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Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays

Editors' Note: Our email box at Vegetarians in Paradise is filled with questions, notes of praise, and stories of people who tell us about their health improvement after following a vegan diet. One email from Owen, the Botanist/Naturalist, in 2011 sparked our curiosity. We wanted him to tell our readers his remarkable story of how a book changed his life by motivating him to alter his lifestyle and improve both his physical and mental health. In our back-and- forth correspondence, we urged him to send us a brief bio and photos to introduce his story. After reading his biography, far from brief but so fascinating, we decided to print it in its entirety, and instead of using it as an introduction, append it to his article. Owen's complete story, The Wellness Diaries, is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/The-Wellness-Diaries-Nutrition-Lifestyle/dp/1475987404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372561570&sr=8-1&keywords=wellness+diaries+staples

and Barnes and Noble at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-wellness-diaries-owen-staples/1115240040?ean=9781475987409

The Book That Changed My Life

By Owen Harvey Staples
AKA Owen the Botanist/Naturalist

Beginning with a diagnosed mental illness in 2001, although with times of stability, I found medications and therapy provided only temporary reassurance. My symptoms were becoming increasingly worse in mid 2008, and they nearly cost me my life. As of April, 2009, I had a date set for the following June for my own suicide. I had a well thought out, detailed plan of how and where I would take my own life. Life seemed hopeless and not worth living, experiencing an extreme, thick, worsening sadness, on which medication no longer had an effect.

Through the blur of memory that I can recall, sometime before my fateful date arrived, I found a book that was the beginning point for major, positive change. It changed my life. The book was Diet For A New America by John Robbins. It offered a new perspective, and gave me one last thing to try before I gave up. It proved to be the answer.

I began reclaiming my health
Shortly after finishing the book, I adopted a plant-based diet. I ceased eating all animal products as a beginning point to reclaiming my health. As I became healthier and stronger over time, one step lead to another from eating well, to wanting to be active once again, to spending more time outside, to learning to simplify and de-clutter my life, to recommitting to a spiritual path that nourished me. Eventually, I was able to stop taking medications for my illness with my doctor's approval. I reclaimed my health, choosing health and happiness. Now I have a message to share that health and happiness are indeed choices. I say that I am happier and healthier now, at age 33 than I have ever been.

The book, The Wellness Diaries, is my tracking of my own progress, as I took a rather unfamiliar path. It accurately observes the experiences and adventures as seen through the lens of a man making the transition from mentally, (and physically) ill to an informed, conscious, enlightened, healthy and happy botanist.

I took the MMPI, a third time in August, 2010 for another opinion. I was still doing so well. It showed no signs of mental illness. I was still excited, but still had a ways to go with medications. I remained strongly vegan during the summer of 2009, and into 2010, holding to my ways. On December 7, 2010, I took my medicine as I had been directed for years. The next day, I went to an appointment with my psychiatrist. We had been discussing a trial period without medications while I had been doing so well. The theme seemed to be the two of us questioning the wisdom in continuing meds if I didn't need them. I had hoped early on after becoming vegan that I would eventually be able to cease them. He sent me on my way that day, (a sort of leap of faith on his part) without any prescription refills. I left excited, with him sort of scratching his head. I thought it was great.


I had a blog at the time, tracking my progress. It was an exciting post that day. A few days later, SynDee and I were on our way to a Christmas party. A man backed into us with his truck. This totaled her car. Sparing the details, we sold my truck, and we bought a nice car, which we now share. I take it when I need to, although I prefer riding my bike. From there, I began riding the bus, and mostly walking to where I needed to be. Owen Staples 2008

This was about the time I chose to close the blog. Shortly thereafter, I cancelled the internet at my house. I realized that I loved walking, loved being outside, among the birds, grass, sky, clouds, rain, snow, trees, flowers, which were in early March, just getting started, (those that sprout early, hyacinth, tulip, narcissus.) To me, it made little sense, to be "online" so much when I really wanted to be outside.

