Do You Suffer From Vystopia?

The Discovery of Systemised Cruelty

Like many who have made the journey before me, the discovery of systemised torture and cruelty within our modern society left me horrified.

My journey into veganism arose out of my eyes being suddenly opened to the large scale abuse of animals in our industrial system. It was almost impossible to take in, and probably one of the most painful things I have ever experienced.

The realisation that approximately 150 billion animals per year are killed for a mere 7.5 billion humans was appalling. These animals are merely cogs in the machinery of business who consider them no more than units of production and profit.

The reality I faced was indeed a dystopia, namely; “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one” (Wikipedia). 

However, as far as the industrial abuse of animals, this wasn’t an imagined place or state. It was reality, and yet the majority of people were colluding with this dystopia through their everyday consumer choices.

The more I searched, the more despairing I became. Within this was the other reality that encouraging people not to collude with the exploitation of animals was often met with ridicule, resistance, criticism or indifference.

Cries of “It’s my choice to eat what I want!” made my heart sink, realising that those who said this were in a trance-like state at the enormity of what they were a part of. I couldn’t escape the frequent reminders of this speciesism as I saw others eat animals or their secretions, wear animals, sit on furniture made of animal skins, use cosmetics and household products that contained animal products or were tested on them.

This collective collusion with the abuse was so startling that I felt there was no escape. It wasn’t as if the collusion with the pursuit of profit at any cost could be avoided by visiting or purchasing elsewhere.  Even if I chose to purchase and act differently, others around me were continuing to support this dystopia. It was right in-front of my eyes and they were seemingly unaware of the depth of the deception.

The Existential Angst of a Vegan

Others who have made this discovery might relate to this level of existential angst. My background as an existential psychotherapist and psychologist had already given me a deep understanding of life choices, and their effect on the human psyche.

However, unlike that very personal journey we are all on of discovering our meaning, I came to realise that the vegan can’t escape this angst through distraction or meaning-making. I believe this is because they can’t escape the everyday reminder of the dystopia and the non-vegan’s unwitting collusion with animal cruelty.

Non-vegans are unwittingly colluding with the cruelty, until the vegan advises them of it.  The vegan who then talks to someone about these issues, who subsequently doesn’t become vegan, believes that that person either agrees with the cruelty, disbelieves what goes on or is indifferent to it.  Either way, the vegan knows that the non-vegan now has the knowledge but chooses to continue with the collusion. Therefore, they say that their friends or family don’t understand them. They might believe the non-vegan is demonstrating that:

  •         Cruelty and animal exploitation is acceptable.
  •         They do not wish or are unable to empathise with the vegan’s trauma or
  •         They do not believe that animal cruelty is as far-reaching as the vegan reports.


The existential angst for the vegan is something I call vystopia, the “existential crisis experienced by vegans which arises out of an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world.  It’s the awareness of the greed, ubiquitous animal exploitation and speciesism in a modern dystopia”.
If you have following symptoms, you too are likely to be suffering from vystopia:

  • Anger
  • Intense grief at the enormity of the ubiquitous animal abuse
  • Frustration at being unable to wake people up from the trance
  • Feelings of alienation from non-vegans
  • Loneliness within groups you previously felt part of
  • Despair and hopelessness that things will never change
  • Powerlessness to effect change on a global level

Is there a cure for vystopia?

The cure for vystopia is a vegan world that extends beyond the non-exploitation of animals to encompass the non-exploitation of humans.

Exploitation of humans will always exist whilst we are part of a machinery that maintains us in a state of trance where we don’t even question the abuse.  This may sound like an unachievable Utopia.  However, all positive steps in human history arise out of people coming together and holding a vision which is very different from their current reality.

It takes leaders to share this vision and ‘walk the talk” of their conviction so others say, “We can indeed do better than this and we will!”  Vegans are the new leaders in creation of this brave new world and each of us must rise to the challenge and be on the right side of history. Together we can create a world in which we all wish to belong and in which all sentient creatures are respected and honoured.

