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On Coping Mechanisms

Yesterday, Abby wrote:

Off topic, but I was wondering if you have any advice for those of us who are highly emotionally sensitive and also interested in animal welfare issues? I get so sad when I hear about the mistreatment of animals that it really affects me, but at the same time I want to be able to create change in the world. How do you deal with this and diffuse the anger and sadness that you must feel? Can you please share your spiritual beliefs or coping mechanisms? Thanks so much.

Abby, I too get very upset by stories and images of what occurs every second of every day to nonhumans and humans alike.
The suffering in this world that occurs at the hand of humankind and is entirely intentional, is disgusting and dispiriting. I long for the realistic hope that one second will pass without torture and slaughter and enslavement, and I know perfectly well that that second, despite Earth Days and Earth Hours and Meat-Free Days, isn't going to happen. People are simply too selfish.

What to do . . .
If you haven't, I recommend pattrice jones' Aftershock.

As for me, I meditate (I do Transcendental Meditation, but I don't know that the result is any different from mindfulness and other meditation techniques) daily.

I also exercise daily. I am a kinesthetic learner and thinker and all of my best ideas occur when I'm running or walking or doing yoga, pilates or Budokon. And when I don't exercise I am miserable mentally and physically.

I choose not to watch videos or bombard myself with images of suffering. I know it's out there. I've seen enough of it for plenty of lifetimes. I don't need to "remind myself" of how bad it is to bolster my commitment to veganism. When a new video is released on YouTube of abuse at a slaughterhouse (as if it's not all abuse, by the way), I don't watch.

I don't surround myself with people just like me. I surround myself with people whom I like for one reason or another, many of whom become "projects" for me. Some don't, as I know that they will never change and have no desire to change (though I remain hopeful).

I spend plenty of time doing nonprofit work that is unrelated to animals and also doing for-profit work that is unrelated to animals. In other words, I don't immerse myself in animal cruelty.

Why? Because I would have a breakdown.

I know myself and I know how sensitive I am, regardless of how I might appear. And I know that, for instance, I simply don't have the skill set to be an undercover person who documents abuse. I don't even have the skill set to be the person who reviews the evidence and builds a case. And I am not made of the stuff that can survive such jobs and still remain effective.

So I do what I can do, beginning of course with being vegan.

Spiritual beliefs? I don't believe in god and I lean toward this not being our only life, but whether or not it is is immaterial. I do what I do because it's the right thing to do–not because I want a reward or fear punishment. My life isn't about calculated karmic management, either. The purpose of my life is to be the best human being I can be and to leave this planet knowing I did what I could to make it a better place.

And I can't fulfill my purpose if I'm a mess and I've lost my ability to be effective. So I take care of myself. And part of meeting my own needs, by the way, is the need to care for animals who have been discarded. I rescue, I adopt, I do TNR, and I connect others to resources to do the same.

Finally, caring for myself includes having a support system composed of people who understand my pain and don't mock it or minimize it. Connecting with and sharing with people who know what it is to ache for the suffering of others is an important part of maintaining sanity and wholeness.

I welcome anyone else's thoughts, and thanks again Abby for the comment.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. bloggabix #

    I have been doing TM for years and have nothing but good effect from the twice-daily practice. It reduces stress, keeps me healthy and happy. And it is completely effortless to do, and so simple to learn. And what I also like about TM is that there are over 600 studies showing how good it is for my mind and body. Have a look at the web site for all scoop on the Transcendental Meditation program.

    April 18, 2009
  2. Mary, thanks for your wise advice. I too found Aftershock helpful in offering coping strategies, first and foremost to take care of oneself. While I don't meditate I find great console in being in my yard, close to nature and protected from the outside world. You're braver than I though in your connection with the public… I don't know that I enjoyed human companionship so much before becoming vegan, let alone after. I participate in some Meetup functions… unfortnately activities are usually several hours away… So I sent out feelers to start a group closer to home… Still no takers, but I'm not giving up just yet.

    I still love beautiful music… and am trying to rekindle my passion for painting. Art is a wonderful escape… "to get out of one's head", so to speak.

