Hey. Let me tell you a story of why and how I become a vegetarian and why I had to stop because of my mental health problems.
Since I was a little kid I was never really big fan of a meat. My parents had to force me to eat it and I still eat only chicken meat. I am very grateful they did this as i got usual portion of nutrients a kid needs. I’m strongly against vegetarian or vegans parents pushing their believes on their children. Of course you can argue that it is the same what all of the other non-vegetarian parens do – pushing their meat-eating habits onto their children – but c’mon. As a parent you shouldn’t deprive your kid of anything there is that food industry offers. Is everyone’s own business but let them choose when they are old enough to understand the decision they’re making.
As I was growing up I was more and more aware of the meat taste and how I don’t like how it makes me feel. I always described is as a “I’m not in a mood for meat”. There was a day I would eat chicken without a blink and then there was a day when i would stare at the piece of chicken and dissect it in small particles until i would find some vein, blood or tendon and i would refuse to eat it altogether. Pork, beef or any other type of meat was never an option for me – not unless i was aware of it. Sometimes my parents would tell me that the meat is chicken so i would at least give it a shot. Tricky but this tactic would not end successfully most of the times.
My parents would always get upset with how picky I am but after some time they got used to it and didn’t try to fight it anymore.
In my 15 I started highschool far away from home and I lived in girls dormitory. There was no vegetarian food option in the dorms canteen – well to be fair there was no option at all we got one food and you eat it or you’re hungry. It was easy for me to ask them not to serve meat to my plate and instead they would aways give me more potatoes,rice or vegetable instead.
What was the biggest struggle for me was the reactions I received. It was aways always the same. If someone noticed I don’t eat meat they would ask “are you a vegetarian?” in such obnoxious way I immediately felt small and felt the need to defend myself like I was doing something wrong. I would answer “no i just don’t like meat” in small voice. Response would be well-known phases I’m sure all of you who practise some sort of diet such as ” i can’t imagine that” “wow i can’t imagine my life without meat” “really? not even a chicken?” and many other bullshits. After such pleasant conversation I aways ended up questioning myself as why i can’t force myself to eat that piece of meat and what the hell was wrong with me.
I didn’t like talking about my meal habits at all as I aways came across the same negative reaction. Vegetarian was like a dirty word, something I shouldn’t want to be associated with.
Until my breaking point. Again I was always leaning to vegetarianism but I was never really pushed by the line to actually call myself that until one day.
I always helped out in kitchen. One day I was making chicken soup and as I was holding the small body, chicken ribs in the palm of my hand and all I could think of was how it feels exactly the same when I’m hold my dog in my hands. I have Maltese dog – very small and cutest ever and size of his ribs are the same as the ribs of the dead chicken i was about to boil in hot wather and eat. I suddenly become very nauseous and i knew i won’t eat the soup. I couldn’t even taste it for seasoning. I was sick even thinking about it. From that moment i just couldn’t put any piece of meat in my mouth.
I accepted the fact that I don’t like the meat and I shouldn’t feel bad about my preferences. I was finally 100% confident in calling myself vegetarian and answering the silly questions with higher confidence than ever. I didn’t like the taste, I didn’t like the preparation of death animal parts in my hands – so what?
I made this decision of skipping meat completely at my 17- almost 18 years. It got much easier when I moved to Czech republic and start living at new university dormitory. Part of our dorm is canteen and they always offer 6+ meals to choose from and aways 1-2 meals are vegetarian. I suddenly didn’t feel like such outsider anymore. I got to meet many other people who were vegetarians or vegans and it made me feel more ” normal” than when I was at highschool. People at uni didn’t find it as strange and were more understanding.
I practised my vegetarianism for 3-4 years until I was 21 . My crucial moment was one horrible night that changed everything for me.
I’ll try to explain what went on with me and my health problems as shortest a possible but there are still few thing I just need to say and are important to my story as a vegetarian. I want you to understand why I chose to eat meat once again and that vegetarianism is not for me anymore. There is also very personal subject of my mental health described in next paragraphs.
Contains many trigger warnings and it’s probably the most personal segment I ever wrote.