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Living as a Stranger in a Strange Land

When you become a vegan, you run a high chance of developing a mental illness. This might seem extreme and enough to make non-vegans avoid talking about the subject, so let me clarify what I mean. Firstly, someone who adopts a plant-based diet and calls themselves a vegan is unlikely to suffer in the same way, apart from friends and family calling them as fussy eaters. It’s the person who becomes vegan after discovering that approximately 150 billion animals each year are killed across the globe to maintain our lifestyles. These ethical vegans have seen videos of animal factory farming, slaughter, animal testing and more and deeply empathise with the suffering of these innocent creatures. Their distress is then compounded when they see what other people are capable of doing to animals and the cover-up that the vast majority of the world are blissfully unaware of. As a result, they think, feel and act in ways that result in clinical anxiety, depression, self-harm, paranoia, eating disorders, dissociation and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why do these ethical vegans suffer so much, when they only want to live a more compassionate life? Instead they end up feeling miserable and angry at the world. A couple of analogies might give us a glimpse of the vegan’s world.

1. Waking up in a Foreign Country

Imagine waking up in a foreign country. You’re not sure how you got there but you wake up and everything is different. The road signs don’t mean anything and the shops in the street are only recognisable by what they have in the windows. Other people go merrily on their way, speaking in a language you don’t understand and they don’t seem to notice your discomfort. Everything’s familiar in one way and yet it’s like being on another planet. You don’t know what to do so you try to find someone who speaks your language. People either laugh at your accent and desperate attempts to be understood or laugh at your clothes, hairstyle or outdated phone. Then you remember your phone and are relieved because “Google’s Your Friend”, right? The battery’s flat and your charger doesn’t fit in the wall plug. Now you start to get really scared. You try to buy food by pointing to what you want but the shop assistant doesn’t accept the money you have in your purse.

If you’ve ever visited overseas, you may have felt disorientated but you can live with it because you’ve chosen to go on an adventure. You have your phone, a direct line to friends on social media and most people speak English anyway. But imagine, not being a traveller nor on holiday. In a split second, you panic thinking, “Oh my god, what if I never get out of this?”

If this happened to you, what would you feel? It’s likely to be:

• Isolation
• Fear
• Panic
• Despair
• Anxiety
• Desperation

And as time went on and you’re afraid you’ll never seeing your friends and family again, your panic would increase. One day you recognise someone and rush up to them, saying, “Thank God!” only to be shrugged off and hear, “What’s your problem? Do I know you?” Now your despair would turn to grief, loss and a fear you’ve never felt before. The isolation and panic would be unbearable and the more you tried to get people to understand you, the worst it would become as they become angry, telling you never to speak to them again. What has happened to your world?

If you can imagine this, you’ll catch a glimpse of what it’s like for someone who’s become vegan because for them the world they knew has become alien. Maybe you don’t have to imagine it because you’ve experienced a very similar thing. You may be experiencing it right now. This level of despair is felt by vegans who have found out about the enormous level of animal cruelty in the production of food, clothing, entertainment, testing on animals for makeup and household products and more. It’s not the same for someone who’s on a plant based diet for whilst they might be laughed at for “fussy eating” they they’re not continually traumatised by the animal abuse that silently underpins our everyday lifestyles and other people’s collusion with and refusal to talk about it.

If you’re a vegan and struggle with the pain of knowing what happens to animals, perhaps your world before was ok with the normal ups and downs. Then one day your eyes were opened and everything changed. You no longer see meat on a plate but a living creature begging for its life. Milk or cheese brings up images of a mother cow bashing her head against a crate desperately trying to reach for her newborn calf which has just been taken away so their milk can be stolen for people to drink. The leather couch which was comfortable before is the skin of an animal and every time you see the hand-wash in the bathroom at work you hear rabbits screeching as it’s tested on their eyes. The horror story continues and gets worse when other people dismiss, undermine or laugh at your sensitivity, saying, “Surely it can’t be that bad? The Government would never allow it!”

