We All Want To Be Free: Disability, Veganism, Oppression & Trauma

By Michele K

In my experience when you’re disabled (and proud #represent ) but require home health care services, it seems like you can’t go 6 months without having to fight against cuts in funding, Which means, that every damn year, we are fighting against attacks (from democrats and republicans) on our literal freedom. Do you know what it’s like to fight to not be forced from your home and into nursing homes & institutions? It’s exhausting, it’s terrifying and it’s normalized. As of early April 2022, I have been signal boosting  #FairPay4Home Care, which works to solve the home health care worker shortage crisis by ensuring a fair wage (not poverty wage) for HHC workers, More workers in the HHC industry, less disabled and/or seniors forced from our homes. Our struggles are connected.

Getting involved in the movement has been simultaneously fulfilling as I am currently mostly bedbound (though working on getting stronger) and sometimes feel isolated from the world, so it has been nice to feel a part of something bigger than myself and my friends. But at times it was also triggering (in the actual psychological sense of the word, not as in a synonym for merely bothered as it’s often misused). No one deserves to be forced from their homes against their will and into institutions, where daily life is a dehumanizing assembly line. And that’s just when we’re not in a pandemic. When we are, such places can be a literal death trap and nightmare.

An experience, I unfortunately know all to well, as I spent several months in three different nursing homes from October 2021 to January 2022. Not only was I malnourished, not only did I at times experience abuse and neglect, but as I mentioned in the previous article which was somewhat controversial,  I (like many of those stuck in institutions) was not able to remain vegan.

And because at that point, I had already lost far too much weight as it was in these various hospitals and institutions, I had little choice but to consume animals like chicken and fish. And at first, it broke my heart more than I can say, but like many toxic experiences that occurred during that time, my way of getting through things was to shut down as I was essentially in survival mode. And it got to the point where I was so closed off emotionally, that after a month, I ate chickens and fish without much of a thought. To be clear I didn’t take pleasure in it. I didn’t take pleasure in much during that time. It was eat or starve – so I ate. But I never felt good about it. I just shut down from those feelings of sadness, the knowledge that I am eating a fellow being. Nope not a being. Just food.

When I got out of the nursing home, my health was not stabilized. In fact, it was worse. I had actually gotten covid while I was there because at first there was one case, then there was a whole floor of covid, and then it was on three floors of covid (including the floor I was on). And still, the owners of the nursing home kept accepting new people even though the staff was already overwhelmed and burnt out and could not keep up with the numbers that we had. In many cases, sometimes on a daily basis, the staff punched down. I remember being so dehydrated at one point that I collapsed on the floor, only to be yelled at because they didn’t have time for “these games”. It was not a game. So when I came home I was not only messed up physically but also mentally. I had experienced trauma and had a lot of healing to do. Anyone who knows that the path to healing from trauma is not an easy one because you have to remember, feel, process and grieve –  and I had gone to great lengths to avoid such things, I still get flashbacks and it remains one of the hardest things I have ever had to get through.

That said, one of the many good things about being home (besides being in a safer environment) was that I was able to eat whatever I wanted – within the realm of my allergies and dietary intolerances. At first I was concerned that going back to vegan “too quickly” might be too much of a shock for my body which was already pretty messed up at this point in time. In addition, one doctor had told me that eating soy might exasperate my thyroid issues, and so part of me felt scared about returning to tofu. I was also experiencing these really strong cravings for salmon that I initially didn’t understand. What if I can’t be vegan for medical reasons and if I stop eating fish I’ll get even worse? I realize now this thinking was partially rooted in trauma. With trauma responses, you experience really intense depression and intense anxiety, so making changes (even good ones) can feel incredibly overwhelming. But at one point in my recovery, as I started to heal, I reconnected to the realization that the salmon I was eating was not just “food” but this was a being, this was a life that was not mine to take. And when I reconnected to that, I cried. Like me, this was a life that deserved freedom and safety. But furthermore, I realized I don’t need to eat the fish anymore. I am no longer in survival mode. I am safe now and I can let it go. So, I looked for other sources of Omega 3 (hemp hearts and jackfruit according to the internet) and it felt safe to make the change.

Just as it was important for me to honor the life of the fish, it was also important for me to honor my feelings on the matter and what was needed to feel safe. Instead of just trying to ignore the feelings or even chastise myself for having them in the first place. My heart is vegan, why am I craving salmon?! I honored those feelings and looked at why I was having the craving in the first place. Turns out as my body was quite malnourished from my time in the various institutions, I needed more calories, more iron, omega 3, and protein than what I was eating as my body needed to heal. Once I ate more of what was needed, the cravings went away. It was never that I wanted salmon per se, but rather that my body just wanted the nutrients that salmon had.

