“You’re not enough.” “You don’t deserve this.” “You are weak, broken, a burden on everyone.” These are just a few of the familiar mantras that my inner critic seems to be whispering to me under her breath every waking moment. For most of my life, I didn’t even recognize this as a voice. I didn’t hear the phrases themselves. I accepted these perspectives as simple facts. I never even thought to question the deeply held belief of my own unworthiness. I was unworthy, obviously, and that was that. I lived my life from these painful premises for most of my time here without even the slightest inkling that I had the option of challenging them, or respond in any other way.
More recently, now that I’ve recognized this hateful, critical voice inside of myself, I have tried to shut it out, to silence it. That has not been very helpful either. While I now know I should question these opinions I have of myself and try to determine if there is really any true basis for them, it doesn’t make them feel any less true or unchangeable. The voice hates me and I hate the voice. I spend my mental energy in this gridlock a fair bit of the time. No resolution, no relief. Perhaps a different tactic is in order.
I see you Mara. Come, let’s have tea.
This is a quote from Buddhist mythology in which the Buddha, instead of trying to avoid or destroy Mara, the demon god, he invites her in. This serves as a lesson for how we must respond to our own inner demons. The struggle to resist them and cast them out is only multiplying our suffering. We shrink away from our self-defeating, self-judging thoughts in fear, shame, and sorrow. We cover our eyes and close our hearts to our own harsh words in an attempt to protect ourselves. But we don’t need to hide away. We don’t need to fight. These thoughts, our inner critic, is a part of us. We cannot outrun her. What might happen if we invite her in instead?
For me, ideas like this, that feel so contrary to my natural instinctive response, are revelations. It feels as though the clouds have parted over my heart and mind and I am able to gaze at a clear blue sky I had forgotten could be there. The mere thought of opening myself up to all that I want to reject within myself is healing. I can almost imagine the look of shock, bewilderment, and finally, gratitude of my inner critic as I welcome her too, into my heart.
The next time I find myself despairing and berating myself, I am going to try this new method. I am going to tap into my bravery, my courage, my curiosity and turn towards that suffering voice inside my soul. I am going to extend my hand, to invite that voice in, to ask questions and learn more about her. Responding to the unpleasant parts of ourselves with denial and rejection is exacerbating the problem and intensifying our suffering. If we can teach ourselves to open rather than close, to reach out rather than pull away, to offer loving kindness instead of rejection, that will bring us closer to that calm, steady, inner serenity and acceptance that we all urn for.
I am going to work hard to cultivate my courage and my curiosity. I am going to keep trying to be brave enough to embrace every part of myself, even the parts that might feel hurtful or hateful. Love is always powerful enough to disarm hate. I intent to prove this to myself one day.
I feel my phone begin to vibrate as I’m on the other line with my mother last night. I glance at the screen to see that my best friend is calling. I thought it somewhat odd as we usually send a text before we call one another, but didn’t think much of it. I finished talking to my mom and called her back about 10-20 minutes later. To my surprise, she was actually calling me because she was on the way to the vet to meet her husband who had just taken one of their cats there. They were both in a panic and she just wanted to hear a comforting voice.
Although I was touched that she would reach out to me in this state, I couldn’t help but get angry at what she told me. Their cat was experiencing a urinary blockage, which is a rather common issue for cats. I believe a couple of my family cats have had the same problem in the past. The shocking part was the estimate they were given for the cost of treatment: $3,500. I knew it would be a lot, but holy mother of God. I immediately started doing research.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes to discover that this price was at the very highest end of the scale for treatment cost for a urinary blockage. I collected all the information I could, advised my friend about what specific questions to ask the vet, and sent her the links to the websites I had referenced. In the event the vet didn’t give them any alternatives, I also told her she should call around to try to get estimates from other vets before agreeing to anything.
I was happy that I was able to help my friend during this difficult time, but after we hung up, I was left reeling with disgust for the healthcare system in this country for not only humans, but our fur children as well. With this grim reality heavy on my mind, I am even more concerned with what I think I’ve discovered today about my own four legged baby. For the last few months, she has had very bizarre, yet extreme symptoms that seem to come and go without cause. One day she’ll be fine, then the next she’ll be nearly crippled. Then a day or two later, she’ll be okay again. I hesitated to take her to the vet thus far because I feared they’d only run all kinds of expensive tests with no guarantee of a diagnosis or effective treatment.
