veganism, activism, and the reality of depression
Since I have become vegan a lot of positive things have happened. I am physically healthier and I am finally living a life that aligns with my values. I would NEVER go back to a life in which I chose to embrace ignorance over knowledge, particularly because the cost is the life of another. Now that I am vegan I will never again value the ease of the status quo over the difficult reality of the truth. In fact, now that I am vegan I understand the need for each person to live not only a life of compassion and equality, but to act as an advocate for others by engaging in activism.
Though I prefer the path that I have chosen it has come with significant and sometimes painful side effects. For me, veganism and activism has come with depression. Once I acknowledged that what happens to nonhuman animals is the fault of human animals, and once I accepted responsibility for working toward assuaging the injustice that leaves billions dead every year, I knew for the first time in my otherwise privileged life what it felt like to be impotent, ineffective, and silenced.
I do not know if I am alone. But I am discussing this because I assume I am not, and I don’t think that silence is helpful. As vegans and animal rights activists we live in a world that questions our lifestyles, our motivations, our health, and even our sanity at times. For this reason, many are fearful to talk of any negative aspects of our veganism. However, I want to air our vegan laundry. First, because not talking about these things does not make them go away. And second, in this case, it is not our fault. We are not unbalanced or unhealthy for reacting with sadness to the fact that most people choose murder in order to preserve the status quo. We are not pathological, the rest of the world is, and it is okay to experience pain in the face of this reality.
We know that the decision we make not to partake in abuse and murder is the only logical decision to make. But we also know that most people insist on remaining blinded and denying the injustices they engage in, for fear of the changes they will need to make. To add to all of this, we are few and far between so in many environments we are tokens. We don’t represent ourselves as individuals, but to our families or colleagues or classmates we are the face of veganism or activism. This can lead to the idea that we need to be perfect human beings for the sake of promoting the vegan message. I think that because of this, we neglect discussing the difficult issues we face as a consequence of the necessary and compassionate choices we have made. We seem to embrace Stepford veganism in an attempt not to deter others from embracing a vegan lifestyle.
In an effort to prove to the world that our choices are right, we neglect to attend to or even admit negative side effects that come along for the ride. But acknowledging that there are billions murdered and abused on a daily basis is a painful recognition. It is only logical that this recognition comes with pain. Before I became vegan, I was not bothered much by conspicuous consumption. Now I have what I have dubbed the “Schindler’s syndrome.” Every penny I spend becomes a life to me—a rescued animal I could have helped spay, a Sea Shepherd salary I could have helped fund, footage of an undercover investigation I could have helped distribute. Before I became an activist I could sleep soundly at the end of the day. Now I get in bed exhausted, tinges of pain over each moment that could have gone better, worried the time that I took for the protests is effecting my job, worried that my job is effecting my dedication to activism, concerned that friends and family won’t understand why I must sometimes choose activism over them, frustrated that no matter how hard I fight, the movement seems only gain a critical mass of potluckers but not protesters. This all accumulates into anger or sadness or frustration on a regular basis, emotions I rarely dealt with previously.
I believe that with time I will learn to manage and deal with these feelings. I hope that one day I can understand the pain I feel in a way that allows me to better work toward change. In the meantime, I have decided not to hide this experience. This is an issue in our community that I am probably not alone in facing. We need to acknowledge that accepting the path of compassion can come with sadness. We need to be aware that our comrades might feel this way. Once our community acknowledges that we are not supposed to be super humans, we can help each other cope and heal and strive to at least become super guardians, super fosters, super advocates, super spokespersons and super activists for the animals.
I am depressed. Some days my heart is heavier than my feet and I have no energy to get up and go. But I am not depressed because I am vegan nor am I depressed because of my activism. I am depressed because most people choose to exploit animals for culinary preference, fashion, and entertainment—no good reason at all when it comes down to it. While this is my burden, it is not my problem. The problem is them, not me.