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Tracey [userpic]

Veganism and Chronic Illness: a reflection

October 25th, 2015 (01:05 pm)

How do you handle having a chronic illness that needs treatment with medications that have been tested on animals given you are against animal testing and torturing and killing animals for the sake of "science"?

I find myself wondering this all the time. I have had type one diabetes since the age of 12 and the discovery of insulin involved the unneccessary use of dogs, plus until recently when they started producing insulin synthetically, pig insulin was used. Without getting into the details, I feel guilty all the time for those who suffered and died so that I could live. Many, many didn't have to suffer and die in order for these discoveries to be made (see Dr. Ray Greek's writings on this). I could go through the statistics, but there are many great sources out there that list them and I will assume if you are reading this you probably are already aware that jumping from mice to humans isn't a good predictor for anything:

What I want to talk about here is the emotional impact - the guilt, the shame - that can come with needing to treat your chronic illness using medications and knowledge that came from brutal animal exploitation. Someone could choose not to use the medications that have the trail of dead animal bodies behind them, but then we end up suffering more ourselves. I have to take insulin or I will die. Same with my mood disorder that leaves me suicidal when not treated properly with medication (along with therapy). If I don't treat my chronic pain from fibromyalgia, I won't be able to do much of anything (functioning wise), let alone advocate for better scientific methods that do not involve the exploitation of non-human animal bodies.

What I find myself left with is treating my illnesses as best I can so that I am in a better position to be able to do activist work to create change in the world. I dream of the day when I don't have to participate in the exploitation of animals for my health. I feel so bad about this situation. I feel ashamed. My life is not worth more than those animal lives. I fully believe this with all my heart. So what do I do to deal with this guilt and shame?

I think we need to, as a community, talk about these feelings and acknowledge them. We are not at fault for being sick and needing help to survive. That said, our emotions are real and valid and talking about them is important. We are not alone, as I'm sure many vegans deal with this issue all the time. Many have the choice not to take antibiotics or medications for mild issues and they don't. But some of us are not that lucky and we find ourselves having no real choice but to take the medications to treat our illnesses - for the time being, anyways.

The next big piece is activism. Education on what is actually going on in the labs and what the better alternatives are and then spreading that knowledge as far and wide as possible. Talking to students who are going to be doing science. Advocating for humane education so that the ethically-minded students who will become the ethically-minded scientists of tomorrow get through school instead of being weeded out. Support those students and enable them to use alternative teaching tools. Support ethical scientists (they are out there) and bring awareness of their work to the world. There are new exciting technologies being developed as I type this that will replace animal bodies in research.

That is what gives me hope. So when I feel down, I grasp this hope and hold onto it with all I have. I have been dealt this hand in life and need to make the best of it. I cannot let the grief overcome me, or I will not be able to be the advocate I need to be. As a community of animal activists, we need to realize there are those of us who cannot help but participate in animal exploitation and we need help to make change in the area of animal testing and research.

What are your thoughts on this issue? How do you deal with needing to treat your chronic illness and being vegan?

Tracey [userpic]

How to reach out to a friend with chronic illness

October 12th, 2015 (07:48 am)

Nothing is worse than suffering from chronic illness - except suffering alone.
There have been times in my life where I have felt so alone that I felt I could not go on. But we are never alone - someone always cares. Sometimes - often times - they just don't know how to tell you they care.They don't know what to say or how to say it.

The first part of this post will discuss this dynamic from my experience with a friend who died from cancer. Then I will move on to talking about how to reach out - both those who are suffering and those who want to be there for someone who is suffering.

It's not a perfect process, and mistakes will be made. But, it's important that we at least try and are honest with one another, nurturing those "real" relationships that make life worthwhile. Not those fake ones that are superficial (although they have their place in life), but those deep ones that create real connection and love. It's not easy for anyone when someone is suffering. But if we all reach out and are there for one another, a lot of healing can happen.

I have suffered from many illnesses in my lifetime. It's not an easy road to travel, but it's the hand I've been dealt. The best relationship I've had is with my now husband. We get each other. We understand each other's pain but we don't try to "fix it" - we just listen. That's the biggest lesson we've had to learn. You can't take on each other's problems, but you can stand by one another as you deal with life.

My best friend died when we were 24 after she battled terminal brain cancer for three years. She taught me so much in those three years, especially those last 8 months, that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

The biggest lesson was how to be there for someone when you can't "fix it". Some people seemed to immature to deal with it and so they left her feeling like they didn't care. She actually said that to me one day - "no one cares, it's not them dying". It broke my heart. "I CARE!" I told her. And I knew other people cared. They just didn't know how to deal with it all, so they tried to pretend everything was fine. But it wasn't. And so the pink elephant sat in the back of the room feeling ignored and unloved.