However, the decision to make an appointment has all but been decided for me today. By complete chance, one of the children I met at work was saying that her dog has Lyme Disease. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered it before, but my heart sank as I looked up the symptoms. My dog has been displaying nearly every single one. It has been the only thing I’ve read that actually fits her strange difficulties the last few months.
A bit more research has suggested the cost may be upwards of $1000 for treatment, even if it is still a mild case and hasn’t already damaged her heart or kidneys. I am ready and willing to pay whatever it takes to ensure that my sweet baby girl is happy and healthy again. And the sad part is, the vets know that. I am hopeful because so far my vet has always been very understanding and reasonable. I believe they even have payment plan options available. However, it sickens me to know that so many people take advantage of our love and desperation to help our pets. Our intern told me today that her mother was once charged $250 just to be given their dog’s body back in a garbage bag.
I think often our guilt at not wanting to pay what we are asked or our panic to have our pet healed leads people not to question or challenge the price tag. However, you should never have to feel guilty about standing up for yourself or resisting someone else’s efforts to take advantage of you. There is nothing wrong with asking more questions, doing your own research, or even getting quotes from other vets. In fact, I highly encourage you to do this. I’d also just like to offer any help I can to others who have found themselves in these heart wrenching situations. My vet actually has the cards at their front desk, but just in case yours does not, there is a program/website called Good Rx. I had known about this for human medications, but didn’t realize they had a pet version as well. Good Rx is a way to ensure that you are getting the absolute best price for any medication.
I know that’s not much help. I wish I could offer more. I sincerely hope that this information can be of use to anyone reading this. I am grateful to be fortunate enough to be able to afford my dog’s treatment, but I shudder to think of the pain of not having the money to help her. I would, as I’m sure many other people have, go to great lengths to get her the care she needs, no matter the impact or financial devastation I may have to experience as a result. It is truly one of the ugliest aspects of human nature that these vets and doctors display, to take advantage of someone’s love, someone’s health, just to make a bigger profit. I offer my deepest sympathy to anyone who has been the victim of this cruel exploitation, and for those that haven’t, I pray you never do.
Well, it finally happened. This morning as I got up to turn off my alarm, the first thing my barely conscious brain registered was a slight discomfort at the back of my throat whenever I would swallow. Despite being vaccinated and receiving my booster, I knew it was only a matter of time considering I work with the general public every day. I wiped a little one year old’s nose Tuesday. A twelve year old boy came in maskless and coughing Wednesday. The nurse that came to our meeting yesterday has been working on the Covid unit. I should have known at least one of these regular possible exposure situations would eventually result in getting sick myself. Not to mention I live in a very rural, conservative area where no one ever fully followed the CDC guidelines and I’m sure there are plenty of people that, to this day, never wore a mask. It’s shocking I haven’t experienced symptoms sooner.
Unlike my usual groggy morning self, this morning I was wide awake. My mind was racing with all of the things I am supposed to do today and this weekend. I starting making mental bullet points of all the things I needed to cancel, where testing is available, etc. I felt frustrated that I just put on new fake nails that no one will get to see. I worried about the things I left at my office that I won’t be able to get for god knows how long now. A small part of me wanted to somehow think of a way I could avoid quarantine all together. In the end I knew I had to text everyone at work and my yoga studio to let them know.
After finally coming to terms with what has so far only been a minor inconvenience, I began to have very different thoughts. Given that I still feel rather normal and healthy aside from my throat, I did my morning workout as I normally do while I waited to hear back from my boss. Instead of feeling annoyed and reluctant to move my body first thing in the morning like I usually do, today I felt so overwhelmingly grateful that I could. I considered just how unbelievably lucky I have been so far during the course of this never-ending pandemic. Not only that, but how lucky I have been in life, especially regarding my physical health.
I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, so part of me wants to believe that this sore throat is something unrelated, but knowing that I haven’t had so much as a cold for over a decade, leaves me feeling pretty confident it’s Covid. Yet realizing I’ve been so healthy for such an extended period of time is incredible. Not only that, I am so fortunate to be young and healthy in the face of this pandemic. My biggest fear is losing my sense of smell and/or having lingering fatigue. Although these still seem horrifying to me, I have to remind myself that so many people are afraid of literally dying from this virus.