A few weeks later, I got out my mountain bike for the first time in over two years. I began riding it a lot; nearly everywhere I went, near or far. I found that I could cover much more ground in a more efficient manner, less strenuous on my body than walking great distances. It wasn't as easy to stop and identify flowers here or there while on the bike, but by that time, I knew which ones were sprouting, and had memorized which families they belonged to, how many stamens, and petals there were on each.

Case Closed
Perhaps the grand finale of the last 10 years, where I was truly able to "go out with a bang," was when I had an appointment scheduled to see my psychiatrist on April 29, for one (possibly final) evaluation. For whatever reason, he was not able to be in the office that day; so I never had the appointment. I told the receptionist that I was still fine and didn't need to be seen at the time. She said I could call at any time, should I need, but as well as I was doing, I didn't need to schedule any appointments. Another way of saying: "Case closed!" I was very excited and I had fully expected to see this day. Currently, I don't see a psychiatrist, as I no longer need medications. As anyone does, I have a regular check up with my family physician. He checks everything: weight, body mass Index, cholesterol, Vitamin D, and triglycerides. They are all within excellent ranges. Again, I emphasize that two possibilities exist:

  • I never had the illness in the first place.
  • My new lifestyle took care of it.
And again, I emphasize, neither are relevant to me now. It is in the past, and that is where it belongs. Now, here in the present, that is, as of May 14, 2011, I am happier than I have ever been, and still climbing the health mountain. I am going somewhere in my life. I am taking care of myself and more and more I'm learning exactly what "taking care of myself" means.

I have my health, my home, my wife…
I now have my beautiful wife, a cute little home, some beloved companion animals and plants, and an income that helps meet our needs and wants. I have realized something golden. That is, what I truly want out of life is everything I already have. I have my health, my home, my wife, my plants, my vehicle (bike), companion animals. I am grateful for what I do have. For me, it is enough. There are very few "extras" that I want, and if I find that I really want an "extra," I can usually find it along the way, or perhaps make it. Every once in a while I will buy an extra that I truly want, after much deciding whether I really do or not; and if I find that I do, I buy it, and I do so with gratitude that I can.

In the traditional sense of the word, I am not wealthy, but I feel like the richest man on planet earth, because every day is met with wonder, awe, gratitude for breath, life, for abundant food and nourishing beauty. Since this inner wealth is within my grasp every day as a choice, ripe fruit on a tree is waiting to be picked.

Everyday I must make a choice, to pick it or not. Most days I have chosen to pick it and have been richly rewarded internally. On those days, there is always enough externally for everything that I want/need, because it is everything that I already have, and I have already made the internal choice that it is enough.

Thank you for reading.
Owen, the Botanist/Naturalist

My Biography

As a sophomore in college, I figured I had it figured out. I believed I had all I really wanted, being well on my way to living a fulfilled and happy life. It seemed so easy, being only 22 years old and satisfied with my two years of college behind me, my 2 beloved dogs, and a nice basement apartment "pad" in my parent's house. I worked out often, training hard in the martial arts and with weights.

Shortly thereafter, things became rather strange. Several events added up to one of "life's major curve balls." While still enrolled in the university, and with a full schedule, I became anxious and stressed, to the point of being fearful and flat out paranoid. My fears ranged from everything to believing I needed to constantly prepare to defend myself in an attack, to an extreme fear of germs, car crashes, unwilling to fly in an airplane, to my belief that I had HIV from a tattoo years prior. (Even upon being tested negative, I was convinced that it was an altered test.)

Upon living in fear for several months, with fears only increasing in severity, and after being fired from several jobs, close family members were able to convince me to seek professional help. I agreed to do so, but rather reluctantly. I was referred to a therapist shortly thereafter. Owen Staples 2011

I found it refreshing to be able to vent my frustrations and fears, and after four months, I was making progress on my obsessive, compulsive behaviors. Still doubting my current diagnosis and treating of the obsessive symptoms, my therapist wanted more information. At the request of my therapist, I took the MMPI, a diagnostic test. The results indicated strongly that I was suffering from a mental illness, or thought disorder known as paranoid schizophrenia.