I tried to follow her lead. Did she want to talk about it? Did she want to pretend she was okay? I had no idea. So I let her lead the conversations, but gave her lots of opportunity to open up if that was what she wanted. It was a fine line to walk. Sometimes we want to be "normal", just do normal stuff. Other times we need to talk about those deep feelings and have someone listen and say "I care that you're hurting. I can't fix it, but I care".

My friend wanted to enjoy the time she had left, to really live, but she also had pain and low energy. Instead of getting her to do what I wanted to do for the day, I would ask her. We'd meet for breakfast every Sunday and go grocery shopping afterwards together. I lived across the street from the store, so we'd rest at my place afterwards before she went on the journey home. We made chocolate muffins and she dusted them with icing sugar and put them on the windowsil to cool. We watched the flowering tea together, pure delight on her face. We shared a delicious brownie together and she decided to have a second one all to herself. All these moments were precious. And I cherished every single one of them and still do.

But others were not so willing to do what she wanted to do and at the pace she needed to go at. One friend she'd known since elementary school called her up and asked if she wanted to go to the bar that night. My friend said she was too tired to go out. I would have said "movie night?", but this friend appparently just said she would go out without her. She was hurt. Didn't people realize she wouldn't be around much longer? Didn't people want to spend time with her? She concluded no one cared. But was this really the case?

Another group of friends wanted to stop by a mall on the way back from visiting her in the hospital, so they cut the visit with her short - it ended up being the last time they saw her alive. I was getting a ride with them, so I couldn't stay longer. I decided the next weekend to rent a car and go by myself so that I could spend that time with her and it ended up being the weekend she died. I got to be there with her family as she passed. All these other people arrived while she was dying and if I had relied on them I would have missed everything. I learned that I have to take initiative and not follow the lead of others if I am to have those meaningful relationships. I need to get in the drivers seat and not wait for someone else to do what I think needs to be done.

The night after she died some of us got together for drinks and some things were said that really bothered me. Someone said "she was hard to be around sometimes". Her exboyfriend and one of her best friends said "I just wasted six years on a girl who doesn't exist anymore". My heart, what was left of it that day, broke in half. Didn't these people care? Didn't they get that she was wonderful, that she's gone and it's horrible?

After processing all that happened, I've come to the conclusion that people say things that they don't really mean all the time when they don't really know what to say. Grief especially does this. We aren't taught in school how to grieve, how to deal with uncomfortable emotions, how to express our feelings and not judge them. I judged these people, when really they were lost and hurting too. They just kinda put their feet in their mouths. And that happens all the time when we are overwhelmed and don't know what to do.

So what do we do when someone is suffering and we don't know what to say or do?
Here is what I've learned:

1) Tell them you care, but you don't know what to say or do. It's okay to be honest and not know what to do.

2) Just be there. Listen. Follow their lead.Give them the opportunity to talk about deep stuff, but also give them the opportunity to just breathe and do silly stuff. Watch movies with them, colour with them, make dinner with them or for them. Just be with them.

3) Ask them what they need. Do they need someone to get groceries for them? Help clean up their place? Sit with them by their bedside and read to them from their favourite book? Sometimes they just want company. And sometimes they don't know what they need. But just hearing you offer can be huge.

4) Know when you are overwhelmed and tell them. Tell them when you think they need outside help, that it's beyond you to help with something so big. You can offer to go to a doctor's appointment with them to talk about this stuff. Be an advocate. Educate yourself on the illness if you can.

5) Take care of yourself. Seek out support yourself. I had therapy while my friend was dying and after she died. I knew I couldn't deal with it by myself. Self care is so important. You can't help others without taking care of yourself first.

What about when we're on the other side? What do we do to reach out to our friends when we feel alone and like we need support?
Here is what I've learned:

1) Think about who you're reaching out to. We all know those people who are supportive. If they've been there for you in the past, they might be there for you now. That said, they might not be. If that's the case, move on to someone else. Keep reaching out until you find someone who responds.

2) Be honest about what you need. Say something like "I just need someone to listen" or "I just want some company, I've been struggling lately with my health problems and I just need someone by my side. I don't expect you to fix it, I just need someone to stand by my side while I deal with this".

3) Seek professional help too. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you for support.

4) Ask for help with the stuff that's overwhelming you - groceries, cleaning, cooking. People like to help and if they have a task they can help you with, it makes them feel good. It's a concrete way of helping that most people can handle. It's okay to ask for help.

