Getting Extremely Sick Changed My Outlook As A Vegan Advocate

September 1, 2022

I’ve missed writing to you, my dumplings. This year of 2022 I got extremely sick after testing positive for COVID. Before that, I had already stopped being able to type due to sudden nerve damage in my hands. Then the virus made everything worse—I couldn’t lift anything heavy, had severe laryngitis with no voice for weeks on end, and I could neither walk nor sit without pain. It was a daily battle just to find the strength to shop Instacart, prepare food, and stay fed.

Fortunately, I survived. And while it looks like I am making a full recovery in the three months since COVID, the lessons I have learned will be forever.

Spoiler: This isn’t a post about renouncing my plant-based diet or my anti-speciesist philosophy. I continue to eat animal-free, because lucky for me and nonhumans, I didn’t think I needed anything besides vegan food, supplements, and time to correct my health.

The cause of my dramatic illness—though still a mystery—seemed to stem from my misuse of an at-home beauty procedure, which I’ll have to explain in another post. I can say with 90% certainty it’s what triggered my sudden hand problems. And it’s probably what made a vaccinated, B12-taking 29-year-old who hadn’t been sick in three years so vulnerable to COVID. A lack of animal protein was not what got me into this mess.

However, let me tell you, there’s nothing like falling deathly ill to make you question everything you think you know. I of course fantasized about whether bringing deceased beings into my belly would miraculously cure me. Getting so sick gave me a new level of empathy for when people stop eating vegan out of health concerns. Veganism should be about building a better system that reduces suffering for all—not about judging individuals for what they buy within the current system. In my belief, we are all peaceful dumplings at heart, so I don’t care to define people in terms of whether we are “vegan or non-vegan” or whatever in between.

Getting extremely sick also renewed my devotion to my own health. You see, I thought I prioritized my health. Surely my fruit-filled, vegetable-overflowing diet would suggest so. But I didn’t realize just how much I was holding back from pursuing my highest well-being. I came into 2022 with years of unresolved sleep issues, eczema, clogged ears, and other problems I had put on the back burner as I got swept up in my creative activism dreams.

After what happened to me, I would say I have a stronger patience for thinking long-term. It feels ok to set writing aside for a while and focus on health. In fact, while I was still in the throes of agony I made myself a Long-Term Health Bucket List. I vowed to try to complete the list by the end of this year. I promised myself that as I got better, I wouldn’t just let my guard down as if nothing had ever happened.

To make sure I’m really going to be okay, here are some of the things I have to put first:

  • Invest in blackout curtains. Get a white noise maker. Keep refining my day-to-day routine and my supplements till I’m sleeping 10 to 6 like clockwork! (Zinc and cat’s claw gave me deep sleep again, but I still take over an hour to get there.)
  • Pester doctors into testing me for every reasonable thing they possibly can, just in case.
  • Figure out the most ergonomic, physically active setup for getting work done on my devices—so I can be a pain-free, endorphin-high remote worker and not even have to think about it anymore.
  • Figure out how to cure my eye irritation, my acid reflux, my toenail fungus, my ADHD symptoms, and any other little problems I have… for good. That way, they won’t have an opportunity to turn into bigger problems.
  • Create the most impeccable, world-class dental care routine, as if my teeth and gums depend on it. They will when I’m 50 or 60.
  • Make a comprehensive plan for how I’m gonna age happily, inside and out, so I no longer have to worry about it. And so I’ll trust myself to never again buy a cheap, dangerous beauty device on Amazon that ends up almost killing me.

Nothing could be more important than doing what it takes to spend the rest of my life in a state of maximum health. I’m ready to stay focused on this!

I think part of what stopped me in the past is survivor’s guilt. Both my biological parents, and other family, got either cancer or Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, I’ve felt terrible about living in a world where 99% of beings are wild or factory-farmed animals, who obviously lack any kind of medical care. Most humans have way less privilege than me as well, even though my own life has felt hard enough.

“Why bother making myself gloriously healthy, when so many other people have no hope of that?” Have you ever had this thought?

Well, sometime during my COVID despair, I had a breaking point. I realized that my own pain was so bad, I could NOT go on carrying it and the pain of others at the same time. I decided to shrink my world. I started pretending I was living in some video-game simulation called Phoenix Gets Better. I imagined that my own consciousness was the only one I needed to be concerned about, that my own nightmare was the only one crying out to be woken up…

It worked. This “life is a dream” idea has given me a tool to curb my empathetic distress, and justify putting my own health first. Since the number of other beings out there is enormous, we owe it to them to be ethical and try to reduce their suffering—to assume that other consciousnesses exist and to take their needs seriously. But still, since YOU might be the only confirmable “you” there is, it does make logical sense to put the needs of your own soul first. And chances are, you’re a kind soul, so even if you thought you were the only one, you wouldn’t stop being nice to other characters. That’s what feels good for you.

With all this in mind, I can finally feel at peace with pursuing my health. I can finally quiet some of the sadness by just tapping into this sense of non-duality. Yet, as needed, I can also tap back into the perspective of other beings—beings who I can seek to understand, connect with, and help.

I have never felt this free to be selfish—but in ways that will make me more fit to contribute in the long run.

Last but not least, being severely sick altered my perceptions in other ways I am still trying to process. When I was desperately ill, all I wanted was to feel like my regular self again. To be capable of something as simple as getting a job at a grocery store. I knew how lucky I was I had money saved up to survive off, but I worried what would happen if I ran out before I got better. I told myself that when I got better, I would finally put money before passion, at least for a few years until I got to a more stable place. I dreamed of how beautiful it would be to work whatever essential job, just to have the honor of helping people get their food and survive, like the Instacart shoppers did for me. I even thought that since human health is so fundamental to even being able to think about helping other animals, maybe it would be refreshing to stop being an animal advocate for a while and just work in a human health-related field.

However, now that I am recovering, it feels clear that my financial and career decisions should take input from survival mode, without being all about that. Instead of assuming I have to make sacrifices to show how responsible I am, why not set the intention to help humans and nonhumans and my bank account and my creative joy at the same time? I bet that if I hold this intention persistently enough, I can evolve through different jobs feeling like I am always exactly where I need and want to be.

Above all, I would like to think that the sickness I went through will leave me a smarter Phoenix Huber than I was before. I didn’t do my research on the dangers/precautions of that beauty device I was using from home—as I’ll explain more in another post—and it cost me. Now, I am being much more careful in thinking through my long-term holistic vegan health. I also want to be more generous going forward in discussing what I learn with others.

I’m alive! Thank you to everyone who has helped me be standing here today, feeling so supported and incredibly fortunate. Instead of my tombstone reading “1992–2022,” I’ll continue into my 30s, and keep being your co-advocate for a better world.

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Photo: Yohann LIBOT via Unsplash

Phoenix Huber
Phoenix Huber writes about personal growth, compassion for all, and daily vegan life. Based in Arizona, her hobbies include taking notes to remember her phone calls with friends, leaving effusive comments, and journaling. (She’ll get back to you once she finds some real hobbies that don’t involve writing.) An aspiring freelancer and researcher, Phoenix loves getting to amplify people’s messages of joy and kindness. Oh, and her family rocks! Find more articles from her on Medium, or donate to her via Ko-Fi and receive her eternal gratitude.


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