are you a depressed vegan?
yay me too.
no, but seriously – it is an awful, awful mental illness.
it can be difficult to describe, especially when you are deep under its spell, but i will give it a shot right now – for people wanting to understand so as to be better support for their loved ones or for people who know this illness all too well but still find courage in learning from another’s experience and knowing that one more person are on this path somewhere with you too. and this can be really important for us vegans with depression because we can be already well acquainted with feelings of alienation and hopelessness in this violent world.
okay, so first things first:
there are many different kinds of depression.
- major (or clinical) depression – this is what i have been diagnosed with and so, i will talk about it, in how i experience depression, more down below
- manic depression (otherwise known as bipolar disorder), where folks experience extreme highs and lows of their mood & energy
- seasonal affective disorder, a depression that comes to people during the low periods of sunlight in the months of winter;
- psychotic depression, which is when you also have symptoms of psychosis (like hallucinations, delusions and paranoia)
- postpartum depression, which comes to womyn in the weeks and months after childbirth
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which is a depression that happens to some people during their periods
- situational depression, where folks really struggle to manage to cope with a particularly stressful life event
- atypical depression, which is when positive events have more success in improving your mood despite still having depression
whatever its form, depression is a terrible disease that always needs to be taken seriously. it has killed so many people and has consumed the lives of many more. it is an illness that i can only really describe as psychological torture, where you abuse yourself so often that it becomes normal because of you slowly numb to the pain that you continue to cause on yourself. but it is not “you” you causing that pain – that is the illness. an illness in your mind that makes you feel so sick that you begin to believe your thoughts, drown in your feelings, and think that you are all alone in this and so you will never ever feel better (but that’s not true and if you need to skip to the last paragraphs right now to know why then please do!).
and so too there are different kinds of veganism.
- there are vegans who “go vegan” because they really care about the natural world and want to be consuming with a smaller footprint
- there are vegans who really care about the health of their own body and want to be consuming things that heal them
- there are vegans who are confused what “vegan” actually means because they still eat fish or eggs for some reason as if these are vegetables?
- there are the accidental vegans, who don’t consume animal products because they are privileged enough to live in areas where produce and/or processed foods are available and affordable to consume without much extra effort.
- there are vegans who do it for ethics or morals or whatever word you prefer, because they really care about non-humans – enough to stop supporting industries that profit from their exploitation, abuse and mass murder.
and within these different styles of veganism, there are also different expressions of being vegan – you can meet vegans who high-road and guilt-trip others for not being as ethical, sustainable or healthy; or vegans who are aggressive and confrontational with others, bullying and taking up space; and vegans who are outgoing and flamboyant, sharing themselves with animals and others in relative ease; and there are the vegans who are quiet and withdrawn, (over) thinkers who spend great amounts of time reflecting and remembering, re-examining and reopening wounds to relive them – often re-triggering themselves in this process.
these vegans are the ones i identify with most (not that i or others can also have elements of any other of the above expressions or others that i’ve forgotten to list), and these are the vegans who i think are most likely to suffer from depression.
being a depressed vegan doesn’t mean that you are depressed because you live vegan – if anything, it’s more often fueled by thoughts that other people (especially ones you love) still continue to eat body parts of animals, your would-be friends.
and for some, like me, being a depressed vegan could mean that because you are depressed you became vegan – not as a fix-all remedy cure for a mental illness, but one important decision that helps you feel empowered by changing and growing as we all continue to learn just how cruel these human societies are that we are all born into and take up space in and benefit from in different degrees.
to experience depression, to live with depression, i’ll describe it here like the movie “groundhog day” – you are stuck in a time warp, but on a really bad day. so it is a kind of sadness that goes way far beyond “feeling sad”, and makes it so that you forget what it feels like to not be feeling sad. it causes you to act different – like grooming yourself less, eating more or instead of eating less, sleeping more or instead sleeping less, and making you lose interest in a lot of the activities you used to enjoy. and you yourself feel different too (or if this is how you’ve felt for a long time, then you start to become very bored and deeply unsatisfied in spending time with yourself). you feel exhausted before even getting out of the bed in the morning, and feeling confused about what emotion to believe. you feel like a worthless burden, making it hard to be around other people, and this all feeds into more feelings like guilt and shame, and eventually leads to feelings of bodily self-harm, and then suicide.
so that is what it feels like. but what it looks like, for people seeing it on the outside, can be simply confusing. because suddenly you stop coming out to protests, and you stop wanting to come to potlucks – because that stuff just doesn’t interest you right now. you become self-conscious about your changing appearance – because you worry that others will blame your veganism for why you look so sick. you stop contributing your time and efforts to help animals – because you are just too fucking tired today to worry about someone else (but that doesn’t stop you from constantly reminding yourself that animals everywhere are living and dying horribly, and so you feeling sad for “no clear reason” sounds really selfish).