    I agree about the slaughterhouse and abuse videos… Initially they seem appropriate to "resensitize" awareness, (and to confirm that what you're seeing is real). But after a point it's just too horrible to bear and serves no longer serves a purpose. And anyway, like all violence, each becomes indistinguishable from the next. I can no do without the different flavors of torture…

    You didn't mention therapy… but following Pattrice Jones' suggestion I attempted such. There were five interviews with professionals in the field. One suggested a dietary change, (and guess to what?), two declined consultation because they thought "my issue" was better handled by a priest or clergy member. Another was an eager man who said he wasn't aware that "vegans" existed outside of California… (huh?) And finally there was a man whose waiting room was filled with photos of his wife's champion Chihuahuas, which was her hobby to breed. So, if there are any therapists in the Central Florida area – I'm still in the market… and would love to chat!

    And although it is critical to healing, finding anyone to validate my sympathies towards animals has been difficult. I think it requires looking too closely at a situtation they'd rather leave alone. Self imposed or not, I think there's an isolation one accepts as the norm… There's not too many invites to costume parties if you're calling the emperor naked. And there's only so much lip biting I'm willing to do.

    You're lucky to have found your support system – I suppose that explains why on so many occasions you have allowed yourself to be mine.

    Thanks Mary… for all you've done for me, and many others of us here. Oh yeah, and for the remarkable work you do for the animals – praise galore. 😉

    April 18, 2009
  3. mary martin #


    I'm not sure I've found therapy particularly useful for this particular purpose. In fact, I've been in therapy, on and off, for over 25 years. And when I first went vegetarian when I was in my teens, my therapist thought I had an eating disorder and tried to get me to eat animals.

    I kid you not.

    I do know that there are therapists who treat their clients solely by phone. I have a girlfriend who lives in manhattan and her therapist does too but she "sees" him by phone because it's easier/more convenient for her.

    Your therapist can be anywhere. I'll ask around and e-mail you.

    And yes, bloggabix, I am aware of the studies demonstrating the benefits of TM. But it is expensive to learn, and other meditation techniques have also been demonstrated to be beneficial.

    April 18, 2009
  4. Mary, you're kind…

    But why would we think it's strange for a therapist to recommend eating animals for mental health… especially if you're ethically opposed to it? I swear, either people don't listen or refuse to acknowledge what they hear…

    I'm inclined to agree with you that therapy for this particular situtation is difficult. It's not like grief from a single death, which one eventally moves on from. But rather, the mourning is constant because the injustices never cease. And on very bad days – a blue pill would make all the difference.

    Thanks for your trouble… and always, thanks for your friendship.

    April 18, 2009
  5. I second what Mary said about meditation and exercise. I also avoid caffeine and spicy foods when I'm around non-vegans (which is almost always). I find even a little bit of overstimulation makes me want to rant. Sugar affects me similarly but more mildly.

    It is very hard for me to be any kind of activist. I don't have the personality for it, and it is hard for me to understand how other people's minds work. I don't deserve any special credit for overcoming all the socialization and rationalizations that hijack other people's minds. For some reason I was impervious to it from the beginning. Because of that I don't know how to help others overcome their rationalizations, but I am getting better. It helps to learn a little bit about cognitive biases and how they affect people's thinking.

    My own kind of activism is through my cooking (and forcing to everyone to go to vegan restaurants whenever they eat out with me). I have dinner parties and also try to bring food with me when I visit people. I offer to bring the food on hikes and trips. This accomplishes several things. It saves lives, obviously. But I also put a lot of care into what I make so it is absolutely delicious and people will realize how good vegan food can be. Sharing food is also such a good way to create warm feelings on both sides, so it's a kind of gentle activism that doesn't create any tension. And it works, at least a little. Sometimes people ask me to bring large batches of something that freezes well when I visit (marinated baked tempeh freezes well and makes great sandwiches). I also occasionally teach people to cook.

    I am also putting together a website that I hope will be a helpful place for seasoned and new vegans to mingle. I think putting up information on the web for new vegans, aspiring vegans, or even just the health conscious or environmentalists makes a difference. Every additional little piece of the web dedicated to veganism helps, I think.

    I also try to cheer myself up by thinking about how things are likely to change in the future. A couple of years ago there was the first international in vitro meat conference in Oslo. Apparently things are developing quickly and we may be only a few years away from the first artificial meat. Realistically, I think this is what it will take for large numbers of people to go vegan — food that is cheaper, tastier and easier on the environment than meat.

    I recently joined Twitter and it has been a relief to know that there's a community of ethical vegans out there, since I know so few in real life (even though I live in CA!).

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Mary, and the Aftershock suggestion. I will check it out.

    April 19, 2009
  6. Abby #

    Thank you, Mary, and everyone who commented. I truly appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your own experiences.

    April 21, 2009

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