CHAPTER 4: DON'T OVERLOAD ON DISTURBING VIDEOS AND CONTENT
The first year that I was vegan, I watched a ton of videos and read a lot of materials that deepened my understanding and my core commitment to animal advocacy. They also put me on the edge of burnout before I’d even really begun. I believe that there is a fine line we walk with our exposure to graphic materials and if one is not careful, it’s fairly easy to teeter off that line and fall into compassion fatigue. Some deepens our commitment; too much, though, and we can overload.
When I was newly on this path, I watched a lot of videos but the footage that sent me nearly over the edge was on how performing and working elephants are beaten to have their spirits broken; I am pretty sure these videos left a painful bruise on my heart that remains tender to this day. I wept and sobbed uncontrollably in a fetal position on the floor; I couldn’t talk to anyone much beyond a basic “yes” and “no” for weeks, which made work difficult. I absolutely hated the world. Although I knew the cruelties intellectually, watching the footage was emotionally eviscerating in a way that left me pretty unable to function. I felt like I was drowning in despair.
I climbed out of that deep well of grief in time – thanks, in large part, to my supportive community (see above) – but I can see how during this critical time, I could have easily decided to quit and go back, again, to the path of least resistance: giving up my advocacy and veganism. Instead, I decided that I needed to know enough to be articulate and informed on the topics but that steeping in disturbing materials wasn’t healthy for me as a person or as an activist who must engage with the world in order to be effective. I’m in it for the long game. I’m sure you want to be, too. If we burn out, the animals can no longer count on us. I do not watch violent footage anymore and I haven’t for years; in no way has this softened or dulled my commitment to vegan advocacy and outreach. In fact, it has strengthened my drive and resolve because I am not being drained by compassion fatigue anymore. I will say, though, this kind of footage can also be a very powerful antidote to if you’ve found that you’re becoming complacent or apathetic. Kind of like Goldilocks, you need to find the amount that is just right for you.
Know yourself and your boundaries about how much you can expose yourself to without risking your equilibrium. Tune in to and respect your own boundaries. In the meantime, if you are looking for emotional support and someone to talk to who understands, please try the free helpline offered every Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM, by In Defense of Animals.