Guest Blogger, Melanie Johnson (Animal Activist Counselor)
When We Suffer, the Animals Suffer: Taking time to care for ourselves
As animal activists, we do some of the most difficult work imaginable. We witness horrific animal abuse, either through videos, images, or first-hand experience. These victims cannot speak for themselves, so we have to be their voice. There is always work that can be done to fight for these victims. There are protests or rallies, organizations we can call to report animal cruelty, and there are always petitions that can be signed and shared. There is always something we can do, which leads many of us to overwork ourselves.
I remember watching Earthlings and I became so upset witnessing such immense suffering, as well as constantly frustrated and angry every time I saw someone consume animal products. Then I realized that this outlook and behavior wasn’t helping me or the animals. How do I become less angry and less frustrated? That’s when I started acknowledging my own needs. As animal activists, we are compassionate. When the animals suffer, we suffer. However, the reverse is also true: when we suffer, the animals suffer. We work best when we care for ourselves.
I volunteer as a helpline counselor to animal activists. Activists seek help with a variety of issues, from loneliness and conflicts with friends and family, to fatigue and exhaustion resulting from built up anger about the situation. It is difficult when we are aware of the existing cruelty but we feel that change is not occurring, at least not fast enough. We often feel lonely when others don’t understand, and overwhelmed when we feel like we are constantly working. These signs of burnout may actually lead many activists to discontinue their activism. However, with the extremely high number of animals suffering due to animal agriculture, animal testing, pet breeding, and incapacitation in zoos, circuses, and aquariums, they cannot afford to lose any of us advocating for their rights and freedoms.
Fortunately, throughout my own self-reflection and my experience as a helpline counselor, I have seen that confronting our own suffering and taking the time to care for ourselves can help significantly in confronting animal suffering. Through identifying the particular problem and our feelings surrounding the problem, we can strategize and create a plan of action for how to move forward. For example, if someone identifies the problem as exhaustion from tireless activism, a potential plan of action may be to take a step back, take time for themselves, and watch videos on sustainable activism and compassion fatigue. First and foremost, it is crucial that we confront our own suffering so we can be effective in confronting animal suffering.
Just know that you are not alone in your activism, and anything and everything you can do to help the animals is immensely helpful. Thank you for all that you do!
If you need support regarding any animal activism concern, please call or email IDA’s Animal Activist Helpline at 1 (800) 705-0425 or firstname.lastname@example.org (Friday through Sunday).
Melanie serves as an animal rights activist working to promote sustainable activism through her volunteer work with In Defense of Animals and King Street Cats. She further advocates for youth justice and human rights through her research examining juvenile justice issues and assessing victim rights and services.