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The Relationship Between
Compassion and Depression

Introduction:

Over the years we have found that very sensitive and compassionate people often get depressed because of all the cruelty and indifference to pain and suffering that they see around them.  They feel helpless to stop it all, thus depression sets in because they don't know what to do about their feelings, and they don't want to hide from the truth.  The following discussion involves such a situation, and how the List Members of Veg-Christian addressed it. 

To contact us, please write to flh@all-creatures.org


Erica wrote: (6 Aug 2000 @ 6:48 PM)

I don't know who to write anymore but I came across your page and thought I would give this a try. I am a vegetarian that is extremely concerned with animal rights and the plight of factory farm animals. I am haunted constantly by the images of helpless animals being slaughtered by the millions to feed our nations obsession with meat. It disgusts me to the point that I am not sure I want to live in a world that treats these defenseless creatures like that. I don't know what to do and have been contemplating suicide because I don't see this issue ever getting any better.

I know I am in the minority in the world and most people think I am crazy. What is truly crazy though is standing by while all these beautiful animals are murdered. I just don't know how to live like this anymore.

Can anyone help me?

Erica

Frank wrote: (6 Aug 2000 @ 8:09 PM)

Dear Erica:

You're not crazy! Your compassionate!

Christians are to have soft hearts, and soft hearts feel the sufferings of others, whether human or non-human. In essence, we feel the sufferings of the whole of creation. We are the ones whom Paul writes about in Romans 8:18-25.

Please feel free to write back anytime.

We also host a Veg-Christian e-mail discussion group. Would you like to join. There are many on this list who feel the same way that you do.

In the Love of the Lord,

Frank

Erica wrote: (6 Aug 2000 @ 9:07 PM)

Frank,

Thank you for writing me back. I would like to join your email group and maybe be able to correspond with some people who understand the way I feel. My biggest problem right now is trying to figure out how I am going to continue to live on knowing that all this animal suffering is going on, all the time. How do you move through you life knowing what is happening? How do you block out all that pain? I am really looking for a way to cope without going crazy.

Can you let me know how to join the discussion?

Thank you very very much.

Erica

Erica wrote: (7 Aug 2000 @ 11:06 PM)

Hello everyone, Thank you to Frank for giving me the email address of your group. I am in a very bad state right now. I seem to be sinking deeper and deeper into a depression that I cannot get myself out of.

The depression is due to my despair that I cannot help all the poor, defenseless factory farm animals that are exploited every day at slaughterhouses. I want so much to make a difference but I know that this problem is much bigger than me. I am haunted at night by images of cows crying out in pain while they suffer at the hands of cruel men. I cannot make these images go away.

I sometimes wonder, if I cannot make a difference, then life is just is not worth living anymore. No just and loving God would let these things happen to his beautiful creatures. So where do I find hope? How do any of you go through your daily life with these images and thoughts? If anyone out there can offer me any words of hope it will mean more to me than you can ever know.

Thank you very much, Erica

Maynard wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 12:31 AM)

Erica --

I find that B-complex vitamins and lots of sleep help when I feel that way, but also St. John's Wort, but ONLY for an extremely short period of time, like 5-6 days.

The challenge, I think, is to organize your ENERGIES so that you can ACT to improve the world "at hand" around your physical self. To allow oneself to sink into the destructive "influences" around you is to make yourself a victim.

Surely THAT cannot be the proper "modus operandi", nor could it be the lifestyle that Christians ought to live, to become victimized by every evil intention around them.

By the way, I get depressed enough and often enough, but it's not a solution - it's only a problem, and one that I shouldn't be feeding.

Maynard

Aaron wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 1:06 AM)

We talked a little bit about factory farms in the past couple of weeks. If you're looking to "make a difference", there are some links to some possible places to get involved at the bottom of an article that one of the Veg-Christian contributors wrote and recommended: http://www.rtis.com/touchstone/summer00/12factor.htm

As far as your question as to how to overcome depression over the plight of animals, I'll defer to other list members who feel more similarly to you, except to recommend praying for God to help you to know that He is in control.

Jason wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 2:51 AM)

Hi Erica,

I think I can empathize with your feelings. Once we open our eyes to the intense suffering that permeates every corner of the world, it can take a lot of courage to take it in without denial or rationalization. In fact, it's been my experience that most people prefer not to think about others' pain and suffering, even though it clearly exists and can be increased or decreased depending on the actions we take.

