(photo of me from this year’s National Animal Rights Day)
I, like many of you, spend a lot of time looking at photos and watching videos of animal cruelty. Rarely do I go more than a few hours without being exposed to heartbreaking, upsetting, and often graphic images depicting violence or negligence towards animals- immoral crimes caused by human greed, ignorance, or stubbornness. Some of this exposure is due to personal research, some is due to the company I keep and the activists posting in my newsfeed. I frequently receive questions and comments from people asking how I can possibly keep my sanity when constantly bombarded with the devastation, or wondering if I sit in my room crying all day as a result of it. After receiving another such email yesterday, I decided to take some time to write about the issue, in hopes of not only answering this lovely lady’s questions, but also possibly helping some of you experiencing similar struggles or confusion.
I believe I have developed a non-physical muscle that allows me to put a certain degree of desensitivity (apparently not a real word) between subject I’m studying and me. This muscle hasn’t always been as strong as it is today, but after exercising it consistently for years, it had no choice but to develop and strengthen. When you lift weights, you inflict tiny tears into your muscles that, when healed, are replaced by stronger, bulkier fibers that prepare you to lift more the next time (that was the most unscientific, amateur way of explaining that process, but you get the point). I used to be incapable of even seeing a photo of a pig in a gestation crate without crying. However, through activism, I was forced to occasionally witness a short clip or photo of animal cruelty. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I got angry, and sometimes I just felt nauseous. Each time, my muscle was torn, then allowed to heal and grow tougher.
Now, there are times when this muscle fails me. Even athletes are capable of lifting too much, too many times, or under poor circumstances (insufficient sleep/food, hangover, etc.), resulting in injury. My equivalent to that is typically either exhaustion or too much wine. About once a month, I break down sobbing. It’s usually a combination of desperation on behalf of the animals, impatience with humanity’s slow pace of ethical evolution, frustration with people’s refusal to confront the truth, and sympathy for the confused, suffering animals (their confusion and lack of understanding of why they’re being treated/abused like they are is honestly the most upsetting thing I deal with, but that’s for another post). The people unlucky enough to be near me during said breakdowns hear (through sobs) a lot of “seriously, how is this possible?” and “how can rational people still defend this?”. Fortunately for them, this is a rare occasion, it becomes more rare as the years go by.
I also feed supplements to my muscle (I’m taking this metaphor a lot farther than I anticipated, but it still feels relevant). Much like bodybuilders who consume protein shakes to encourage and speed up their muscles’ healing and growing process, I infuse my muscles with nutritious thoughts. Knowing that my daily choices and actions are actively working to combat this horrific system of abuse is extremely helpful. The more time I spend organizing or participating in protests, sharing information about new cruelty-free products, advising vegan entrepreneurs or attending fundraisers for organizations making a difference, the less sore my muscle feels. Think about the refusals you hear from the average non-vegan consumer when you suggest they watch a one minute video depicting slaughter or animal cruelty. They know how awful it will be, so they just don’t do it. Because their choices and actions are not fighting the injustice (in fact, they are actually financially supporting it), their muscles are atrophied.
I also make time to acknowledge all the progress being made towards a more compassionate planet, whether it be noticing the vegan menus offered at every restaurant in Las Vegas’s Wynn Casino, receiving messages from long-lost friends telling me they’re going vegetarian or vegan, or hearing that Meatless Mondays were accepted into the San Diego public school system. I hear good news or see signs of progress almost every day, and this is incredibly beneficial to my muscle.
For example, last week I saw the documentary “Blackfish,” which, if you don’t know, exposes the crimes perpetrated by SeaWorld, both to humans and marine animals. I attended a mid-afternoon screening in Denver, CO (which isn’t the least progressive city around, but certainly isn’t hyped on animal activism like Southern California), and was thrilled to see the theater more than half full. To see a documentary screened in a small, artsy theater in a strip mall have that high of an attendance was incredible. I was so high on that excitement that I didn’t cry once during the film (which I know many of my friends cried throughout).
Some of these “we’re making progress” vitamins may contain a bit of naivety; I know we’re far from our ultimate goal of eradicating animal exploitation, but we’ll never get there without positivity. This doesn’t mean duping ourselves into believing that things are better than they are, but rather means celebrating, discussing, and appreciating the wins to boost our morale.
My muscle still hasn’t reached its ideal strength. I’m still unable to watch Earthlings in its entirety. I still can’t fathom working as an undercover investigator. Personally, I’m okay with that, because the moments of pain inspire, revitalize, and reawaken me. I promise though, it does get easier; the pain doesn’t have to consume your whole mind & body. At least not all the time. If you “exercise” properly, you won’t always feel like an infant trying to bench press 500 lbs.
On a final note, if you are experiencing so much pain and sadness that you feel it affecting your mental health, please talk to someone. The truth behind animal exploitation can be traumatizing, and everyone deals with it differently. We’re all in this together, but if you ever need to take some time away, please do so.
I hope some of what I’ve shared was helpful or at least informative regarding my personal process. Keep sharing, keep searching, keep celebrating, and keep believing.
Love to you all <3