5) Know that people care even if they can't be there right away or they say the wrong thing. This is a hard one, especially when you're depressed. Depression sucks the life out of you and tells you lies. People make mistakes, especially when they don't know what to say or do. Give them the opportunity to reach out to you again, but don't expect miracles. Some people will never "get it" and it's got nothing to do with you or your worth. Others grow. But, try to surround yourself with people who you think do get it on some level. Support groups are great places to make friends like this. Look into in-person support groups in your area, and also look online. There are some great online supports for all kinds of health issues. It's amazing to talk to others who share in your pain and "get it".

I hope some of these ideas help paint a picture of ways of reaching out to one another when illness is involved in your relationships.

And remember:
Never give up on someone with an illness. When "i" is replaced by "we", "illness" becomes "wellness".

Tracey [userpic]

The long journey behind me and before me

October 2nd, 2015 (10:18 pm)

How I'm Feeling: thoughtful

I have been on a journey, as they say. Life is like a journey, isn't it? Some things we choose, others just happen. I felt for a long time that things just kept happening to me and I was lost on this ocean of pain - emotional and physical. I finally feel like I'm somewhat in the drivers seat, although life still controls the road and many of the sites I see and learn from along the way. We are all works in progress, sometimes swimming and sometimes treading water. That's a lot of anaology. But it's real to my story.

It's hard to know when and what to disclose to people, as well as who, and I've found myself in different states of mind when it comes to just that throughout my life. My first big experience with mental health crisis led me to be an open book, no longer ashamed of my experiences and how i was feeling. i lost a lot of people in my life back then, but I thought "good - now I know who my true friends are and who I can count on, who is real with me". I've come to realize that some people don't have the knowledge or even the faintest idea of how to respond when they hear you are suffering from illness of any kind. Mentall illness especially, but physical illness, too. Many people, it feels, just can't handle it and it's easier to just walk away rather than saying "hey, I heard you're suffering and I care. I don't know what to say or do, but I'm here." It takes some maturity and some openness to being vulnerable. Some people really don't understand and they try to relate it to times when they felt down and were able to just "pull themselves out of it". They say things that really just hurt and make you feel worse, even though they have good intentions. So you end up deciding to keep everything in and suffering alone, thinking no one cares how much you are hurting - they don't get it. You start carrying around this big secret where you think you are broken inside and unrepairable, unable to cope with this life. The truth is that so many people are suffering in silence like this. When we have the courage to speak up and disclose our deepest fears and pains, sometimes someone says "me too." And that's when a powerful connection is made. Suddenly you're not alone and neither are they. I've had this experience many times too. And so I've learned to disclose to some and not to others, but to stay open to the idea that there are others out there who are suffering like me, physically and mentally. And there are those who are suffering differently from me and I can say to them "hey, I heard that you are suffering and I care. Do you want to talk about it? I'm not sure what to do, but maybe I can be a shoulder to lean on." All my pain and heartache has helped me develop a strong sense of empathy. And that has led me to seeing the world through the eyes of someone who cares deeply, which I think is a big strength. Many people say that I'm "too emotional", but they just don't get it. I care. I want to be a good person and help others with their pain too. This has led me to animal rights and activism - making little changes in my life so that others suffer less. And animals suffer so greatly at the hands of humans. This is how my chronic illness and my veganism are deeply connected.

When I see suffering, it moves me. I want to help, I want to make the suffering stop. When I was a child, there were times when I was abused physically and emotionally. I developed complex post traumatic stress disorder that wasn't diagnosed until I was in my mid 20s and was looking after two little girls that were the ages I was when some things were done to me. I had flashbacks and nightmares, memories coming back that I hadn't thought of in years. And I was angry and sad and hurt and depressed. I couldn't understand why someone would do the things that were done to me, an innocent child. This was also when my love of animals changed into a deep desire to protect them like I wished someone had protected me when I was innocent and had done nothing to deserve the pain inflicted on me. I see myself in the eyes of my cats, of the pigs in transport (death) trucks. I see "someone home"  who doesn't deserve to die a painful cruel death. All they did was exist in the wrong place at the wrong time, through no fault of their own. When I look at the primates at the monkey sanctuary, some who came from labs and others who came from zoos, I see PTSD in their behaviour and their eyes. I Feel it. Lori Gruen has a theory called "Entangled Empathy", which she argues is a direct route to how someone else is feeling in their situation such that we care about them and are motivated to act. My empathy works that way. I cannot stand by and do nothing when someone is suffering - and animals are someone. They have a subjective experience of the world. And I believe they also suffer from mental illness such as trauma and depression when they are treated horrifically, just like humans.