and soon people in your life, who may mean well, start to ask you inappropriate questions and offer bad advice that you never asked for in the first place. but you are too weary physically and disoriented mentally that you don’t know who to ask for help and how to ask that question. and all this just makes you feel worse – because you feel very weak, very powerless and like you are a sinking ship out in the middle of a deep ocean. you feel like you’ve abandoned your human comrades & your non-human animal cousins when they all need you most.
and in this deep fog of depression, you silently whimper and resign to watching passively as some body-snatching alien poses as you, and does a really bad job at convincing anyone. and this is a big reason (among many other reasons) why so many people are uncomfortable around people with mental illness, because they see you as very different despite showing no external scars like that of a physical sickness. and with all the stigma about mental health that our colonial governments and elitist media perpetuates, we have learned to fear illnesses of the mind as something dangerous and scary. and us depressed vegans internalize all this too, so that we start to doubt whether we are even really sick anymore and maybe just actually a terrible person. we forget which part is the illness and which part is the you, struggling to come to the surface and live life again.
so how do you know if you have depression?
well because i don’t have any formal education or training, i obviously cannot diagnose you. so please go to someone professional to talk to and see what they tell you. if anything i’ve written above made you think “yes that is so me”, then make visiting a family or walk-in doctor a priority for you this week.
some other good tells for you right now can be reflecting on your mood over your life – do you have on-and-off bad days, and feel down when traumatic life events happen to you? well that is not depression. that is living life with emotions.
having depression is feeling sad, feeling anxious, feeling regretful, feeling alienated, feeling apathy, and feeling this almost all the time – in such a way that it regularly affects your life for the worse.
and depressed people can be happy and can be in love and can be vegan. so please don’t think that you cannot be depressed because you are feeling happy right now, or because you’re in (platonic) love with a dog(s) or kitty(s), or because you’re thinking about some tasty food in you are going to eat after reading this.
okay now here is the feel-good, “it gets better”, you-can-do-it portion.
- first up, you need to understand that depression is an illness. just like you wouldn’t hesitate to get help for a physical illness, you cannot neglect that your mind may be chronically ill and needs your help in feeling better.
- the second step, if you think you have depression, you need to ask for help now. so think of someone you really trust in your life and tell them you need their support as you begin the process of receiving treatment (and it’s fine too if your life currently doesn’t have any relationships like that, but you still need to find some local medical help to guide you on what you need to do in your life). that is the a big step, and for me it was the hardest.
- third, you need to be kind to yourself. like really fucking campy generous kind. if you’ve been suffering for a while, this will be harder to do, because your relationship with yourself is going to be really damaged. it’s damaged because the symptoms of depression have normalized to you that you can be super abusive to yourself and that it is acceptable because you deserve it. but that’s never ever true. so instead, as you work on restoring all the harm done and work at trying to hold yourself accountable in a patient calling-in style, you could start treating yourself like you would a friend. so say if you’re lucky enough to care for an animal in your life, then imagine how you would care for them if they had depression – you wouldn’t say mean things to them or bully them for being sick.
- fourth, remember you are enough (never too much or too little) and remember your feelings are always valid. don’t ever apologize for being you or for feeling what you feel. i don’t care if you or others think you’re being irrational, unreasonable or too emotional. just keep shrugging that talk off your shoulders because there are always reasons for why you feel what you’re feeling (whether its external triggers in your life or internal trauma you need to cope with or personality habits you are learning to recognize or neurological systems in your head that still need to be understood). if it helps, start finding some believable affirmations to tell yourself.
- and finally, remember to be patient with yourself through all this. this is not a race or a competition for who can heal the fastest. you focus on doing you and that is all you can ever do, okay? try different strategies for helping you cope – like writing a journal or doodling your feelings or starting an anonymous blog or making music. all that can really help your practice at communicating with others and can help your inner self come to the surface. and if it helps, think of your thoughts and feelings as clouds passing over you – don’t try to chase the happy ones and don’t try to run away from the sad or angry ones. instead, if you practice at just cloud-watching – and watching in a way that is not judging each cloud for what you think it should look like, or what your expectations were of what that cloud should be making you feel – you can begin to see them as all just clouds passing by in your life. and that’s really it. everything in your life is changing and passing. and that includes your depression, and your relationship with veganism too. it’s all changing and you can never stop that. you can struggle and put a lot of stress and pain on yourself in trying, but it still passes. yes, it is often times overwhelming, suffocating, intoxicating to feel these feelings, but you can remember that it is good not to be the tin person from oz who doesn’t have a heart. your feelings have the potential to also be great and exhilarating life moments. so remember that when you are really hopeless and lost: this spell will pass soon enough and you will feel happy again, and you deserve that.
okay that’s all.
i hope it helped.
bye for now.
(image credit to Emm’s Positivity Blog)