For example, if everyone decided to go vegetarian for just two days a week, imagine how many living, feeling animals would be saved from the misery of factory farming and slaughter. Yet, despite how reasonable this idea sounds (especially considering how human health and the environment would also benefit), many people resist becoming partial-vegetarian or totally vegetarian because they seem to either rationalize their feelings ("I am too busy; it's too hard; I don't want to seem 'weird' to my friends", etc.), or they just choose to put animals' pain out of their minds because they wish to enjoy their factory-farmed animal products without guilt (this is pretty much denial).

At any rate, I commend you for not rationalizing or denying what you have learned about the very real suffering of farm animals. You are obviously a very sensitive and compassionate person, and I would encourage you to use your sensitivity to work for changing things for the better. Regarding your depression: It seems that mild depression can sometimes be good, since it can serve as an impetus for self-reflection and thus self-change; however, severe depression seems to have few advantages, especially since it can sometimes lead to total inactivity, loss of hope, and even suicide.

To my mind, the most rational course of action one can take, when considering the veritable mountain of needless suffering in the world is twofold. First, think hard on why the particular suffering exists, that is, look for its causes (in the case of factory farming, it is probably ignorance, greed, perhaps even, on a deeper level, capitalism itself; in the case of the thousands of Iraqi children now suffering and dying horribly, it is due to the US economic sanctions we currently impose on them (for info: http://www.nonviolence.org/vitw/ ); in the case of prisoner rape, where thousands of non-violent offenders suffer repeated sexual assaults annually in the US, it is due, again, to ignorance, public apathy, and financial interests (for info: www.spr.org ); and so forth), and do whatever one can do, within reason, to effect change in the most humane, liberating, and compassionate direction possible.

Second, I would realize (and continue to remind myself when I forget, which is often) that I am only one person, and the problems and issues I confront are much larger than myself. I can do a lot, perhaps much more than I would have ever guessed, to help others, but there is a limit and to expect more out of myself and the world would only court disappointment, anger, and depression. (Another way of saying this is to recall the truth expressed in the "Serenity Prayer"):

Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

So, stay active, keep educating yourself and others, try to stay positive, and remember that you can only do so much--but that's still a lot!

Peace,
Jason

Peter wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 5:38 AM)

Hi Erica,

Looks like you already received good advice from the concerned people - let us all do what we can do for the betterment of the world and specifically in our own are.

I have been looking at this problem from the spiritual point to find what is my duty? God created this world and when the sin entered there has been nothing but awful suffering in all levels. The closer we get to the end times the worse it will get in human and animal world - prophetic word, the Great controversy over sin. In Revelation 14, God is telling us that as soon as there are 144,000 willing fully to follow His message (reflect His character) the end will come. Even Christians do not want to know the word from the Bible - only very few. Things are happening at a fast order now so it is up to us individually to know and tell others to hasten the end. Erica, then there is the answer what I see. Individually to be fully transformed into His image.

In His wonderful love,

Peter

Steve wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 6:45 AM)

Hello, Erica.

Welcome to V-C. I think all of us here are saddened by humankind's treatment of animals. Anyone with compassion grieves with those who are suffering. But, it is much healthier, spiritually and psychologically, to have compassion (the word his its origins in "feeling-with") than to be disconnected from the feelings of others and live as isolated, alienated individuals. When we feel compassion, we make choices that are meaningful, rather than out of whim or to satisfy immediate, relatively irrelevant pleasures. So, when we choose diets without animals, we make a significant impact on animal welfare (though not as great as we would like, since billions continue to suffer and die).

And, there are other ways you can do things for animals, such as spreading the word by handing out literature. Pleasantly asking people if they want some literature on vegetarianism and providing literature can change many others' lives. I suggest the following literature:

For college students: Why Vegan? (Vegan Outreach --   http://www.veganoutreach.org  )

For general public: Vegetarian Living (Vegan Outreach) For Christian communities: Vegetarian Living plus Questions and Answers about Vegetarianism for Christians (in press--will be available late August, produced by Christian Vegetarian Association http://www.veg.faithweb.com )

So, your grief is appropriate and healthy, but depression is not. Of course, I don't know how depressed you are, but if you really feel suicidal you should seek professional help.

In Christ's peace,

Steve

Kristina wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 4:22 PM)

Dear Erica:

I'm new to the group and have been reading your letter and responses to it.

I also commend you for having compassion and a good heart. It's often heartbreaking to know the suffering that the animals go through.