I suffer from many illnesses. Let me disclose, as I want it all on the table.
I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 12. The theory is I went through trauma at the age of 11 that might've triggered it - I lost a childhood friend from brain cancer two days before I lost my grandmother to cancer.
On my 17th birthday I was diagnsed with majpr depression and was put on my first antidepressant.
At the age of 18 I had my first suicide attempts and was hospitalized after the 2nd one for 5 weeks.
I developed an eating disorder known as diabulemia when I was 19 that I struggled with until my mid 20s when I finally got help. I can now say I'm recovered, but I still deal with "ED head" or eating disordered thoughts and body image issues regularly
In my early 20s my diagnosis changed to "double depression", where I suffered from mild depression (dysthymia) at my best and severe depression at my worst.
I was then diagnosed with mononucleosis that I struggled with for two years before it developed into fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Around the same time I was diagnosed with cPTSD from child abuse.
And then my psychiatric diagnosis changed to bipolar type 2, which means I've never had a bout of mania but my moods fluctuate from depression to what is called hypomania, where my personal symptoms are usually irritability (where I really don't feel like myself) and severe anxiety.
Are you still with me?
I think I've had a total of 8 suicide attempts now and lived to tell the tale. i also struggle with self-harm through cutting.

In my mid 20s, my best friend became sick with a terminal brain tumor. Those of you who know me know that Renee was a dear friend. We met when we were 13, went to high school and university together, living together in our first year of residence. Renee died in 2008 when we were 24. It was a life-altering experience for me, as she taught me how to live in those last 8 months of her life when we knew she could die any time and were attached at the hip. So many people couldn't be there for her because they didn't know what to say or do. She thought no one cared. I did, deeply. And I told her that all the time to the point where it was almost a joke between us.
I wasn't scared to look at death in the face beside her, as it was something I'd done alone many times. But it was an invisible illness that took me there; hers was more "real" than mine. But it wasn't. Mental illness can be fatal and it is just as real as cancer or diabetes or any other disease. But society doesn't grant us that. The stigma is horrible and so many people keep things to themselves because it beats being told to pull your socks up and suck it up. Illness can be lonely and isolating. We need to keep challenging this and reach out to one another in a caring empathetic community.

Throughout this time I was sick on and off, withdrawing from university four times in total before finishing my undergrad in 2014. I had started out in Zoology, but couldn't stand the way animals were talked about - like machines - and so I ended up switching into philosophy where I could study animal ethics. I'm now working on my MA in Philosophy specializing in animal ethics. Animals stuffer so much in our society and we need to make drastic changes to fix the exploitation and horrific unnecessary cruelty that animals face due to human ignorance. I experience chronic pain every day now, but it is nothing compared to what is inflicted on lab animals intentionally by humans. It is nothing compared to the fear those animals on death trucks must feel on the way to their excruciating deaths. It's not a competition, but it gives me perspective.

I deam of a world full of caring people and animals who love and nurture one another and where justice and love guide our every day actions. Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka's book Zoopolis presents a nice framework for this kind of society, but most people think it's not rational, that it's utopian and unachievable. I'm working on this theory for my MA thesis, focusing on how interspecies friendship strengthens and supports such a society. Can you imagine? An end to the animal use industry, farm santuaries everywhere, universal basic rights not to be killed, tortured, enslaved, etc, granted to all animals... it's a dream to me. I'm sure if you had told human slaves back in the day that someday they would be free they would've hung their heads in dispair and not had much hope of that ever becoming reality. But it did (in some places anyways). We have to hold onto hope that things will get better and keep working towards it, no matter what the obstacles. Together, we can do it. We just need some faith in ourselves.

I have rambled on long enough.
Until next time,

"I do not believe that suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and willingness to remain vulnerable."
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Within and Without

Tracey [userpic]

(no subject)

March 19th, 2007 (12:33 am)

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better.
It's not." - The Lorax

Tracey [userpic]

(no subject)

October 23rd, 2006 (12:03 am)

How I'm Feeling: amused

hahahaCollapse )

Tracey [userpic]

ThinK AbouT iT.

January 24th, 2006 (12:40 am)

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last River has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find
Money cannot be eaten.
LiFe...Collapse )

Tracey [userpic]

(no subject)

January 14th, 2006 (12:12 am)

There is really nothing you must be
And there is nothing you must do.
There is really nothing you must have
And there is nothing you must know.
There is really nothing you must become
It helps to know that fire burns and when it rains, the earth gets wet.
~ Manabu Foljamakins

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