The Thinking Vegan Pop Quiz: How do you deal with despair?

By on June 30, 2012

Kierkegaard argued that despair, the moral condition of hopelessness, is the most profound human suffering we experience. He said it is a painless moral and spiritual suffering, that slowly kills us.

So, as an animal rights activist and vegan, how does despair affect your life? What do you do, if anything, to deal with your despair?


Sarah Summerlin

I despair sometimes because I can only do a very small amount as compared to others who are out there physically getting laws changed and such. I deal with it by admonishing myself that I do the best I can and that is all anybody can really do. Kinda boring, but that’s it.


Jessi VanPelt

Good question. I can’t wait to see other people’s responses. I despair all the time, some times more than others. I’ve been super frustrated lately when trying to fundraise, and because of all the posts and emails I get about cats and dogs that need homes. And of course I despair that people I know who “love animals” still eat them. It helps to talk to other activists about it. And to take a break for yourself once in a while by getting a massage, etc. Exercise helps too. I mostly just try to stay so busy with projects and activism that I don’t have time to despair! That seemed to be working pretty well until lately! Oh I almost forgot to say… My dogs and cats keep me from despairing!!! And going to the dogpark perks me right back up. This would be a good post for the Peace to All Creature ‘zine.


Katie Eory

Best question. I can’t beat the despair, it is always in my thoughts. I became a regular volunteer at a local farm animal sanctuary, SASHA Farm, which stands for Sanctuary And Safe Haven for Animals. Here I see the good results of our movement. Here I spend time with people like me. Here I see animals that will never be harmed, even some that never knew harm. I feed them, clean up for them and hope like hell they feel how much I love them. For that day I focus on the happiness these animals can experience, and it mends the parts of me broken by what I know of animal cruelty. It’s hard to find the victories and the progress in each day when animals continue to live and die so horribly. At SASHA it’s easy to find and feel the love because it’s right there, living, breathing.


Laurie Lyons

Get active. One day at a time. Cry out in despair and then take the next indicated step. Going Vegan and continuing to educate myself on all that it encompasses, learning true compassion. A life purpose for me. Looking for inspiration from those who have gone before me. In AA we say ” If you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get, then you are ready to take certain steps…” I want PEACE ON EARTH!!


Sarah Woodcock

Thank you so much for this conversation! I don’t know how to deal with it yet so I can’t wait to read the responses.

I think the animals feel despair so if animal rights activists are feeling despair, it could be because they are empathetic. It doesn’t mean we linger in despair, but it is a real part of this journey. If we don’t know how to deal with it, we won’t be as effective.


Iwona Roslonek

Despair is for whiners.. totally unproductive.. an energy vampire.. some people like to submerge in despair (subconsciously) for maschistic reasons (poor, poor, suffering me)..unproductive.. coming from the country where people were gassed and baked in crematorium ovens by millions I became familiarized with the extent of the human evil from early years.. evil always existed in various forms against various subjects.. animals are just one of many subject upon which human exercises his evil desires.. when I get despaired (say looking at the pictures of atricities) I quickly convert it to anger..I learned to like anger.. it is my friend… it fuels me towards action.. than the demure converstation with flesh eaters ensue on the various graphical detail of the disembowelment process.. evil squirms under such when confronted with conscience head on.. so when despaired I’d say put on the gloves – I am ready for the fight!


Kenneth Burns

Despair? I became Vegan to improve my quality of life and that is exactly what it has done…You think people who eat meat give a crap that they cause people to feel despaired? What is the motto? stop eating meat and become Vegan so you too can feel despaired? I agree that animals are victims to meat eaters but does that mean that Vegans need to be victims as well? Will this help the animals feel less tortured?


Jay Dub

Despair only helps the animals when it is turned into action. Emotions are motions in transit, to be carried out immediately. The primary function of the brain, believe it or not, is to control muscle movement. All the thinking in the world is nothing without muscle movement. Holding emotions in too often can lead to despair and depression. So take action today! Speak up, get the word out, rescue animals, and volunteer! And don’t forget to do something nice for your pets today. If you help just one animal today, that can be a world of difference to that animal.


