The beautiful thing about empathy is that it allows us to step outside of ourselves and feel what it might be like to be someone else. For activists, this allows people who are not being oppressed or victimized to step into the shoes of others and partially understand the suffering that another is going through. For vegans, this means understanding what it feels like to be an non-human animal. We can see a video or image of an animal and put ourselves in his or her shoes and feel the pain and suffering that animal is going through. This leads us to make better choices in regards to what we eat, wear, and watch (avoiding entertainment using animals). It helps us to be the best humans that we can be.
But, it is also a curse. While we may never truly know how badly animals suffer, I know many activists out there daily suffer the trauma and hurt that is caused through feeling empathy. Empathy often transcends the mental understanding of what another human or animal is going through and becomes actual physical pain in the body of the person empathizing. While this is useful in regards to contributing the least amount to the suffering of others, it is also potentially dangerous to the health and well-being of the activist. How can they cope with this suffering? Most people will not understand how just knowing of the suffering of another can cause an individual unconnected to the actual physical trauma to feel the pain as if they were connected to it. This seems insane to people not gifted in empathy. But, it is very real. And it can be debilitating. I know that on several occasions I have felt beyond overwhelmed with the emotional and physical pain that has been created just from empathizing with the suffering of the animals of the world. And with billions of animals suffering every year and so much ignorance in regards to this suffering, how does one that feels this empathy 'snap out of it'? Clearly, we don't. But, this is also a strength. Many people go through life without purpose, drive or meaning. Not so for those of us blessed with an abundance of empathy. Our purpose is to make this world a better place. And we struggle towards doing that everyday.
The key is finding a balance between the happiness (or at least peace) it can bring knowing that you are contributing towards making it a better world and the misery that comes from knowing why things need to change in the first place. And while I don't have an answer for how to maintain this balance, I hope that being aware that you are not alone in feeling so intensely the suffering of others. And also know that it is a very real thing. You are not going crazy, and you are not weird. You are just an empathetic and compassionate person who cares deeply about all living beings. And if caring about others is a mental illness in this world where so often little thought is given to the needs and desires of others, then I shall gladly be crazy.