So, this blog is a departure from my usual product reviews and activism. As I sit here in Starbucks enjoying a green tea, I feel compelled to speak on a very personal, yet common topic: Compassion fatigue and depression.
With all of today’s technology, virtually anyone, anywhere can be a vegan activist. You can be a keyboard warrior for animals on social media, you can produce hard-hitting documentaries exposing animal cruelty, you can write petitions and blog posts, you can march on the streets, or simply share posts! ANYONE can be an activist, meaning EVERYONE can make a difference.
To do these things mentioned above, the main ingredient needed is compassion! Compassion for the cows who suffer on meat and dairy farms, for the chickens who have the beaks sawed off and are crammed into filthy overcrowded facilities, for the piglets who die on the floor of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) or have their heads bashed on the concrete because they don’t meet the criteria of a profitable pig.
After being made of aware of the abject cruelty and violence committed against animals, the realization that all of these horrors are committed or supported by humans can be difficult to swallow. It can also be difficult to acknowledge that until you went vegan yourself, you were also part of the problem.
Your grandparents eat meat and dairy, so does your significant other, your best friend, your neighbor, so what now?!
The most important thing you can do is present veganism in a positive light! After all, it is a movement based on respect and compassion for all life… what’s not positive about that? What you DO NOT want to do is shame others for not being on the same level you are. You need to meet people where they are. Most likely, they grew up seeing endless advertisements for meat and dairy and fully believe that animal products are necessary to be strong and healthy (the meat and dairy industry spends billions to convince us – it is not our fault!). It is natural to get defensive when everything you’ve been told your entire life by family, friends, and the media is challenged, and ultimately, false.
So, how do you share veganism in a positive way? Lead by example! Cook and share some delicious vegan food! Watch documentaries together, have productive conversations, show them how easy and fulfilling veganism can be!
When communicating with people who are not able to accept the truth behind the foods they consume, you can be bombarded with negativity. It is not a personal attack (or shouldn’t be), it is merely people protecting what they have been brainwashed to believe and most likely, they are trying to rectify in their minds the cruelty they have been supporting their entire lives. This is actually a good thing and a step in the right direction! Keep engaging them and show them that veganism is easy, accessible, and delicious! You will be surprised what a bite of a delicious vegan burger or cheese can do!
Back to the original point of this post – Whether you’re an activist or you work FT for an animal protection organization like I do, constantly hearing about, watching, and witnessing atrocious crimes against animals can take its toll on your morale and spirit. It can also be overwhelming when people cannot see the cruelty of their ways or they flat out refuse to change. Over time, the feeling of defeat and disappointment can become something called “compassion fatigue.”
I am not a mental health professional, but I do suffer from depression and have since a young age – long before I became vegan or an activist. I will always be vegan and I will always fight for animal rights in some capacity! So… I have come up with a few ways to deal with mental health issues to continue my important work! *Please seek professional help if necessary!
It is important to practice self-care and to join or build a community with similar interests. If you need a break from activism, take one! Animals needs us, and we can only do our best work if we take care of ourselves! Spend a day, a week, a month, a year to refocus and recharge! Spend time in nature, try a new hair color, go exploring, volunteer, have fun! Remember to give yourself credit for all of the work you have done. It is not easy! To find like-minded people, try Meetup.com to start or join vegan groups in your area, or find groups on Facebook. There are tons!
Like I said, I’ve dealt with life-long depression. Compassion fatigue made it even worse. In the same vein as self-care, it is so important to surround yourself with supportive people – including your living environment – who have your best interest and well-being at heart. People who will check in on you, make sure you’re alright, and offer words of encouragement and support because they truly care. People who can recognize when you’re feeling low and will make an effort to make you feel valued and included. If you do not live in that kind of environment (I didn’t), please do whatever you can to change it. Even if it seems impossible.
If you know someone dealing with depression, the best thing you can do is to let them know you care. They are most likely feeling isolated, misunderstood, and lonely. Send a text, give them a call, a hug, invite them out… they may not respond, but your words and efforts can mean the world to someone who is suffering. Just a few seconds of thoughtfulness can be the difference between life and death.
When I was finally able to leave (a few seconds of bravery can radically change your life), I started practicing self-care and allowing people to see the real me. You can too. YOU are worth it – to the animals, the world, and to me! You deserve a beautiful life. We ALL do! If that’s not the very essence of veganism, I don’t know what it is!
OK! I want to throw an offer out there to all of my vegan warriors! If you are experiencing compassion fatigue or depression for any reason (even if you’re not vegan), you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on IG @VeganTreasureHunter!
If you are feeling overwhelmed or feel like you want to hurt yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ to chat with someone!
You are important. You are not alone. You are loved.