Barbara Frazier

Act, act, act! Same way you overcome fear. You take action. Continual education, blogging, writing letters to my legislators, financially supporting organizations I like if I can, talking, talking, talking and so on. I’ve refined my strategy depending on who I am talking to. I’m always looking for that window of receptivity and then going for it. If I dwell too long and the horrors that go on every second, I can’t move. I just remember that keeping still means more suffering.



Angela Toole

I volunteer at an animal shelter. It isn’t a great shelter (they kill animals pretty arbitrarily), but giving attention and comfort to the dogs there brings me happiness. When I see a dog adopted and taken to a forever home, that warms my heart. However, not all days at the shelter are good ones. When that happens, I turn to the two pit bulls and the rat I live with. Their love carries me through. My partner also lifts my spirits and makes me laugh–we make wonderful vegan food together.

It is perfectly understandable that someone experiencing an awakening about all the horrific abuse inflicted on animals might feel occasional despair. Everyone is different and if you did not have this experience, great. However, saying that despair is “for whiners” seems pretty unproductive itself. We need to be willing to support each other. Bringing that kind of, well, macho attitude to animal rights work is just another reproduction of the same destructive cultural attitudes that uphold dominance and control as the best ways to define power and worth.



Lesley Levenson

I just realised that I agree with all of the above! I despair occasionally and then have to put it away and get on with life. I console myself that I am at an awakening level of my vegan journey and that I am doing the best I can in my particular circumstances. I have moments when the anger overwhelms me and I want to go and set some animals free, shout at meat eaters and shout from the rooftops. Then I feel weak and helpless and despairing. And so it goes on…



Josh Alterman

Despair is something you fight. To me despair means giving up. I feel it sometimes, enough to knock me down, but I always get back up.



Micky Werk

I’ve been vegan for 2 years and have been trying to learn how to handle the despair. Seems like on different days, different things work. For one thing, I’ve found that I need to feel my feelings, not stuff them. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I just need to have a good cry before I go on with the day. Other days I wake up joyful, thankful and peaceful. Sometimes spending time in nature helps, be it a walk in a field with the dogs, working in my garden, or going to my special location and writing in my journal, etc. Volunteering at Farm Sanctuary regularly is very uplifting. Being with these like minded people and spending time with the animals does wonders for me. Meditation, journaling, reaching out to others in a positive way for veganism, and spending time with my two dogs, all these things help.


Lisa Drapkin

When I first went vegan I was very depressed. Then I started engaging in activism on a frequent basis, and I felt a lot better mentally, knowing I was doing what I could to be part of the shift moving this world to another mindset. Though I still get in a horrible state of despair and hopelessness whenever I get hurt either physically or emotionally, because I immediately think of the fact that animals in factory farms or laboratories have absolutely no relief from whatever horrible pain they are going through. I also despair when it seems like people just will never completely understand how horrible the situation really is. It’s so frustrating to know that we are seeing the world in a much different way than everyone else. So I think if you really get it, there’s no way to not feel those moments of powerlessness but what helps is trying to remain positive, being grateful for the people in your life who make life worth living, and continually doing what you can to move the world into a better direction so that some day (though definitely not in our own lifetimes), things can be different for animals.



Holly Goheavy

Despair is something I battle on a daily basis. It is easy to sit back and feel helpless, yet I harness the energy and put it into action. We need to focus on purposeful strategies, and celebrate our victories. This in turn inspires others to join our ranks. We can’t afford to wallow in despair. It is only our actions, and not our sense of defeat which will help the animals. Collectively we share these emotions, and collectively we can utilize them.



Penelope Gallogly

When I find despair setting in, it invariably morphs into anger and cynicism, which can be highly motivating. This is increasingly evident in my writing, and may be self-indulgent, but without it hopelessness would be overwhelming. The inevitability that animals will someday have rights is what inspires my determination.