I woke up one night feeling strong chest pain, I couldn’t breathe, I was all alone in my room and I was petrified with fear I’ll die at that moment. It was seriously the worst night of my life and i kept reliving it every day after that. Few minutes passed by and i was finally able to breathe but the chest pain didn’t go away. Actually it didn’t go away for next 6 months. I was in pain ever since, my chest hurt with every breathe i took, i couldn’t lie down, i couldn’t sleep as this pain attacks kept repeating every night. I was strongly sleep deprived as i spend most of my nights wild awake focusing on my breathing. I kept trying to fall sleep sitting straight as i couldn’t lie down because the pain would increase. I visited several emergencies, doctors, i took many strong painkillers, took lot of medical tests but all of the results were the same – I’m healthy. There was nothing wrong with me except i was not ok. I stopped eating, communicating, i couldn’t visit school anymore as i was hyperventilating most of the time of day and couldn’t breath at all during the night, i kept crying like literally all the time as a way to release at least of the pain and frustration from situation i was stuck in, i keep fainting randomly and no one knew how to help me. Worst part was that almost no one from my close friends or family believed my problems. I felt so guilty for asking for help so many times. I felt like I’m bothering everyone with my crying but i just couldn’t stop it. I tried not to talk about any of it – no one believed me anyway. I was all alone and I was loosing my mind. I was going crazy.
I took 2 rehabilitation as they assumed my problem was called Tietze syndrome – meaning basically that my ribs was damaged and were causing me pain when breathing or moving. I took messages, radio therapy, laser therapy, electro therapy but none of this helped so I tried many other alternative forms of treatment. I visited several therapists, I tried healing through chakras, meditation, swimming, yoga, creams and herbs, sleeping tea, hugging trees – unfortunately with no positive result. With every failed treatment I felt even worse and friends and family gave up on me completely. I swear to god every “get over it” “its all in your head” “don’t think about it” “you just have to fight it” “some people have it worse than you” crap shorten my life in half.
I was very weak – this went on from end of january till august when I finally got help I so desperately needed. 7 months without proper sleep, food, on painkillers and in constant misery. This was the worst time of my life and it was the time i decided to eat meat again. I was very weak – most movement i was able to do was move to bathroom and even this made me so tired i needed to lie down.
I was at home one day as I was having my first rehabilitation at my hometown and my dad brought home this very good smelling sausage. This was my first meat I ate after 4 years. From then I tried to slowly add meat into my daily meals. I wasn’t eating much but i tried my best to get as many nutrients i could take. I was expecting to have digestion problems from such sudden meat consumption but nothing happened. I wasn’t cured thought. I was still in pain but i felt stronger, i could walk 2 steps without feeling like fainting again.
After several more breakdowns I finally decided to visit specialist I needed – psychiatrist. To sum it all up – all this time I was suffering from panic disorder and severe depression but not one of the hundred doctors i visited could figure that out. I started taking antidepressants and i never felt better. So don’t worry I’m ok now but it blows my mind away how simple it was to get better once you overcome the mental illness stigma.
I refused to go to psychiatrist, I was convinced I don’t need that kind of help, I’m not crazy and I could never bring such shame on my family. Even though family member committed suicide before but mental health is not something you talk about at family dinner. Or at all.
I remember this day when I almost visited psychiatrist after few very bad nights. I was standing in front of psychiatrist door when this woman came by and she was talking to herself, looking straight down and shivering her hands. I turned around immediately and went home. I’m not that bad as this woman and we simply can’t be needing the same help. I was “strong” and “I’ll deal with it myself”. I was full of crap. If only i could go in that door back then i would be getting better like 2 months earlier. 2 more months of being normal and healthy human being.
Thank god I visited my psychiatrist. If you’ll think less of me now – well you should seriously rethink your life values. I hit rock bottom, felt guilt, shame and you have no idea how proud I am of myself for not killing myself even though it seamed as the only solution of how to ease the pain most of the nights. Unless you were at the same hell you have no right to judge me and if you were then I am so sorry this happened to you.
I’m still eating meat. Even thought there is still part of me that hates the fact that I’m eating animals, and all their muscles and veins. But – there is much bigger part of me that wants to be healthy and never ever go back to the nightmare I lived. If my body requires meat I’m gonna give it to it. I understand there might be strong vegetarian/vegans reading this article who would disagree with me and consider me traitor to whole vegetarian/vegan believe, but unless you go to sleep fearing you won’t wake up, your daily accomplishment is that you took shower, ate food and simply stayed alive you just don’t know what it’s like. If you do understand what I’m talking about then again i’m so sorry.
It’s still very hard for me to talk about it but I find it easier to type it down than to actually speak up about it but it’s so so so important to talk about mental health and to destroy mental health stigma. I would love to hear your story of how you fought depression and other mental illness.
Let’s talk about it
I put myself first now with everything I have, with everything it takes.
If you don’t eat meat – good for you. If you do eat meat – good for you. Do whatever suits you. Don’t take anyones crap. In the end you’re all you got.
Take care of yourself
Thank you so much for your attention