Last week was the first week since I’ve been home that I was fully vegan.  I am feeling better physically (as my body tends to feel better when I eat a fairly whole foods vegan diet, It has a hard time absorbing nutrients from animals, so I tend to do better plant-based.) I am also feeling better emotionally. I am still healing from the trauma which is a work in progress. I’ve been having an increase in flashbacks since becoming more involved in #FairPay4HomeCare but I try to do something in the morning and then leave it alone for the rest of the day in the name of self-care, and honor the feelings in between. But I am also getting involved with activism again, starting to create again, listening to music more and reconnecting to my passions, and living accordingly to what I feel in my heart – which includes veganism. And this is key – to know how to feed my soul, and nourish my body, especially as I continue to heal and fight with my people to remain in our homes. For, in the end, we all just want to be free.

Esther the wonder pig is half sitting on her bed and half on the floor. She is smiling and hanging out with her best friend Phil the dog.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox in 2022.

me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

In a Sexist World, a Horse’s Company is an Escape


Many people go through a traumatic experience at least once in their life and they may also go through times where things get very hard. We are told that this is life and that life is supposed to be hard, but is it really supposed to be this difficult? Being a woman in a male dominated business is very difficult and often very stressful for me even though I am still in school. I choose a major and a career path that is heavily dominated by men, but women are slowly breaking down the barrier.

There have been many times where I feel like I’m being talked down to at work or I’m being talked to only because of my relationship with someone who is big at this company. There have been times where my boss and other co-workers have given me an extremely easy assignment because I am a woman but on the contrary, they have also given me nearly impossible assignments to make me feel like I can’t complete it. There are days where I feel like I should give up on my career choice to be an accountant and to pick something that is more welcoming to woman, but the only thing that stops me from changing my life is the company of my horses.

When people typically have a bad day at work they go home and relax on the couch; or they can go pay a therapist to listen to them talk about their day. When I have a bad day, I go to the horse farm to destress with the company of my horses. There is something about a horse that is relaxing to a person and can make their bad day turn into something positive by just being around a horse. I often get called the “crazy” horse girl by my friends, but anyone who has ever been around a horse before knows exactly what I am talking about.

Some people would argue that the reason for having animals, such as horses is to use them for a specific purpose such as providing labor or transportation. Another thought is that we as humans exploit animals for our gain and we do so by using force (Luke 1996). While these things are sadly true, this is not the relationship that I have with my two horses. My horses get to enjoy being outside with other horses eating grass all day. They occasionally get brushed and then I give them their cookies, which they happen to love. My horses are not pets to me, they are my family and I need them in my life. I have a mutual relationship with my horses as they trust that I won’t let them get hurt and I trust that they won’t hurt me.

The relationship between a horse and a person is a powerful one that can help a person who has been struggling with personal difficulties. I have had my fair share of personal difficulties in my 21 years of life. I have never had anything extremely traumatic happen in my life but I have had things that have messed with my head before happen to me. Although I have lived a very good childhood, a few things recently hurt me and the only way I could cope with the issues that I was facing was by going to see my horses. Even if I could stop by for a couple of minutes to give them some treats I would because their presence helped to calm me down.

The recent issue that has been bothering me is that after 21 years of what I thought was a happy marriage, my parents announced to my siblings and I that they were in the process of getting a divorce (right before the holidays). I felt that my whole childhood and my life was a complete lie because they said that they have been having issues for years. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, not my mom, my dad, or even my two siblings. I would get angry and get loud, but then I would immediately start crying afterwards because the only life I knew was crashing down out a nowhere.

I never thought that I would be a result of divorced parents, even though the United States is #3 in divorce rates. To be honest, none of the divorce risk factors have affected my parents as they were in their late twenties when they got married, so they didn’t get married young, and neither one of them have divorced parents. They also knew each other for a while before they got married. Divorce seems to affect women more than the men because the women are typically older women, who are housewives or have been housewives for many years and are reentering the labor force after a long absence. Although divorce has become more common and more acceptable over the years in the United States, it is still shocking to me that this is happening.

My escape from the things that were happening in my life was my horses and just being around them helped. They are both complete opposites in personality and in appearance. Marshall is a big bay, with a gorgeous glistening coat, whereas Yankee is of a shorter and stockier build, who is grey (white) with flea-bitten spots, which look like brown freckles all over his body. Yankee will stand over me if I’m sitting in the grass crying as to almost be the therapist that listens to my problems, but obviously cannot give any input. Marshall is the horse that gets my mind off things because he is goofy and will head butt me if I’m trying to hug him to try to cheer me up.


Some people don’t believe that animals know when something is wrong, but I can say that my horses know when something isn’t right; it’s like animals have a sixth sense. If you ever need to get your mind off things or need a break from reality, see if you could go to a local barn to just be around the horses. There are even non-profit programs geared towards helping disabled people and veterans with PTSD. So, if a therapist isn’t in the cards, go pet a horse, I promise it will make you feel much happier.

Brian Luke. 2007. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. UI Press.

rebeccaRebecca Hila is currently a junior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in Business with a concentration in Accounting and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has been an avid animal and horse lover since she was a little girl. Although she spends a lot of time indoors due to her choice of study, she loves spending as must time outside as she can especially in the spring and fall.