Sydney-based vegan psychologist and trainer Clare Mann has written a handbook for vegans to understand and communicate the anguish of living in a non-vegan world.
Vystopia, the title of Mann’s new book, is a new term coined by her in 2017, after becoming vegan ten years ago, to describe what she describes as an 'existential crisis' experienced by vegans as they become aware of society's trance-like collusion with a dystopian world full of greed, animal exploitation, and speciesism.
I caught up with her about her writing, mental health, activism and Vystopia.
So, Clare, where did it all started? Tell us a little about your unique work as a vegan psychologist.
I’ve been a psychologist for nearly thirty years and trained and consulted individuals and teams all over the world. My focus has been on results-based communication, enhancing individual potential, and principled consultancy.
Everything I have done has been underpinned by the importance of “having the conversation that matters”. This means “speaking the unspeakable”, “voicing the unspoken”, and looking beyond what one hears and is told, in order to understand what is actually real or desirable, not what we perceive it to be.
After becoming a vegan nearly ten years ago, I have become increasingly outspoken in the animal space and more people began to seek me out as a psychological counsellor. I realised that the symptoms they described like anguish, frustration, alienation, and anger were recognisable in my own experience after learning about the systematised abuse of animals. I named this set of symptoms and responses as Vystopia. I called myself a Vegan Psychologist and focused on the personal and social challenges facing vegans as ways to get them unstuck.
In the film “Carnage: Swallowing the Past” (2017), a psychotherapist in a future Britain is helping people to deal with their past trauma of eating meat. Do you see this happening in the near future? If yes, what makes this very real?
A number of vegans tell me of the enormous guilt they feel, knowing how they’ve contributed to animal suffering through their consumer choices before becoming vegan. Many are unable to forgive themselves, despite not previously knowing about what happens to animals behind closed doors. People have different capacities to feel guilt, an emotion related to feeling uncomfortable about decisions or actions they have taken. Some people seem to absorb other people’s guilt and feel bad for just being human, whilst others just can’t forgive themselves for their past actions.
It’s only by forgiveness that they can really move on and turn their guilt into something positive. With the increase in people becoming vegan and the education that accompanies this process, I believe we will potentially see a lot more people feeling guilty that they didn’t ask more questions and become vegan earlier. When people find out about the ubiquitous use of animals in our society and how this abuse links to so many other lies and cover-ups, it’s normal to feel duped and question everything upon which one’s life is based. This leads to an existential crisis which is central to understanding vystopia.
Our job as vegans, whether in the health professions or not, is to help others transmute their vystopia into positive action for animals, people, and the planet. We must all become well-resourced to becoming part of the solution by bringing our respective gifts to the world.
What’s the connection between a plant-based diet and mental health? Is research pointing us in some direction?
Whilst I’m not a nutritionist, it’s well documented that diet plays an important part in one’s physical and psychological well-being, particularly mood.
Medical practitioners like T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Klaper and Dr. Michael Greger, as well as plant-based naturopaths, highlight the importance of a whole-food, plant-based diet for our health and positive influence on mood and well-being. It stands to reason, that a junk-food vegan diet if maintained over time, would inhibit optimum health as well as influencing mental health. UK Nutritionists like Patrick Holford point to research outlining the relationship between the quality of one’s diet and improvements in mood, depression, schizophrenia, and autism.
What are your words to the visionary and courageous vegan activists out there bearing witness? How important is self-care and what can they do to maintain their well-being?
We have seen a dramatic increase in animal rights campaigning over recent years, with the growth of movements like The Save Movement, Anonymous for the Voiceless, and documentaries like Earthlings and Cowspiracy. Since the launch of the Australian documentary Dominion in 2018, I have heard first-hand from many vegans an increased desire and imperative for them to increase their activism.
These brave individuals are today’s leaders for a better world and in “bearing witness” they not only honour the lives of animals destined for slaughter, but send a strong message to individuals, society, and industrialists that there is a rising tide of social awareness that says there is a better way to treat animals, people, and the planet. In bearing witness, they experience repeated exposure to confronting footage and they must ensure they develop ways to process that trauma as well as ensure their physical and psychological health.
My advice is two-fold. Animal rights campaigners must develop high levels of self-care and become exquisite communicators. This includes looking after one’s diet, having a regular exercise regime, getting adequate rest and social support. It’s important to develop ways to ensure that one’s anguish is not buried deep within, or else it can turn into depression. Animal activists are greatly empowered if they learn to communicate effectively and powerfully. There is a lot of excellent training and mentoring happening in many groups.
And, what would you say to the main public, still not very aware of where their food comes from?
Every individual I ever have met who becomes vegan for ethical reasons and who chooses to live a life underpinned by the philosophy of the non-use and non-exploitation of animals says, “I wish I knew a long time ago, what I know now because I would have become vegan right away!”
So with that in mind, I encourage everyone to open their eyes and not accept what you are told without questioning it. Do your own research, be open-minded, and don’t blindly accept traditional education, medical advice, or one’s own family as always being right. How is it possible we didn’t know that over 156 billion animals are used by a mere 7.5 billion people each year? Don’t immediately decide what you think is right or wrong without adequate questioning and research. Many people who have been called Conspiracy Theorists are those whose ideas are outside the norm, and whom we later thank for opening our eyes to new truths.
Lastly, what can we expect from 2018 in terms of your work? And globally for veganism?
I believe that 2018 is a year of change for veganism. All social change appears to follow a sequence and Malcolm Gladwell’s book; The Tipping Point highlights this process. I believe we are reaching a tipping point of change and seeing people literally “step up” far more, and choosing to be part of the solution.
For me, this year involves of a lot of travel and speaking at different venues. I am focusing on promoting my new book; Vystopia: The Anguish of Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, which was launched in Sydney in May 2018. In June it will be launched at the Animal Rights National Conference in LA, before I leave for New York to emcee the premier screening of the documentary Dominion. In October Vystopia will be launched at the UK VegFest in London, just after some of Australia’s key events including World Vegan Day and the Vegan Spring Festival in Melbourne. I also have a couple of more academic conference papers being presented at major universities in Australia.
All this is leading to the piloting of our new, interactive, online communication and leadership program for Vegans, and this will be released later in the year. So a busy year but one in which I believe we will see major changes in animal protection and veganism. I will, however, always make time to be part of the Cube of Truth street activism events, as well as inviting some rescue dogs into my life later in the year.