2. Emigrating to Another Country

Very few of us would ever experience living in a different country with no contact with the outside world, but we can probably imagine it. However, a lot of people emigrate or go to live in a different part of their own country. Imagine doing this and your friends and family refuse to visit. You tell them it’s like paradise, the weather’s better, the air cleaner and the lifestyle’s healthier. They make excuses why they can’t visit and if you push them too hard say, “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be! You’ll realise that one day and want to come back”. You tell them you used to feel this until you moved. Still they refuse, say it wouldn’t work for them and that they’re too old to change. You tell them that by staying where they were born, they’re actually adding to the destruction of the planet and behind closed doors a lot of suffering goes into supporting their lifestyle. Now they get angry, refuse to discuss any aspect of your new life and ban you from talking about it when you see them.

A lot of people who have physically moved experience something very similar. Perhaps this is because when you leave you’re saying, “somewhere else is better”. Even if you’ve moved for work or practical reasons, the silent message says that what you’ve have left behind is not as good as what you have now or else you would return. This means that their choice to stay is not the best one and people resist this.

Vegans experience something very similar when they tell their family and friends that they’ve become vegan. Despite the evidence of the health, environmental, animal welfare, ethical, economic and spiritual benefits of being vegan, people still resist and many refuse to even visit their world. That is why many vegans end up feeling so lost, alone, angry and misunderstood and often suffer from a range of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, grief and suicidal thoughts.

Feeling at Home Again

Can a vegan ever feel at home again living in a non-vegan world? My experience of working with the psychological trauma of vegans navigating this strange land, is that it’s possible to create greater ease and enjoyment living alongside a non-vegan world. The vegan will never accept or be neutral to what happens to animals behind closed doors but they can find a way out of their anxiety, grief, isolation and despair.

People who migrate or move to a different part of the country, typically do things that ease their sense of isolation and disorientation. They usually:

  • Create regular routines like visiting the same coffee shop or gym.
  • Work out directions so key places become familiar and they know where they are.
  • Get to know the locals by speaking to the barista, local shop keeper or bus-driver.
  • Find people they have things in common with through e.g. night classes or sport clubs.
  • Ask the locals about key places of interest they should visit.

The analogy of emigrating or moving to an unfamiliar place can be helpful to vegans who also need to create a sense of stability, predictability belonging and connection with like-minded people. Vegans who don’t make friends they feel truly understand them and avoid addressing the pain they feel, risk becoming anxious, depressed and suffering from more chronic forms of mental illness.

Strategies to help vegans maintain their psychological well-being

1. Create self-care routines

Make sure you eat healthily, exercise, rest and have regular down-time. Remind yourself you are an example to others of how good it is to be vegan.

2. Find friends that understand

Surround yourself with people who share your values and understand how you feel because they have or are experiencing the same thing. Seek their help when you need to talk through your difficulties but avoid people who are negative and make your feel worse. Learn to listen and help others and together find positive ways forward.

3. Become a great communicator

Learn to talk about what is important to you in a way that gets people saying, ‘That’s interesting. Tell me more!” Keep an open mind, ask questions and listen to what other people say. Avoid criticising people, instead partner with them to talk about how most people don’t want to abuse animals, trash the planet and mistreat other people.

4. Focus on creating a vegan world

Avoid focusing on how awful the world is and feeling powerless to change it. You don’t have to change the world by yourself. You have to change your world and in doing so, you become the best example for veganism. Focus on what you want the world to be like and donate one healthy, happy, open-minded and generous person to the cause – you!

5. Take action to improve the plight or animals

Decide what’s the best form of advocacy for you. You may work directly to uncover cruel practices going behind closed doors, write letters to MPs or papers to increase people’s awareness or volunteer at a shelter or vegan outreach. You don’t have to do everything nor burn yourself out. Find an outlet where you feel you are contributing and are part of a growing group of vegans taking action around the world.