It’s funny, I was just thinking yesterday that there is something beautiful about the sudden negative turns in life. Despite the content or context, they are like being jarringly awoken from a dream. Everything around you becomes so much sharper and more defined. Reality takes on a crystalline, vivid nature. We see everything more clearly, as if for the first time. We become painfully aware of all that we have, and also all that we stand to lose. We are reminded that we should never take anything for granted, whether it be something as significant as our ability to breathe with ease or as seemingly trivial as our sense of smell.
Even the most inconvenient or potentially devastating life events can be a blessing in this way. Today I am going to spend my time off counting my many blessings. I’m going to be exceptionally kind and gentle with myself. I’m going to give myself my favorite foods and savor my ability to taste them. I am going to give my body rest and tenderness. I am going to center my loving awareness on the people most dear to me, and be thankful that I live alone and haven’t had the chance to potentially expose them to my sickness. I am going to spend quality time with my fur babies and be grateful I have a job that allows me to work from home when needed. Hell, maybe I’ll even take an afternoon nap which I haven’t done in years.
Whether I end up testing positive for Covid or not, I am so humbled by all that life has given me. I am going to use this time of fear and uncertainty to meditate on this beautiful slice of consciousness that the universe has gifted to me and all that it entails. My heart goes out to the rest of the world and all those who have suffered or are currently suffering from this virus. May you be safe. Maybe you be happy. May you be healthy. And may you live with ease. Today I will let this be my prayer, my mantra, for myself, my loved ones, and the world.
Since 2014 a UK based non-profit has been spreading the word about veganism and influencing global change by encouraging people to commit to practicing veganism for the first month of the year. Veganuary even has it’s own website with lots of helpful resources for people that aren’t sure where to start. There is a free vegan cookbook available for download. They also have 18 pages of vegan dinner recipes alone right on the site, no email required! You could try a new meal idea for each day of the month if you wanted to.
Today I wanted to do my part by contributing to this incredible movement. A lot of vegans look down on this “challenge” because it can seem like a way for people to feel good about themselves without actually changing their lifestyle, therefore acknowledging the issues, and still deciding not to make a bigger impact. I used to be one of said vegans. It really aggravated me for some reason to see people simply flirting with veganism. Cheat day vegans and meatless Mondays were also pet peeves of mine. I just felt like it was a joke to these people. I felt the ever present pressure of our ever shortening window of time to save the animals, ourselves, and our planet, and demanded more.
Now I see that any amount of change is good. The aggressive, militant attitude of vegans like my younger self are part of the reason people avoid making the change in the first place. It seems very strict and intimidating. People just aren’t sure they’ll be able to do it, and that fear of criticism and failure causes them to look away instead. It creates an atmosphere where people are afraid to make mistakes, afraid to ask questions, and that isn’t serving anyone. Now I highly encourage anyone who’s curious about veganism or even just wants to turn over a new, healthier leaf for the new year to give veganuary a try. With ten years of veganism under my belt now, I figure I’ve learned at least a few kernels of worthwhile advice I can share as well.
One: Make It Easy
Sometimes one of the hardest parts about going vegan is the planning and preparation of food. People that have been vegan for a long time or are used to cooking all the time, may not realize that a large portion of the populations eats out for a lot of their meals. This can be a huge deterrent to veganism if there aren’t vegan restaurant options near you or if you can’t afford these pricier pre-made choices. That’s why planning ahead is essential for new vegans. Take the time to find at least five easy recipes with minimal ingredients. I would recommend looking up some simple vegan versions of your favorite comfort foods. Make a grocery list of ingredients (maybe restock your spice drawer with less common spices such as garam masala) and preplan when you are going to gather these things as well as when you will prepare the meals. This way you won’t find yourself hungry and low on time which could easily lead to a meat relapse.
Two: Give Your Body Time to Adjust
I’ve had people come up to me in the past and say that they tried to be vegan, but it made them sick so they stopped. This was always so perplexing to me, because I know that a vegan diet is the best thing for your body and your health. I just couldn’t understand why it would make them sick. Part of me wondered if it was psychosomatic or if they were lying. I advised that they be sure to take a multivitamin with B-12 since there is no natural source of that in today’s foods. (Animal products are artificially infused with B-12.) However, just the other day I learned there may be another reason a vegan diet could make you feel worse in the beginning: fiber.
