One day while desperately searching for a vegan psychologist to talk about the anguish and despair I was experiencing from knowing what was happening to animals in our food system, I came across a term I had never heard before: Vystopia. You may be wondering what Vystopia is and why it’s important. Vystopia is a term coined by Dr. Clare Mann, an Australian vegan psychologist, existential psycho-therapist, best-selling author, and communications trainer. And author of the book, Vystopia: The Anguish of Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, that I highly recommend.
Vystopia is defined by Dr. Mann as the “existential crisis experienced by vegans, arising out of an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world and the awareness of the greed, ubiquitous animal exploitation, and speciesism in a modern dystopia.”
Now, if you’re vegan for the animals, like I am, it can be extremely overwhelming to think about the ways in which animals are exploited and killed every minute in our world. Before becoming vegan, I truly loved animals—even went vegetarian at 12 years old. I spoke out about the fur industry, animal testing and even the meat industry. However, it was another 20 years before I learned the truth about the egg and dairy industries. Once that veil was lifted, there was no turning back.
I became an animal rights (AR) activist shortly after going vegan. As an AR activist, I watched a lot of undercover footage from factory farms, slaughterhouses, medical labs, etc., and quickly realized the true extent of what animals live through on this planet. I also became painfully aware that most people DO NOT CARE. To say it was upsetting, would be putting it mildly. It would keep me up at night, and I cried…a lot. It was so disturbing that on occasion I would have what I can only describe as an episode of PTSD, where I would be, in my mind and for a brief moment, in the position of that animal. I distinctly remember reading a PETA exposé about sheep in Australia, being beaten with the shears, thrown around, kicked, punched and for a few terrible moments I was one of those terrified sheep in that shearing shed. I completely lost it, had a meltdown and sobbed uncontrollably. That was when I knew I needed to seek help. Thoughts of suicide, loss of appetite and feeling miserable were all part of my journey.
The “vegan psychologist” I found that day while desperately searching (not Dr. Mann), was completely unhelpful and only wanted to give me a medical marijuana card. I didn’t want her stupid card, I wanted someone I could talk to about what I was feeling. She gave me a sample of some pills that were supposed to be “all natural” and help lift my spirits. I got home, read the label and there was milk in them. Talk about a dagger to the heart! It was in that moment that I knew I needed to help myself get through this. I immediately started a self-care routine with meditation, yoga and check-ins with my wife—my biggest supporter and best friend. I also became active with street outreach events and got myself more “vegan-for-the-animals” friends, which helped immensely.
Having this routine completely helped shift my thinking and allowed me to look deeper within myself and figure out ways in which I could channel my sadness, anguish and other unpleasant thoughts and emotions into self-love, acceptance and understanding. I know I cannot change the world overnight, but I can do everything in my power to speak up for those who are ignored. Animals are innocent. They don’t deserve what is happening to them, and every active vegan is a bright light for them, helping others see the dystopian world we live in.
I can’t say that sadness and despair don’t sneak up on me still. They definitely do, but I now have ways of dealing with them and focusing my energy on what I can control. I will never stop speaking up and raising awareness about what animals are going through. I thank all of the brave animal rights activists who speak the truth, even when we’re mocked, belittled, scorned or killed for our activism efforts. Regan Russell, pictured right, was killed by a truck transporting pigs to the slaughterhouse. She was a brave, compassionate soul, trying to show pigs love before being brutally slaughtered. She will not be forgotten! Rest in Power, Regan.
Please visit this link to learn more about overcoming Vystopia: https://www.livekindly.co/how-vegans-can-overcome-their-vystopia-and-change-the-world/
Cynthia Leech is a September 2018 graduate of Main Street Vegan Academy, and holds her certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. During this pandemic, she has spent her time doing online activism, helping others understand the animal cruelty that goes into their food, clothing, medications, etc. She, her wife, Emily, and their six pets reside in Connecticut.