6. Be nice to yourself

Don’t criticise yourself because you think you should be doing more or feel guilty if you have moments of happiness whilst knowing animals suffer so much. It doesn’t help the animals if you are miserable. What does help them is looking after yourself so you can be their voice over a long period of time.

Clare Mann.




This original article was edited and originally published in the second issue (March/April 2017) of The Australian Vegan Magazine. This magazine is intended to reach both vegans and non-vegans through the latest news and research, hard-hitting issues, vegan celebrity interviews, animal welfare stories, and loads of other vegan lifestyle features. This magazine is available throughout Australia and more information about the publication and a list of outlets can be found at

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Is Veganism the Latest Conspiracy Theory?

When I embarked on the Australian Tour of the new smartphone App Vegan Voices, I anticipated collaborating with vegan around Australia to collectively create a vegan world. I was encouraged by the positive energy and connections arising out of the tour and I’ll share with you later how Vegan Voices enhances this potential.  However, unanticipated learnings arose from the tour which offer both a challenge and an opportunity.

The tour began on World Vegan Day for the official launch of Vegan Voices Smartphone App.  The App comprises 30 days of free video training on how to communicate veganism as well as share resources. Attendees at my talk ‘Thriving as a Vegan’ were encouraged to develop a positive mindset and enhanced linguistic mastery when talking about veganism, two essential ingredients if vegans are to share the positive benefits of veganism for animals, the planet and people.

Unexpected Learnings

In discussions with vegans whilst on tour, a key theme kept emerging, particularly amongst those new to veganism.  These individuals, although relieved to have found people with similar values and support for their journey, kept saying, “I can’t believe I didn’t know of the ubiquitous use of animals in our society!”  “How could I have missed the fact that 7 billion humans use and kill approx. 150 billion animals each year and yet it’s hidden from us?” “What else don’t I know?”

Discussions then continued, some well into the night on this question, “What else don’t we know?”  People were almost unanimous in saying that no longer could they criticise things like alien sightings or other unexplained phenomenon, to date labelled as conspiracy theories.  Their eyes had been opened to speciesism and assumed superiority of humans and yet it had previously occurred, yet they were unable to see it.  Maybe vegans are like typical conspiracy theorists, frustrated that others can’t see unusual phenomena, yet imploring others of its existence?  Once labelled a conspiracy theory, it’s easy for the non-believer to ridicule and dismiss the new and challenging information.

Challenge and Opportunity

The question of ‘What else don’t we know?’ raised by new vegans appears to mask the real concern that their everyday existential safely in the world has been shaken.  Far from thriving, these new vegans were depressed at the enormity of unveiling of reality and the implications for every area of their lives.

The theme of the Vegan Voices Tour was ‘Thriving as a Vegan’ and I opened each talk with a question, “Do you feel you are surviving or thriving as a vegan”?  Few said they felt they were thriving, with others either surviving and feeling defeated with every new expose on animal or environmental abuse, or managing despite the challenges.  Those that declared they were thriving had created a series of rituals combining self-care and strategies to maintain a positive mindset.  Self-care strategies comprised things like yoga, meditation, walks in nature, proximity to animals and social support.  Everyone said that they wanted to improve their skills in communicating veganism, especially when others resisted, criticised or ridiculed the message.  The question is, ‘How do you become part of this social justice movement and enjoy journey so it underpins your life, rather than feeling your energy is spent defending yourself and countering attacks?  In short, how do you learn to thrive?

The Keys to Thriving as a Vegan

There are two key things you must do to thrive:

  1.  Create a Positive Mindset.
  2.  Become an Exquisite Communicator.

These two things go hand in hand.  You can master all the tools and information to share with others but without the skills to handle difficult conversations, you will find yourself stressed, defeated and critical of others.  To become an exquisite communicator of veganism you must create a mindset that reflects your desire and the unrelenting belief in the reality of a vegan world.

