This piece melds my two journeys as a vet nurse and a vegan, and reasons why I stopped one of those. It’s angry. It’s about trying to see a way out. It’s recognising bad self-care. It’s a view of my tangled ethical opinions.
I’m sick of inaction. I’m sick of signing petitions. I’m sick of having to explain myself every time I politely refuse cupcakes in the lunch room. Why are religious beliefs and health choices unquestionable reasons to avoid dairy, but my logical ethical decision based on SCIENCE is up for debate every time someone sees me touch food? I’m sick of watching peoples’ brains block off the connections between patting their cat and shovelling a steak into their gob. I’m sick of standing on bridges in silent protest. I’m sick of reassuring opposition by insisting I don’t care what other people eat because it has to be their own choice to change. I’m sick of being nice because I have to “take the high road” and not be seen as an extremist.
I’m over driving on roads and seeing chicken feet on the side. I’m over smelling sheep on their way to the port, honking my horn but feeling guilty because “it’s not the driver’s fault”, and crying while I vomit out my window. I’m over hearing conservationists talk of the feral animals they hate and explain the new methods of genocide they’ve got funding for, this disturbing culture of one life means more than another. I’m over reading the statistics from the local cat shelter and thinking “oh that’s a better number of euthanased cats this year”. What the fuck is a BETTER NUMBER of cats to die? I’m over normalising scheduled murder.
Years of taking in all that visceral emotional trauma and cleaning up the bloody putrescent mess made by others, and turning around and smiling at the counter and the public and my family and my bosses, and saying I love my job when actually I hate every single human being because of what they’ve done or let happen to animals, has taken it’s toll on every mental physical emotional and soul shaped part of my self. I can’t think of the few animals I have helped and forget the countless I’ve had to watch leave knowing they wouldn’t get what they need, forget the hundreds of bodies I’ve wrapped and put in freezer bags, forget the ones I’ve euthanased myself because the vets asked me to because we all agreed to break the law and end their suffering right this second rather than wait half an hour to tick all the protocol boxes and have a vet do it. Can’t forget the days and nights I’ve spent feeding bathing medicating holding cuddling kissing and singing to baby animals to have them passed back to me cold and dead two days later because treatment couldn’t be continued on monetary grounds. I could write novels of the horrors I’ve seen and been a part of, and maybe I should, but writing it and reading it would just bring upon secondary traumatic stress disorder and accomplish nothing positive. Anyone who disbelieves the problems we have with treatment to animals can’t have their minds changed with stories, even though I try to shock people into listening at a party or in a store or in a tearoom at work, even as I step by step explain how pigs are starved beaten crushed gassed and exsanguinated to become their apparently divine bacon. And anyone who believes it doesn’t need anymore evidence of the death toll. I don’t want to inflict more suffering on them. I don’t want anyone to end up as cold hearted as I have.
Why do I feel like I have to build up this polite exterior shell so nobody thinks that vegans are rude or uneducated or forceful or ever going to cause a problem? Because I don’t want to give us a bad name? How is taking action a bad name? We’re not doing this because we just want to talk about saving animals. The only way for there to be actual change is for us to actually make those changes. Not just influencing companies to sell a dairy free item or two by whinging at supermarket managers and buying all their stock for six months.
My identity as a vegan and a vet nurse are built upon each other. I became a vegan whilst learning the science that built vet medicine. It was impossible to ignore the science of suffering. But I couldn’t accomplish anything more as a nurse without sacrificing my own health. I am quite sure that I would have ended my own life within a year or so had I continued. I can think of too many others in the industry who have. I began to hate every single pet owner who bought a purebreed, or made a simple mistake like building a too low fence or feeding their dog scraps. Then I hated every pet owner ever. I hated the people I worked with that took home strays. They were all about to become hoarders, in my eyes. I saw no goodness in anyone. I hated myself the most, for making a living out of this, for telling clients they were doing a good job, for selling bullshit lies about animal ownership. I hated myself for all the things I’d done before I was a vegan that contributed to animal suffering. This was a depressing, helpless, overwhelming feeling, knowing the legal barriers to actually achieving any change in the publics perception of animal guardianship responsibility. Without some politician picking up the cause, the punishments will never deter the backyard breeders, the fighting ring owners, the abusers and neglectful, and the wilfully ignorant. As a vegan I have a legion of activists with experience and no professional bounds to adhere to or hierarchical structures to impose limits. I feel strong backing for my ideals. By wanting change, I am not the minority amongst vegans. A destroyed persona is common, but being a vegan is uncommon amongst vet nurses. The destroyed persona can envisage nothing other than a black maw swallowing them. The vegan can see a whole world of potential for change.
And so I try so hard to be positive, to see the change we have achieved and the time and space opening up in front of us for more change. I try to forgive myself, turn the anger outwards and turn it into action and not just pure hatred. I try so fucking hard.