OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast time I wrote a blog like this, I was called a “whiny, white woman,” but I’m not going to let that stop me from spouting off again.

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.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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8 Responses
  1. Really liked this… I too struggled to understand why good people face such trials and why there is so much suffering, particularly in regard to children… your breakdown of the religious standpoints made me smile…

    Islam’s view:

    God gives the hardest battles to His strongest soldiers… After all the most severely tested of the people were His prophets… we need only look to the stories of some common examples such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Jesus to see how they were tried and the prophets are beloved to Him.

    Muslims believe our trials are a means of purification and elevation and are God’s way of prompting us to turn to Him and rely upon Him alone… and that relief will when we remember the temporary nature of this life depend solely on our creator. It’s a daily effort.

    1. I think that must be true. My uncle is the most devout Christian (Catholic) man I’ve ever met. He and my aunt attend mass every morning. He’s always had the most profoundly peaceful air about him. He’s always smiling, he’s so easy going, he’s just clearly and obviously full of the love of Christ. It’s like it’s coming out of his entire being. I’ve never met anyone like him. Ten years ago his youngest son was hit by a car and died. Last year, his oldest son took his own life. Over the last ten years he’s also been diagnosed with prostate cancer, had his prostate removed, and suffers from a variety of other maladies that make day to day life a chore. His passion for Jesus Christ has never wavered even a bit. He’s the most inspiring human being I have ever met. So yeah, God gives the hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.

  2. john d. hostetter

    Theresa, We can control our expectations from life , we know ourselves and when we set unreal expectations ….. life will pound us …. for sure

  3. Kent

    This article made me think of how some people are able to not only gracefully accept the ” hard” but actually rise above it, and for some people it just seems to be a never ending struggle despite what they may know, or read, or even believe about it making us stronger. For me, this begged the question of how I personally perceive these sort of things. Of course we all know that the grass is always greener in our neighbors yard, so are some of us predisposed to “always” see life that way even though we know better? I recall my therapist telling me (on more than one occasion!) that my brain is so used to being in a depressed state that it doesn’t know any better. She responded with this when I asked her how I’m supposed to know when I’m feeling as well as I’m going to get? Should I be satisfied with the improvement I feel from the 3 meds I’m currently on and just continue to meditate, run for exercise and practice mindfulness each day, or should I try something different? Ah!, might this just be that inner voice that we would all like to put to death, or is it the part that just doesn’t know how to feel good about ourselves and our life? But then I guess they are one and the same maybe. Let the insidious ruminations begin!

  4. Carolyn

    My depression started when I was very young, back in the 60’s. It was “black pit” depression. The relatives I was living with of course did not understand. My aunt was very sweet and worried about me but her husband just got mad and enumerated all the terrible things that could be happening to me (I had lived in SE Asia so I actually knew quite a bit more about some of those things) and he would tell me I was just sorry for myself and should snap out of it. He would get downright mad at me and I would have to try to pretend I was OK because I so hated his anger. Sometimes I wonder how I survived! But I did.
    As for being disappointed in human nature, yes I know about that too. In my 30’s I got quite involved in a lot of fund raising and it really opened my eyes. I would run “Bring and Buy” sales and deliberately priced everything very affordably because the point was to sell. I couldn’t believe it when a friend of mind actually came in and wanted to bargain with me. That particular fund raiser was to raise money for a popular colleague whose daughter needed a liver transplant. I still don’t get how cheap and selfish people are and I certainly sympathize with your disillusionment. I can only say that what you are doing is really wonderful and so very much appreciated. Thank you and bless you.