Neuroscience is now catching up with what many of us know intuitively, that in order to be credible and to get better outcomes, mindset and actions must be aligned.  You cannot hide a negative mindset behind a smile, so if you are negative and feel powerless, it will undermine the effectiveness of anything you communicate about veganism.

Creating a Positive Mindset

Drawing on lessons from neuroscience, I implored vegans to create a powerful vision of a vegan world in their minds and experience the positive emotions they anticipate feeling when this comes about.  Neuroscience highlights how neural pathways become deeply engrained by a combination of thoughts, feelings and trigger reactions.  By focusing on the rewards of veganism rather than an escape from the pain of knowing about animal abuse, new neural pathways are developed which trigger more positive experiences.  Vegans, in turn, emulate an energy that encourages people to want to know about veganism, rather than feeling they are judged if they are not vegan.

Your thoughts, feelings and experiences are intimately linked.  When you feel something negative, the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol are released into your system and you feel negative sensations in your body.  When you feel this, you label it saying something like, “I feel awful, angry or disgusted”.  That triggers more thoughts which release more stress hormones and this interaction results in labelling the emotion where you say, “I am angry or defeated” (or another label).  Over time, the relationship between your thoughts and feelings becomes so intertwined and automatic that the body remembers it and it becomes a habit.  The slightest trigger or association with the initially provocative information automatically results in a negativity and labelling of yourself as e.g. “angry, resentful or depressed”.  When you see, hear or think of something related to this topic, before you know it, you feel all the emotions as if you were experiencing the original provocative event.

The same thing happens with positive emotions.  This time, happy hormones are released. Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and you feel hope, safety and trust.  In short, whatever you spend your time thinking and feeling, creates your personal reality and to your change this, you must change the thoughts, feelings and actions that are recognisable as you over time and situation.  I encourage people to learn to meditate, visualise and experience the positive vegan world they want to create to facilitate this process.

Becoming an Exquisite Communicator

Communicating veganism can be challenging, because people think you are directly criticising their lifestyle and choices and they resist that more than the reality of where their food, clothes, cosmetics and other consumer goods come from.   Vegans must learn key skills to successfully have difficult conversations and practice them until they are automatic and they feel comfortable talking about “All things vegan”.

Communication Resource for Vegans

Vegan Voices is a new Smartphone App containing 30 days of FREE video communications training for vegans.  When you download this app, each day you receive a short video direct to your phone, teaching you specific skills to respond to typical issues vegans face.  Once you have grasped the best way to talk about a specific issue, you can practice the skills demonstrated in the video.

The Resources Section in the app contains links to videos, articles, books and other materials to send directly to other people to support the conversations you have.  Vegans are encouraged to add any resources they find useful in communicating veganism, to help vegans around the world get the word out.  Vegan Voices is available in iPhone and Android and is a growing resource to equip vegans to confidently communicate veganism and thrive as they usher in a more compassionate and healthy world.  Vegans can add their own resources to help vegans around the world spread the message.

DOWNLOAD the Vegan Voices App to your phone now:

The tour taught me that thriving as a vegan entails more than self-care, mindset shift and communication mastery.  It requires an open mindedness and questioning of what we believe that we already have the knowledge or answers for.  History provides ample examples of futurist ideas that were originally labelled as absurd. For example, Marconi who invented the radio was taken by his friends to a psychiatric institution when he said that he was ‘hearing voices’.  Most people smile at this today so as vegans who have had our eyes opened to so much, let’s expand our thinking and question everything rather than assuming we know what reality is.  Of course, in terms of vegans being labelled as conspiracy theorists, ample evidence of the mass exploitation and industrial use of animals for our benefit exists.  By aligning our mindset and communication, we can communicate effectively so others too can open their eyes and say, “What else don’t I know?”




This article was originally published in the 14th March 2017 issue of the online InTune Women Lifestyle Leadership Magazine. This issue focused on a range of lifestyle issues including health, food, meditation, yoga and philosophy.  To read this magazine visit:


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