Most people ask themselves this question on a regular basis.
Unless you’re a trust fund recipient who doesn’t work, is in good health, has nannies for your kids, and few responsibilities to speak of, chances are you wonder about that as well.
A simple web search for that question will bring up all manner of answers…
These range from “we’re too emotional” to “that’s just how life is: deal with it.”
There are also a lot of glib responses implying that things are only difficult if we don’t accept some divine plan, or that it’s our own attitude that determines happiness or stress.
“Life Is A Struggle For Everyone And Everything”
Sure, this may be true on many levels, but telling that to someone who’s self-medicating on a constant basis just to keep themselves from screaming is incredibly harmful.
Even worse is the kind of propaganda in which people are told that they have to create their own happiness…
…that if they find life hard, it’s because they’re making it hard for themselves.
Most people don’t realize how damaging that can be to say to someone.
Saying something to the effect of “oh, life is hard for all living organisms, what with seeking food and shelter and such” is very flippant.
More than that, it’s dismissive of very real issues that humans have to face.
Yes, every living thing will face some degree of difficulty if it wants to thrive, but there are massive differences there.
A squirrel who’s having trouble finding food to store for the winter can hardly be compared to a single parent living in poverty in a city that hasn’t had clean drinking water for years.
That squirrel doesn’t have to think about health insurance for its children, or possible jail time if its college loan payments stop, etc.
A person who’s wracked with anxiety, dealing with custody issues with an abusive former spouse is going to have different difficulties than a person from an ethnic minority background who faces constant discrimination and harassment.
Populations are soaring and jobs are getting scarce. You might have trouble finding a job in your field. Or any job at all, let alone a decent-paying one.
It’s not uncommon for professionals with full-time jobs to work as Uber drivers on weekends to help make ends meet.
I spoke with several people while researching this article, and some of their stories left me absolutely heartbroken.
Furthermore, they made me realize that there’s no “one size fits all” answer to why life can be so incredibly difficult.
– A single parent who’s caring for two chronically ill young children, while dealing with their own physical and mental health issues.
– A young trans person whose conservative, religious family basically disowned them, who is now living in complete emotional upheaval, adapting to new body changes, alone.
– A highly educated, middle-aged person who had to take on a job they despise when, due to a sudden tragedy, they unexpectedly became sole caregiver to vulnerable family members.
– A young teenager whose home life is so toxic that they find any excuse to stay away, and is in an unhealthy romantic relationship just to have a safe place to escape to.
– A highly skilled creative person living in abject poverty because work is so scarce, and mostly outsourced to people overseas who are willing (and able) to work for pennies.
These are just a few of the stories that were shared with me, and they illustrate how life can be incredibly hard for everyone, albeit in very different ways.
“No Tree Survives Alone In A Forest.”
You’re probably familiar with the quote: “It takes a village to raise a child,” implying that it takes every member of a community to raise one person to healthy adulthood.
I’ll take that a step further with a quote I heard on the show The OA:
No tree survives alone in a forest.
We might think of trees as solitary sentinels, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Each one is part of a complicated, interconnected ecosystem.
Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches.
Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives.
Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight.
All the trees are connected via mycelial (fungal) networks beneath the soil’s surface, creating “…cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.
What does this have to do with human hardships?
Quite simply, so many of us are clawing our way through lives without being part of a true community.
Without the support that can be found in a collective.
Without a tribe.
Self Care/Healthy Life Balance Is Easier Said Than Done
In a call-out on social media, I had some really authentic, honest replies from people who are just barely keeping it together.
We don’t generally come across this level of honesty in our current selfie and superficial joy culture, but responses like these speak volumes about the struggles that so many are facing:
I’m so tired. All the time, so tired.
I wake up exhausted, run around all day trying to catch up, then fall into bed, not having had more than a couple guilty moments to myself to make a cup of tea, reply to a Facebook post, or shove a fistful of fast food into my mouth.
Those “inspirational” posts don’t help either: ‘take time for yourself because life is short and people won’t talk about your clean house at your funeral.’
They don’t take into account that if you DON’T clean the cat litter or take the dog for a walk on time, the cats pee on your bed, and the dog craps on the rug, and then you have three times the work trying to recover from that.
There are consequences to taking time for yourself: Young kids need feeding, or they will starve. Elderly family need caring for, or they will starve in their own filth.
Deadlines need to be met, or you will be fired. Houses need to be cleaned or you will drown in bugs and filth.
I literally run on stimulants and painkillers, but MOST of us seem to survive this way, to speed us up and then slow us down.
Whether it’s coffee and wine, supplements and meditation, or cocaine and opiates, MOST of us are dosing ourselves with SOMETHING *just* to keep going.
Some are “healthier” than others, yet even the “healthy” ones (like super-foods and spirituality) we CLING to like our lives depend on it.
I have friends who grew up in close-knit religious or cultural communities in which community and interdependence were as normal and natural as breathing air.
Friends, extended family members, and neighbors were always dropping in and out of each other’s houses.
If someone had a new baby, you can rest assured there were a dozen different “aunts” helping out around the house: taking care of the little one, keeping older siblings fed, ensuring mama was getting plenty of recovery time.
The same went for if a family member fell ill, or if there was a sudden death.
This camaraderie wasn’t just limited to huge upheavals either: daily visits, weekly shared meals, regular gatherings and picnics and celebrations were all part of everyday life.
People could pop ’round to borrow a cup of sugar, help to build a deck, or just hang out in the yard on a warm summer evening.
I was thinking about this recently; about how many of us live mostly solitary lives.
We might have a strong nuclear family, with a partner, kids, maybe a parent or two, but that’s it.
Most of us don’t even know our neighbors, let alone interact with them on a regular basis.
I’ll give you a personal example:
Several years ago, my partner and I made the decision to move to a rural village in another province to get away from the soul-destroying treadmill we were on in downtown Toronto.
This move has its downsides as well as its benefits.
We live in calm, verdant surroundings, with plenty of fresh air, green space, and home-grown food.
Since the cost of living is so much lower here, we don’t have to work 70-hour weeks to get by. We have time to cook, to read, to do yoga, and meditate.
What we don’t have is that aforementioned sense of community.
Our closest neighbors are a fair walk away. We have nothing in common with them, and there’s even a language barrier, as the rural French dialect they speak is quite different from what we studied in school.
Meeting friends for coffee isn’t an option, because the close community we cultivated is 550km away.
Sure, we have video chats and phone calls, but that’s not quite the same, is it?
Same with organizing a community garden space, or group barbecues. Or emergency contacts.
We’re also well aware of the need for community, and can hopefully move to a place where we can find a balance between a gentle life, and stronger community bonds.
Re-establishing a strong sense of community – and learning that it’s okay to lean on others when we need them – might not solve all of life’s hardships, but it can certainly make them a lot more bearable.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.