I often think back to when I first became a vegetarian after reading John Robbin's book Diet for a New America and how touched I was by that book. I shared the information I got from that book with my mom, my friends and even did a speech for my Toastmaster's group. My mom became a vegetarian then and so did several of my friends. I haven't always had luck in converting people to vegetarianism but I believe any time we share information with people in a loving and understanding way, we make a difference. We may not realize the difference we do make, but I know that since I shared John's book with my mom, she has also spoken to people about vegetarianism. My husband is not a vegetarian but he has reduced his meat consumption considerably and I am raising our son to be a vegetarian. I share info with everyone I meet, sometimes they ask for veg recipes, sometimes they don't want to know, but I believe if enough of us speak out for animals, we will make a difference. Don't give up hope. We need more people like you to speak for the animals. Know there are others out there that feel as you do and that you are not alone. We may only change one person and a time, one meal at a time, but collectively if we all deliver the message with love and understanding, the message will be heard.

God's love be with you,

Kristina

Brenda wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 10:31 PM)

Hello dear Erica and welcome to the collective that grieves for the pain and suffering of our fellow kin - the non-human animals - I have forwarded your soul cry to my two favorite animal rights groups that have the most info on post traumatic stress and our work to save the animals - psychologists for the ethical treatment of animals and feminists for animal rights - if you need more info on either of these groups and/or more support please contact me, blessings to you and all the non-human animal companions we raise our voices to save!

Brenda, Connecticut

Albert wrote: (8 Aug 2000 @ 10:41 PM)

Erica,

I know something of how you feel. What helps me is my faith. I believe that contributing my part, which for me includes daily prayer for the animals, will help. Life is a war between Light and darkness. All we can do is our part to make the world better. All else must be placed in the hands of Christ. Without faith we can become not only useless to ourselves, but to the animals as well.

Peace,

Albert

Erin wrote (9 Aug 2000 @ 2:02 AM)

Welcome Erica,

Oh, how so many of us can relate to your heartache. This is something I've struggled with for years. As my relationship with God deepens I seem to be finding more peace. You HAVE to find your hope in Jesus Christ. You must understand that He cares for these creatures more than you or I ever could. God never intended such pain and suffering for people or animals, I'm sure the day to day atrocities sicken Him. He created man as a being capable of making choices. He did not want us to be puppets. Unfortunately, we made a HUGE, bad choice long ago and man and beast continue to suffer as a result. However, we have to rely on God's message.

He sent Jesus so that we may have ABUNDANT life, we no longer HAVE to be enslaved by our emotions. GOD is in total control. Revenge is His. He does not CAUSE such hideous things to happen, but yes, I believe He allows them to happen (go to the book of Job and see Gods discussion with Satan). Why He allows innocent beings to suffer, I don't understand, but I DO know we are called to TRUST God, to have FAITH in Him. He has a plan, I don't know what it is, but I am sure it is the BEST plan. This is the concept that I hold onto for "dear life". I believe He cares for the the animals, I believe His despises the abuse, I believe His creation will receive a great reward for all of the abuse it withstood, eternal life with no pain, no fear, just eternity praising God, AND I believe those who have inflicted the suffering WILL suffer consequences of their own.

God has given us a burden for His creation. We need to do what we can to help animals but we are not expected to "change the world", although I know most of us have probably tried. We need to keep God as our number 1 priority. He will show each of us what our role is in this issue. HE will give us peace.

I have small children and before I handed this burden over to the Lord I was so busy fighting the battle that God and my family became low on my list of priorities. I was miserable and God made the reason very clear. He doesn't want us to live in misery. We are definitely to have compassion and to help as much as possible but He wants us to find peace in the fact that this is HIS battle, we don't have to carry the weight of the pain and suffering of every animal on our shoulders, He does!

I have considerably cut back on my "activism" for now. When my kids get older, and when God shows me it's time, I will get more involved again. I am involved with my local humane society and do some of their phone work from home. When a stray animal crosses my path I know God has put it there for a reason and I make it my responsibly to care for it, to find its owner, or a NEW owner or to get medical attention if need be.If I see abuse taking place I report it. I write a lot of letters and I pray a lot!!!!

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying "yeah, this is God's deal, I'm outta here", I'm saying I have to keep a perspective. I can only do SO much and I can't be in constant agony because I can't save them all. It is Gods battle. We are in His army and we are expected to fight, but let Him tell you when, where and how.

There are still many days when I shed tears for animals and my heart breaks, but I take the heartache to the Father and I put it in His lap so I can continue living. I don't know what I would do without the hope He brings.

I hope you all can somewhat understand what I've tried to communicate here!! I just KNOW that Satan would love for us to all become so debilitated by the pain that we couldn't be effective soldiers in this battle!!!

In Christ,

Erin


If you would like to discuss similar feelings with others, please write to flh@all-creatures.org


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