Even before I was vegan, I ate healthier than a lot of the population, so I never noticed this issue. But if you’re someone who is used to eating primarily meats, cheeses, and processed foods with little plant matter, a sudden increase in dietary fiber is going to be hard for your body to handle. While ultimately a diet high in fiber will improve your overall health, the gut microbiome will take time to adjust. It just doesn’t have enough microbes that are able to break fiber down when it has gone years without needing them. If you notice symptoms such as bloating, gas, or abdominal discomfort, know that this is likely the cause. Also know that these symptoms will pass with time as your gut microbe population changes to accommodate your changing diet.
Three: Protein & Cravings
Sometimes people begin to feel as though they are denying their body things it needs by cutting out animal products. We’re taught all of our lives that we need these unconscionable parts of our diet in order to be healthy. Even though countless studies have proven that isn’t the case, showing the opposite in fact, it can be hard to overcome this ever-present misinformation. Any vegan will tell you that one of the most frustrating myths we are endlessly confronted with is the idea that a vegan diet does not provide enough protein. A vegan diet has more than enough protein, and it isn’t hard to find. I’ve never made a conscious effort to seek out specific sources of plant-based protein and I’ve been incredibly healthy for the past ten years. Not only that, I’ve built tons of new muscle in that time. I’m more muscular now than I ever was as a non-vegan.
When you find yourself craving meat, or more likely cheese, don’t put too much weight behind those cravings. We are taught to “listen to our bodies” which is normally good advice, but our body’s signals go a bit haywire when we introduce chemical addictions to the mix. If you cut out added sugar from your diet, you will definitely crave it, but that doesn’t mean your body needs it to be healthy. We think we are craving some kind of necessary nutrients from our usual foods, when really we are craving casomorphin (in the case of cheese) and testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones that are pumped into these poor animals before slaughter.
Coming back to casomorphin, it is an opioid peptide that is derived from the digestion of the milk protein casein. This is the culprit when you find yourself desperate to cling to your cheesy foods. All vegans have experienced this challenging withdrawal and overwhelming craving. I promise you, it will pass. One day a block of cheese will look no more appetizing than a pile of gravel.
Four: Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Veganuary isn’t like other challenges. There is no rule that you are out if you slip up and eat animal products before the month is over. So give yourself the grace to try again even if you make a mistake or can’t resist your cravings. Veganism isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying your best to do the least harm you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself or feel like you’ve got to give up if you find yourself unable to stick to the challenge every moment of the month. You can try again as many times as you need to.
I truly hope that this advice and information will help you make in through this first month of the year without contributing to the suffering of animals and the destruction of our world. Regardless of whether or not you plan on becoming fully vegan, veganuary is still an incredible act of kindness and good will. Even though it’s only one month, it makes a huge difference, not only in the economy, but in your body. I’ve mentioned before that it only took one month for me to notice a total transformation of my body and mind. Please feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment if you have any questions or concerns. I will do my best to be as helpful as possible. I am happy to provide support. Good luck! I have such high hopes for you in the new year.
Most people are aware of the various physical health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. You see articles all the time about it’s ability to prevent and treat heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even cancer. You can lose weight, slow the effects of aging, etc. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of veganism. There are so many other surprising perks that come along with this change that I never really hear people talking about. Even other vegans I know don’t seem to mention it unless I ask them about it.
One of the most interesting and amazing things I noticed after my first month of a strictly vegan diet is something I have only recently come to understand a bit better. My post yesterday was a very brief synopsis of what I learned about the gut microbiome and how it affects our thinking, decision making, and more broadly, our mental health. Learning this really helped me connect the dots. So that explains it! By “it” I mean the strange mental distinction I felt between eating animal products and eating plants.
It’s been a long time since my first vegan month, but I still remember that milestone like it was yesterday, because of how it caught me by surprise. It felt as though the effects came on rather suddenly. One morning I felt like I had every other day of my life, then the next morning it was like I was awake for the first time. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve always described it as a cloud lifting off of my mind. Now I’ve always been an intelligent, quick witted person. Still, all of a sudden my thoughts seemed to come to me more easily, more quickly, more seamlessly. I guess now having learned the term “brain fog” I would describe my pre-vegan brain as being in that muddled state 24/7. When you’ve lived your whole life that way though, you don’t really recognize it as a problem.
