I know I’m in trouble.
I remember Mary and Mike and Pam.
I think about Louis Zamperini on that life raft.
I say, “sh*t happens.”
And I try to learn from it.
Join the conversation at Project Beyond Blue, the new depression community.
Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.
Published originally on Sanity Break on Everyday Health.