Damla Türk

I see with my own eyes that I am making a difference so in general, despair does not really affect me. Even if I didn’t think I was making a difference, I’d rather spend my time and life trying to make a difference than sit back, sulk and feel hopeless. While I want all suffering to end immediately, I have enough knowledge about human history to know that cases of social injustice were never ended overnight. It’s just some took longer than others but they all started off the same way: a handful of people had to courage to speak up and oppose the norm without seeking human adoration and approval and without ever giving up. The only time I feel despair is when I see other vegans feeling despair. That pretty much kills me. Let’s remember the saying ”Many a little makes a mickle.” Even though our individual efforts feel very feeble, together, we are making so much difference…so much difference that they came up with the ”AG-GAG bill” to silence us. If that’s not a sign that we’re making a difference and are intimidating, I don’t know what is.



Anne Elizabeth Hager

After a day of working at the vet or the animal rescue, I would often feel demoralized and helpless. After seeing horrific footage of animals being abused on factory farms, puppy mills, etc., I often move toward self-destruction. When I first went vegan, I just didn’t eat. Period. That is still how I tend to deal with depression and stress. But, I know I’m no good to the animals if I’m dead, so I’m trying to rectify that.



LouiseVegan Osh

It can bring on severe bouts of depression. I look for re-affirmation in books and internet.



Amanda Webster

I don’t ever feel despair, at least not as a condition of hopelessness. I’ve actually limited my FB time because all the videos and pictures really get to me and it becomes to much to constantly see. I just wish it affected others as much as it did me… then I wouldn’t have anything to be active about for the animals. I still remember the images and screams from watching Earthlings, and that was more than 4 years ago.

I don’t know if there will ever be an end to killing animals for food. Maybe my pessimism comes from living in Oklahoma. But I do think animal testing for household products and cosmetics will end. And I have the same hope and expectations for vivisection. I always have hope every day when I read of someone going vegan or a company abolishing animal testing. Or even when I just meet someone that’s ‘thinking’ – it’s a rarity in this state so I take what I can. =)



Leslie Rossell

I treat each animal that crosses my path as an individual and save the ones I can. I try to make others smile and laugh and remember that it could be a lot worse. I am not living in a cage with wires sticking out of my head. I don’t have my leg caught in a trap. I did not get dumped on the street by someone who moved, had a child, or traded me in for a younger model. I was not taken from my mommy on day one and shoved into a crate. My species is not about to be wiped out of existence because my home is treated as a commodity that has been over-consumed. Those are the beings who should truly be feeling despair. We are the ones who should get out of bed every day with the aim of helping them.



Annette Parkes Maxwell

I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t save the world. I deal with despair by remembering that I can always strive to do as much good as possible, wherever I can, as an individual. My life is not that bad and I have no right to be depressed- If I get into a self-defeating mindset, I won’t be able to be a good advocate for the animals. I can’t save the world all by myself, is what I mean to say. (At least, I have serious doubts about it.)



Ashley Mills

Despair is defined as losing all hope or being overcome by a sense of futility or defeat. I have felt this feeling on numerous occasions because, in truth, there is so much suffering in the world and as an activist, I feel a duty to end it all. This position usually leads to a feeling of overwhelm and hopelessness as there is just too much that needs to be done, especially for one person. However, in the past year, I have learned how to handle these emotions in a much more positive way after spending time studying the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He taught me that I know what it means to be compassionate because of my own suffering. I also learned a lot about duality thinking from him. Without left there can be no right, without top there can be no bottom, and most importantly without suffering, there can be no understanding and compassion. Therefore, I now know I can discover and reach my compassionate self by diving deeply into suffering and learning from it. How does one do this? Through some sort of spiritual practice such as meditation. Sitting practice teaches us how to open up and relax to whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the urge and the uneasiness fully and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows.



Tarl Warwick

The world can be saved, it’s just a matter of sheer willpower. It is the triumph of the will, so to speak.



Linda Rapp Nelson

I have horribly vivid dreams about animals being tortured and killed which means I often wake fatigued and despairing. I cry a lot and feel anger, too. I started yoga 2.5 years ago to try to alleviate these problems. The meditation and daily practice have helped me immensely. I still have the dreams, the anger, and the profound sadness, but I have some means of lessening them. I never fail but to feel better after a yoga session. And my husband is the world’s best listener, too.