For years, this strange phenomenon that occurred in my own mind, and the mind of all the other vegans I asked, really baffled me. I didn’t understand what exactly caused this shift. But when I read about the way our gut directly communicates with our brain, it finally made sense. After a month of consistent plant-based eating, my gut was producing the metabolites that I needed to be my best. My gut and brain were able to communicate efficiently for the first time in my life.
Another benefit of a vegan diet I wanted to address I believe is also due to the complex interactions between our gut microbiome and the rest of our body. You don’t hear about it often, but a vegan diet is the most anti-inflammatory diet out there. In the beginning this statement didn’t mean much to me. I hadn’t even been aware that eating animal products caused a constant state of inflammation in the body, nor did I understand the health implications of that fact. Inflammation is often the cause of many autoimmune diseases as well as other health problems. But apart from that, inflammation in the body also has an impact on our ability to be physically active.
Contrary to the myths about veganism preventing you from achieving physical fitness and building muscle, it actually assists the body in these endeavors. Without subjecting the body to constant inflammation each time we digest a meal, it is able to perform much more efficiently mentally and physically. Not only are my workouts easier and more enjoyable, my recovery time is also greatly reduced.
Finally, as a vegan, I pretty much haven’t been sick in ten years. When I was younger I used to get extremely sick (usually a stomach bug) at least twice each year. For awhile, I thought it was just because I was a kid. Granted, kids do get sick more often because they are still developing their immune systems. However as an adult, I still see a lot of people who seem to be constantly sick in one way or another. Especially in the winter, everyone I know gets at least one lingering cold. All around me people are coughing and sniffling and complaining of headaches and sore throats.
These mild, but chronic health issues are all seen as normal, just like that brain fog I once hadn’t even been able to notice. No one even considers that things could be different. But they can. All it takes is treating your body with kindness and feeding it what it was designed to be fed instead of anti-biotic, cortisol, adrenaline, puss, shit, piss, and virus ridden dead bodies. Looking back it seems obvious that I didn’t feel my best. I’m surprised our bodies are even able to function with the typical American diet. With veganism, everyone wins, the animals, the environment, and us.
So with January fast approaching, I highly encourage anyone reading this to give Veganuary a try. No need to commit to veganism for the rest of your life, just experiment. Take that one month to try something different. Just to see how it feels. One month was all it took for me to notice a life changing mental shift. It is definitely worth it for many reasons, least of which are all the incredible personal benefits. Let me know if you’ve experienced any noticeable physical/mental changes from a vegan diet. Also feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like some advice for how to make the switch. I’m more than happy to help any way I can.
The more I learn about the human body and the world, the more obvious it becomes that every little supposedly insignificant thing matters and everything is inextricably connected. The bad news is there is no cheating your way to health or fitness or happiness. But the good news is, although it may seem harder, the tried and true methods of slowly achieving success are always available to us. If we treat both our bodies and our minds well and show them patience and compassion, health and happiness with inevitably follow. A lot of people will find this obvious and uninteresting, but I’ve never been one to base any of my opinions or actions on good faith alone, I usually require a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms going on behind the scenes.
The emerging science of what’s going on backstage in our own bodies is truly stranger than fiction. Most of us know (although we don’t like to think about it) that our bodies contain lots of microscopic organisms in addition to our human cells. Our skin, our hair, our nails, our eyelashes, and of course our guts are teeming with strange little lifeforms, the majority of which are harmless. It may be a bit unsettling to consider, but the bacteria inhabiting our bodies are actually even more than harmless, they are helpful, even necessary for us to be healthy. Before reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, I thought my vague comprehension of that fact was sufficient. Gut microbes are good for us, case closed. Now I’m discovering that the role these little organisms play in our digestion, day to day life, decision making, and ever our personalities are far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.
Apart from all the implications this information sparks curiosity about in the scientific community, my philosophy centered mind goes straight for the larger existential questions we are now faced with. Who is really running the show? Are we this human form shown to the world, or are we actually the bacteria pulling the strings deep inside our guts? Perhaps we’re just the passive hosts without even realizing it. Or maybe it’s not even possible to make a clear distinction between the human and bacteria cells within us. For now it does appear as if we are one in the same.
