You might as well know that I suffer from depression – not an uncommon affliction these days although still misunderstood with all kinds of stigma attached to it. It doesn’t look the same for everyone either which makes it additionally difficult to understand and deal with. There are days when I would like nothing more than to get away from myself for a few hours and I completely understand why people take substances – illegal or prescription – to try to do that very thing. You just want your brain to stop once and awhile.
I’ve referred to the experience of becoming vegan as transformative and although it hasn’t eased my depression any (the knowledge of animal suffering has just given me more to be depressed about), in an odd way, it has helped me to cope.
For example, when I have a particularly bad bout of depression, I get more anxious easily so I have to avoid situations that are going to make me worse. That’s not always possible and rush hour on public transportation could send even Dolly Parton into a tailspin of despair. But as I stand there, shoved in with the masses, unable to move an inch without stepping on someone, I now think of the animals. They have to endure these conditions every single day of their lives, with no chance of a door ever opening so they can run free.
Even in the areas not related to depression – just the day-to-day stuff – I often think of the animals. For instance, I’m a wuss in extreme cold. It’s as though my veins stop working and my blood doesn’t move past my core – not a great attribute to have as a Canadian. But when I’m cold, I now think of the animals, trucked across the country in slaughterhouse trucks for up to 36 hours not only in severe temperatures but with no food, water or rest.
Even the really superficial stuff, like waxing my eyebrows and upper lip which I do myself and control every step of, I still have to take a deep breath before I rip the hair out. But in that moment, now all I think of are the geese and ducks, plucked raw of their feathers and down while fully conscious. Or Angora rabbits, their fur ripped off repeatedly and then left to cower in the corner of their cages, traumatized from the ordeal.
The worst thing though is that whatever stress or sadness I might be feeling in a day, I have some idea of when it’s going to end; I have choices available to me and coping strategies that I can use to try to return to my usual self. But the animals have no way of knowing when their suffering will end. There is no human to reassure them that this will all be over soon; no one to hold them to let them know they’re safe. For animals on factory farms, their lives consist of ruthless suffering and endless uncertainty. They have no escape.
The animals get me through. Being vegan is a way to eliminate their complete suffering. But some days, it just doesn’t feel like enough. As I stand there in a crowded subway car, trying to breathe and stay calm and counting down the number of stops left, I think of the millions of animals that will never know anything else but a crowded and noisy car, shed, cage, pen or stall. It’s then that I ask myself: what more can I do to get them through?