Rebecca Jo Gallegos

Sometimes a healthy crying session and then I “fight” back! In my opinion, despair = hopelessness = giving up. I can’t give up hope for the voiceless victims and that’s what drives me.



Peter Keller

When looking at the conditions that humans force animals to endure across the global scale, I certainly do feel hopeless and powerless at the vast scale of oppression that goes on. But I remember the old quote “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.” I know that by giving up, by doing nothing, by saying nothing, changes nothing for the animals, so I have decided to always be hopeful. Being hopeful even in the face of the grand scale of misery can be challenging, but it is necessary. I always keep in mind that every person has the capacity for change, and I focus on making those positive changes happen.

Also, I take breaks every so often, in order to reground and recharge myself. I have committed to spending the rest of my life as an activist, so taking time out is essential to avoid burning out.



Janice Stanger

Despair makes me work harder. It makes me even more determined to help one, that is making a difference. I realize there is no option to give up.



Julie Jade

What a good question. And what a dichotomous answer I have for you. I became my HAPPIEST when I became vegetarian. I’d never felt so aligned with my values before. I was quoting George Bernard Shaw, saying “Animals are my Friends, I don’t eat my Friends”. But despair quietly came at night thinking about the difference between me in my comfortable bed, with my rescue dog snuggled blissfully on his comfortable bed. I’d contrast that to the equally intelligent and loveable emotional animal in a Factory Farm. No bed, no comfort, no love. It tore at my soul. And as I got into veganism the despair got worse. But meeting dedicated kindred spirits at protests, PETA, Jennifer Fearing and Elliot Katz, Jeffrey Masson, Anne Feingold, Melissa Flower, Michelle Taylor Cehn , Josephine Bellaccomo, Hope Bohanec, Debbie Spurrier, Brian Grupé, Kamal S Prasad, Wade Spital and so many more the kindness of heart all these wonderful people share make is impossible to despair for too long. We keep each other up and positive. My hopes to see animal cruelty end seem possible with all of us working in harmony. We pick up where the other leaves off. Some of us are better at some things than others. Some are more perfect vegans, others perfectly wonderful vegetarians. We are all on the same page, share the same dream. Every time one of us speaks up, it ignites something in someone else. And then I see FB entry like Kim Flahert’s saying meat consumption is down 39%. And I HAVE to feel encouraged by that! We just keep our hearts hopeful, willing, ready and able to keep thebe the positive changes going on. And now we have to convince developing countries like China, India and Mexico NOT to be like us/ U.S.



Kelly Leon

Not giving up, not ever.



Deb Is

I don’t find myself in personal despair often enough to know what I do. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt that way for myself. The real despair if for the animals. Refraining from eating them and using products that abuse them, and sharing the message with others is what I do to help with that despair.




  1. Janie
    June 30, 2012

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    Despair, yes. How can you not feel despair when you learn about all the atrocities and suffering? Often you feel like the mountain to make change is just too high to climb and your baby steps aren’t going very far. So, I acknowledge the feeling, but I move forward and refuse to get overwhelmed by it. I continue to take every opportunity to educate, advocate and fight the good fight. 150 years ago, people were being sold and enslaved in the U.S. Things can get better. Change can happen. Keep fighting my vegan friends!

  2. Kezia
    July 10, 2012

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    I think this is a good time to post a link to the interview with “Peace Mom” (and vegan!) Cindy Sheehan. Her response was very relevant when Gary asked for her advice for activists:

    “Pace yourself–it’s a lifelong struggle. Too many people burn out. Get plenty of rest, eat healthy non-animal food, exercise, laugh, love and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, ever!”

    Read more here:

  3. Sarah
    April 12, 2015

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    I know this post is old, but it’s a current issue for all of us, and especially the new vegans… I thought I’d enclose this link to a great blog by this wonderful lady, Clare Mann, who is a psychologist and a vegan. <3

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