Whatever we may be, Dr. Mayer’s book is an excellent example of the way looking deeper into the natural world leads only to more marvel and mystery. The complexity and intricacies of this existence are an endless source of fascination that I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to decode. However, we have now learned at least a bit more about this magical little world within us. So here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting things laid out in this book:
Personality & Decision making
These bacteria in our digestive organs do a lot more than help us break down our food. They are also influencing our mood, disposition, and the decisions “we” make. We all know that our cells communicate and deliver signals and chemicals to the brain, but what I didn’t know was that these bacteria are doing the same. I was shocked to discover that our gut produces the majority of serotonin in our bodies, not the brain. This is one of the reasons we experience that familiar cozy, satisfied feeling after a good meal. This also explains the way our diet affects our mental health. It’s not just a placebo effect. Eating healthy, fibrous, fresh, unprocessed foods really does make us feel better all around.
One of the most incredible things I learned was from a study that showed transplanting the gut microbiome of one rat into the gut of another causes the latter rat to begin expressing a personality and behaviors more similar to the donor rat. For instance, a shy rat given the microbiome of an outgoing rat, will now begin to appear brave. It’s honestly a bit frustrating to realize what a big role the gut microbiome plays in our mental state. Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve faired so well without my paxil is because I’ve been drinking pro & pre-biotics every day since before I began weaning myself off the drug. It makes me wonder what kind of success, if any, I may have had in my battle with social anxiety if I had known this information before starting an SSRI.
Hunger, Satiety, & Weight
The microbes in our guts also have a big part to play when it comes to our appetite. They have a direct line to our brains with the capacity to influence our hunger signals. What I once thought was a definitive sign that my body needed more calories or nutrients, now may very well just mean that my gut bacteria need more fibrous matter and pre-biotics to snack on. These little buddies also have a hand in our sensitivity to our satiety signals, in other words our cue that we are full and want to stop eating. These bacteria are also responsible for how much of the food we eat is absorbed and stored in our bodies.
Just as in the other rat study I mentioned, the same effect can be observed regarding the physical weight of the rats. Give a skinny rat the microbiome of a heavy rat and it will begin to gain weight and vice versa. This is a stunning insight into just how little we actually comprehend about nutrition and how to influence our own body weight. There really is no “one size fits all” diet when it comes to weight loss or gain, and it’s got a lot more to it than just genetics.
The Best Diet for a Healthy Gut Microbiome
This book also gives suggestions about the best foods for us to eat if we want a gut microbiome that keeps us healthy and happy. The author particularly emphasizes that diets high in animal fat lead to a state of constant inflammation and physical and mental health complications. Not surprising. He also says that diets high in fibrous plant foods lead to more helpful strains of bacteria flourishing in our guts. Now it seems obvious to me that the extrapolation of that information points directly to a vegan diet. No animal fat, tons of plant foods. However, this author is clearly attached to his flesh foods, because based on anecdotal evidence of healthy tribal peoples who eat a mediterranean diet (basically vegan, plus fish) he decided to label that the best diet. He gives no explanation on how the fish part is necessary or beneficial. The actual data he provides seems to say the opposite. So I think it’s safe to say eliminating the last “bad gut” food, would be best, don’t you think?
Unfortunately, he goes on to say that even a drastic change in diet isn’t going to have a huge effect on the types of bacteria living in our guts. However, it will change the kinds of metabolites the bacteria we already have produce for our bodies and brains, which is nearly as good.
In summation, the information I’ve learned from this book has completely changed the way I view my body and even my mind. I fluctuate back and forth between being excited and terrified about this new knowledge and what it means. At the very least, this book shows just how important our physical health is when it comes to our mental health. The two are inextricably linked for better or worse. Really all we can do is work with the gut-microbiome we have. They are as unique and diverse as each individual they are house in. Treat them right, give them lots of healthy vegan foods to eat, and they will repay us in kind.
