If You Struggle Being Vegan In a Non-Vegan World
Clare Mann is an Australian-based psychologist, existential psycho-therapist, best-selling author, speaker, and communications trainer. She consults with people worldwide to help address the personal and social challenges of being vegan and living in a non-vegan world. Her most recent book Vystopia explores the struggles we can experience when we discover the systemised cruelty to animals in our world - and that others don't seem to care to change their consumer choices that directly contribute to this suffering. I know I felt the challenge when I became vegan 15 years ago... and while the awareness is expanding at a rapid rate, day to day their is still so much resistance we must learn to cope with so that it doesn't bring us down... because then we cant make any positive changes. Clare's works is incredibly important to be able to support us to FEEL and still be sensitive but not collapse while we navigate this complex world of ours!
Vystopia. I love this word. What do you describe it as?
It's a name that's given to an existential anguish that I believe vegans face when they come to know about the systematised cruelty towards animals. What happens when they start to tell others, is this trance like collusion with, sort of a matrix that people don't even realise they are a part of.
I'm talking about those who are largely driven by philosophy of non-use or exploitation of animals. So, someone who is on a plant-based diet for their health has less chance that they're going to feel totally, utterly traumatised by being told that what they are eating there really has to do with the dark world that we know of, of course, which would be the cruelty towards animals.
So when I say existential, that word comes from the philosophy of existentialism, which is the philosophy of what it is to exist. What's my place in the world? Who am I? "The world as I knew it", says the vegans, "is not how it is now". Everything is completely changed. There are things that I didn't know about.
So their world has changed. Instead of it being what I call a pathological illness, that's pop psychologists or psychiatrists might like to say, because of the anguish. It's actually an existential one. In other words, I woke up one day. The world is completely changed. There was a darkness, and a cruelty, and a dark side of greed and profiteering I see, that a lot of people don't even want to talk about. They certainly don't want to see anything. My world has changed. I live in the different world now not full of shiny people.
Do you think this is where the "angry vegan" stereotype comes from? I know I was that - when I first found out, and I was pissed off. I was pissed off that people weren't listening. People didn't care... the more angry I was the more I would want to talk about it. That's really just softened in me now. I'm still just as deeply upset and passionate about helping people become aware, and wanting to shift and change. But the anger has mostly gone now...
Yes, I do. I think this is where the medical association tends to conclude that it must be depression. Yet I think that's working through grief. I think there is a very deep grief, with, and a burden of knowing, as we call it, of knowing what is going on. And anger is a major part of being duped, of course. It's a huge loss of our world, of an otherwise reasonable people in my family or friend group. They're still colluding with this. And I think anger and rage is two fold. One's against the system that subjects animals to this for nothing more and consequential than profit, or gain. And then actually, an anger that comes when people won't even talk about it. When it fact, its got nothing to with the vegan. They're wanting to change the world for animals, not to get anyone on their side.
Have you found that lots of people that have been vegan have been diagnosed with depression and mental disorders?
Yes. In the last few years, which is one of the reasons it gave rise to me writing the book. Partly to validate the experience and give support to people, to heave a sigh a relief and go, oh my gosh, that's exactly what it is, and to explain it better. Doctors have actually started referring people to me, they say have eating disorders, and social adjustment disorders, and self harm, where they're looking at things that perhaps they shouldn't be looking at. And all of that, of course, causes anxiety, depression, all those sorts of things.
So they often get referred because of the symptoms, or when they try to tell the doctor. Perhaps he is a non-vegan. Then the person's getting diagnosed with these other issues.
Have you had any success in helping others to soften those symptoms that come with vystopia?
Yes. I would not have written the book if it was just to make people feel worse. To say look, this is how bad it is, without a way to transmute that agony into positive action, to be part of the solution.
So, absolutely. First, we have to put our oxygen mask on first. So when I'm talking to people, for me to provide them with the tools to process some of the enormity of how their world's changed. To deal with the grief and the pain of knowing, and to deal with... We look at depression as a thing where we feel depressed. Pushed down. We feel pushed down. We get people to work through that, so they can become empowered again.
They can't unknow it.
We can't pretend.
We've come out of the garden of Eden, so to speak. We can't unknow this. Now we've got a choice. It will never be OK, what we know. So there isn't a pleasant place for it to be. And so, I allow people to find their form of advocacy. In and of itself, being a vegan, of course, is the most important thing you can do, by example and by living out a light foot print. But finding what is your form of advocacy. And it may be cooking meals for your family, showing them how delicious vegan food is. It might be taking to the streets. It might be doing undercover work. It might be shedding of a business. It might be doing literaturing.
You have to do, find something, that transmits that grief and rage into something.
You can't do that until you process this grief and distress and despair about the world that has changed.
I sometimes get that feeling that what I'm doing is not enough. I get frustrated about it - that what I do isn't being "affective"enough. When I feel like this I'll go to my "happy place", and I'll just work with photography or Naturopathy, and really ignore the "vegan" space for awhile with all the suffering that occurs for the animals - and human race and planet!
And then I come back and take a deep breath and, I'm ready to go again.