Yesterday our new intern pulled me aside to ask me about going vegan. She seemed interested and eager to learn more since finding out that I was vegan a few months ago. She loves my vegan oat milk coffee creamer and told me she’s even started using it at home because she likes it so much. I was so happy that she felt she could come to me with questions, but at the same time I was immediately tense and anxious about how to respond.
This is not the first time that I’ve been in this uncomfortable situation. Many people have come to me for help when beginning their vegan/vegetarian journey. I thought I would get better at offering that help as I became more comfortable and confident in my own veganism, but it seems like it’s actually the reverse. I am so far removed from the normal meat-eater’s lifestyle that I no longer understand their questions half the time, let alone know what the most beneficial response would be. When people ask me things like: what do you eat? I can’t help but stare back dumbfounded for a few moments. What do you eat, I want to ask. I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. You know… food. The bulk of what any reasonable diet should already consist of.
There is such chaos and turmoil inside of me when I find myself having to give vegan advice. Part of me is overjoyed, part of me is annoyed, part of me is panicked. Overjoyed because my veganism has influenced someone to try to live a more compassionate life. Annoyed because their questions remind me just how far the majority of society is from doing that. And panicked because of the pressure I feel to offer the perfect answers to their questions. I want to make veganism sound easy and appealing to them. I’m afraid my response could potentially prevent more animals from suffering but that I will fail those same animals if my response instead causes the person to turn away.
My mind starts racing, trying to decide what parts of the encyclopedia of information I have inside my head is the most important, useful, or impactful. I have so much knowledge to offer. To break it down into the most relevant and easily digestible pieces seems like an impossible task. After these random encounters, I always feel disappointed in myself. I kick myself thinking I should have done better somehow, even though I’m never sure exactly what “better” would have looked like. At this point it’s impossible for me to remember what would have been most helpful to me when I first became vegan.
I wanted to write this post today to address people on both sides of the aisle. To the aspiring vegan: Don’t expect the vegans in your life to take you by the hand and make this transition seamless and easy for you or expect them to have all the answers. To the vegan being asked for advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no perfect response that you can give to make someone else change their behavior. All you can do is try your best, be friendly, and be open.
With that said, here is what I would like to say to anyone interested in going vegan: It’s going to be a hard transition. Being vegan isn’t hard at all, but changing is. Especially when you are changing something so integral to your culture and day to day life. There is no amount of information you can gather or questions you can ask preemptively that will make this transition easy. If you’re waiting for it to be easy, you’re going to be waiting forever. Change is never easy. Learning how to live a new lifestyle is never easy. One way you can make it easier though is being gentle with yourself while you’re still learning. I think a lot of people either avoid or give up veganism because it’s too daunting to imagine never eating meat or dairy again. That’s a scary concept in the beginning. You find yourself thinking, what about all the traditional holiday foods I’ve enjoyed with my family my entire life? I can’t have turkey on Thanksgiving? I can’t have a Christmas ham? I can’t eat cake for birthdays? It seems like a huge sacrifice. And some militant vegans will say it’s something you’ve just got to accept and white-knuckle your way through. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with identifying as a vegan or vegetarian and still making exceptions for yourself in the beginning. I also think it’s okay to essentially go vegan without adopting the label if that lets you feel less restricted. What matters is doing our best to cause as little harm to other beings as possible. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even vegans can’t help but avoid doing harm entirely. It’s just about trying. So if the only thing holding you back from veganism is Thanksgiving dinner, let yourself not be vegan on the holidays. If you’re having a really hard day and you can’t resist one of your favorite comfort foods or don’t have time to cook and don’t have the time, energy, or accessibility to find a vegan alternative, you don’t have to cast the vegan lifestyle aside because you caved and ate meat. Just try again tomorrow.
You can also start slow. Try making a vegan dinner once a week. Make one meal a day a vegan meal. Test out some vegan menu options the next time you go out to eat. These small steps matter. They still have an impact. And if this is the best way for you to make the transition and feel confident and comfortable enough to stick with it, I think it’s an excellent way to do it. There is no one way to live a vegan lifestyle. It is going to take some time and experimentation to discover what works best for you. Your body and mind are going to need time to adjust. There are going to be days when you “screw up” and can’t live up to your own expectations and that’s perfectly okay. I still have those days over 10 years later. The important part is that you’re trying. That alone is a beautiful gift to the animals, your body, and the Earth. That alone is something to take pride in. And for that alone, I for one, thank you.