Yes. I think it's a form of self preservation. When people are active in activism, where they're acting as the voice of the voiceless, with which I am involved in. People are doing so much, but sometimes they wake up one morning and they say, I don't feel anything anymore. I just can't do this anymore. I don't feel that this is making a difference.
Not only just in that way, but in anything. And I think that there is a level of self-preservation. I always say that they'll break down or break through.
If one becomes depressed, if you're depressed by it, and you feel hopeless, and you can't make a difference, that's not a good and current place to be in. It's certainly not good for the animals.
But, there's a level of self preservation that says, I need to put my energy back, and my soul back. It's really important. And that's one of the things that I started to say here, vystopia, in the book, what we start to look at. We've got to have levels of self care. You've got to constantly keep putting resources back into that bank of your well being, because you'll just get burned out. You're going to be you for the long haul. There's a lot of work to be done. And you can't be of value to self, to others, or the planet, or animals, if you're burned out. And so I think withdrawing for awhile, I think is quite common. And it can come from a place of self-preservation rather than of hopelessness, because otherwise the person then really becomes more depressed and hates themselves, because they feel that they are letting the animals down.
Self preservation is good. And to support ourselves, go back into the phase, so to speak, and look after yourself.
Do you think teenagers specifically would find this quite hard, when they find out about animal-cruelty and their parents are unsupportive? They would suffer from Vystopia? Do you have any advice for those young adults?
Yes. Absolutely. I think, thirdly, another form of vystopia, is the anguish for the young person taught to be autonomous all of their life. It's bad enough when one finds out and they can seek out other people, and can choose what to eat, and where you can make consumer choices. If you're confronted every day with animal products in the fridge, or your parents forcing you to eat certain things, particularly younger children, and it's a recipe for disaster for the child of course. And the parents, ultimately. And enormously difficult. I've certainly seen a lot of young people in the last two years, because they refuse to see anyone else, because they say, you know, I don't want to go to somebody who's going to try to talk me out of it. I need someone that understands.
And the parents become desperate, and then ultimately finds me, and because they want their child to live.
It's all just the same. You've got to have exquisite self care. You've got to realise that you will grow up, you will come out of that home. It's that at some level, you've been chosen to be part of the solution to this planet's problems. And that moral base line and help for animals is veganism. And so, to empower the young person to say, your part of the solution. You becoming vegan, in and of itself, is causing agitation to your family, because they've always done things like this. And, never underestimate the effect that you are having on them, just by what your choice is, by your choice to be this way.
And as every vegan knows, when they become vegan, they wish they knew 25 years go, 5 years ago, whatever it was, and they can't go back to it, when they wish they could. It's very important that that vegan realised their part of an instrument for change for their parents.
The more the parents resist, in many ways, is better that to be met with indifference, because indifference means it doesn't touch me. If someone's resistant and angry, you've actually pressed a button.
So to encourage young people to realise time will pass and you can grow up very quickly, to be a leader, really.
What are three specific tips for people to communicate with non-vegans effectively, whether they be partners, family or even say, for my young children at school.
Firstly it is difficult to have these conversations when people are literally eating, because it's huge amounts of association and emotion there, and I think it could work against us, because the person will just shoot the messenger. And so, the golden rules of all difficult conversations really are, ask a lot of questions. Don't do all the heavy lifting, I always say.
Of course it's not only vegans that bring these conversations up at the dinner table, or to anywhere else. And so, if someone asks why are you vegan, or why are you not eating that - you can answer that. But you've got to be able to ask them questions about why they're not. So make it a little bit of an even playing field.
They may respond with "that's not the question, why are you vegan?" You can respond, " Okay, so I'm up to the question, but what do you think a vegan is?" Get the words to come out of the person's mouth.
There's something very powerful, because ultimately in a conversation they'll see the disconnect. Ultimately, people want to see themselves as reasonable, kind people, on average.
If we just tell them, they just resist it. If you get it to come out of their mouth, they feel that they've got choice, for start. And they start to see disconnect for themselves.
It also gives the poor young vegan time to breathe and not sort of be under the spotlight all the time. That's going to be important.
Ask lots of questions. And then also realise that everywhere you go will continue a little more awareness. We think that as soon as we tell somebody something, they should change immediately. Honestly, logically, emotionally, spiritually, they should. And you and I know that.
But I think the senses are very, very strong, because people have to question much more in their life. If they accept the things that they have been told is a big lie, I think it's crippling to many people. Realising that it will continue in awareness, from total darkness, from I don't care and I go out hunting every weekend and being horrible, to being ethical and being an activist. And the young person's job is to nudge them along that continual increasing awareness, through every conversation, through every example, through every shared meal, through every looking to be a reasonable person, be a fun, interesting, healthy, you know, person at school that does well, and that just happens to be vegan.
I created with two other people a free resource - a free smart phone app, which is called Vegan Voices. It is 30 days of short videos of how to talk about veganism. Wonderful for young people and older ones alike, with some resources to forward to people. So, for young people, particularly, being on tech all the time, that can be a really useful resource. They can just flick their thing on social media, or email, or text, and actually send them some documentation, like a video or something like that.