You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.
If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.
Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.
I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.
Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.
I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.
When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.
When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.
I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?
Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.
The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.
I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.
Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.
I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.
I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.
Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?
In the digital age accessing information is faster and easier than ever. No matter what question you may find yourself asking, you’ll likely be able to google it and receive an answer, or at least more information, in a matter of seconds. While this is extremely satisfying and a great benefit to society in many ways, like anything, it also has it’s down side. Uncertainty has always made us comfortable, and for good reason. Uncertainty leaves us vulnerable, to the elements, to predators, etc. Knowing is always safer than not knowing.
Unfortunately, despite all the benefits we receive from technology, it also has created even more discomfort around uncertainty. It has become nearly intolerable, for even a short length of time. We have developed a sense of entitlement to information. It is overwhelmingly frustrating when we can’t find that instant gratification.
My first real encounter with the idea that people hate not knowing was when I became a vegan. Despite the fact that I certainly didn’t know anything about veganism before becoming a vegan and doing hours upon hours of research, random people in my life still liked to assume they knew more about it than me. I began to notice that people get aggressive when you challenge their knowledge on any topic, even one they have little to no interest in. It’s also rare, regardless of what you’re asking, that someone will answer honestly with: I don’t know. We all want to believe we know everything or at least present that all-knowing façade to others.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted humanity’s fear of uncertainty. Almost as soon as people started discussing the virus, everyone wanted to pretend that they new the latest and most accurate information. You still see thousands of people proclaiming to know more about this new virus than the doctors and scientists that are studying it. You can see the reluctance people have to even acknowledge that experts know more than they do. In addition to that we are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, when will this end? Even though we all know that no one knows the answer to that question.
I’m sure on a smaller scale, you are able to recognize your own discomfort with not knowing in your day to day life. This is one of the reasons why we are so upset when things don’t go as planned. Today in particular I am getting the chance to practice sitting with uncertainty. When I woke up this morning, it was just another day. I was looking forward to having appointments scheduled at work, seeing our new intern, and marking off another day before my boyfriend comes home for the holiday weekend.
As I was leaving, I noticed a group text from my boss, but didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was something I could look at later when I got a chance. When I got to the office, my friend told me that text was telling us our new therapist tested positive for Covid despite being vaccinated, and that now we had to get tested and work from home until further notice. This caused a lot of mixed feelings for me. Part of me was happy. I’ve been hoping I would get to work from home again. However, another part of me was terribly angry.
I knew it was no one’s fault, but I couldn’t help myself from arbitrarily assigning blame, to my coworkers, the government, the school systems, even (and perhaps especially) myself for not being more cautious. Normally I would be elated at the idea of isolating myself for a few weeks, but not this week. Tomorrow I had planned to finally start a podcast with my two best friends. Now that would have to be postponed, unless I am able to somehow get a negative test result by the morning.
To my horror, I also realized that this may completely derail my plans to see my boyfriend. We certainly won’t be able to go out to all the vegan restaurants we had planned to go to. Nor will we be able to go out to the state parks and hike like we had planned. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to see Nate at all. We are both vaccinated, but if I test positive or can’t get my results in time, will he want to risk seeing me regardless? Should I even let him? I would hate to jeopardize the training he is doing for his job. I have no idea what it would mean for him if he tested positive while staying in a dorm at a college campus. Would he have to resign from the rest of the training?
I woke up this morning feeling confident, collected, certain of what my day would hold. Now that certainty has turned into a churning mental storm of questions and concern. I’m doing my best to stay positive. Life is full of uncertainty and I am lucky that the curve ball thrown at me today wasn’t something worse. I could have had a car accident on my way to the office. Someone I love could have been hurt or killed suddenly. I could have not woken up at all. Instead I was given a gentle, although inconvenient, reminder that things don’t always go as planned.
Rather than slip into irritation and despair, I am going to use this experience to practice patience. I’m going to let it be a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, of how fortunate I’ve been to not even have to be tested until now, to be privileged enough to have been vaccinated, to live alone so I don’t have to worry about exposing my loved ones, to have an employer that will allow me to work from home, and perhaps most importantly, for this young, healthy, strong body. Today is also a lesson, teaching me that anything can be a blessing if you choose to see it that way.