Medications numbed my fears
I was promptly introduced to a psychiatrist who then prescribed suitable medications for me. They seemed to "numb" my fears temporarily, and I seemed calmer. I had finally reached a point where I was able to hold a full time job. It looked like my life was returning to normal.

After a 5-year period with being on and off of medications, with an up and down mood, a divorce after being married only 4 months, I went through another dark phase. I became extremely negative about my outlook on life. Who wouldn't after all of that? My constantly negative, hateful thoughts were becoming self-destructive.

Being prepared to give up on relationships altogether, upon meeting another woman, (by a sort of serendipitous accident) I tried the "relationship thing" one last time. We realized we had fun times, and were compatible. We were married just over a year later. Eventually we purchased our own first home and life seemed "doable" once again.

At a time when things were going so well, and I seemed set up for success and happiness, (we had our own home, good jobs, each other and a small family of beloved companion animals,) my sadness only worsened. I was not happy. I felt miserable. I felt as though my world was caving in. I felt worse knowing that I had so much going for me, which led to me continuously "beating myself up" with guilt for feeling lousy.

I was planning suicide
Several months passed and I had decided that I was not willing to live like this. As of April, 2009, I had a detailed plan (how, when, where) as well as a date set for the following June, for my own suicide. I felt lost, confused, hopeless, with no direction or purpose. I had been thinking that if this is life for me, feeling this thick, blackened mood of hopelessness, then I wanted nothing to do with life. The next few months were only a hazy blur for me. I vaguely remember doing what I had to do in taking one moment at a time, while being in close contact with my medical professionals. I sought out a book, the title and gist of which had sounded interesting to me for quite some time.

The book was Diet For A New America by John Robbins.I loved it. I absorbed every word, like a sun-starved plant. I felt alive again (at least when reading) simply learning of the benefit of a plant-based diet for our health and the planet. It definitely "spoke" to me. After I finished the book, I tried going completely plant-based myself that August. I noticed changes nearly over night. Over the next few months, my mood lifted tremendously. My excess 45 pounds was shedding dramatically. I felt inspired and alive once again. It was great!

That book led to a diet/lifestyle change and a desire for more information. I read books by topic, which I felt drawn to, ranging from a vegan diet, to self help, spirituality, law of attraction and botany. I was addicted to knowledge. I could not get enough! I would be in the break room at lunch while at work, highlighting a book and always so excited about what I was learning. I read 34 books in 14 months, at which point I stopped counting.

I began having thoughts of writing my own book, sharing my own wellness story. I did it, finished, and now here I am--a man with a message. The Wellness Diaries takes the reader through my detailed journey, as seen through my own lens. It begins shortly before diagnosis, into paranoia and illness, journeying into wellness, and into the present.

Diet change is the foundation
A diet change for me was merely the beginning to health, but it was a key step. I call it the foundation. From these benefits, I figured out how much sleep I needed, and I was able to find quality, long, restful sleep. Then I re-discovered that I enjoyed exercise and activity, especially involving activity outside. I learned how vital this was to my health. I particularly grew fond of hiking in the mountains, and riding my bike.

The book tracks my progress through a time frame, and shares the tears, laughs, joys, disappointments, and the many adventures along the way. Currently, I am happier and healthier than I have ever been. With my doctor's approval, I was able to cease my medications. I no longer needed treatments. I see my regular family physician yearly for an exam as anyone should. My vital stats are all tested, and they all test excellent.

I have opened my own business, using a unique niche as an indoor plant consultant. It is a beginning point to my message. When asked about the book by a client, I gladly share anything they would like to know.

When I take an occasional glance back on my dark times, it feels like I have awakened from a bad dream. It is part of my past, and I keep it there. Realizing that happiness and health are both a choice, and loving my life, this is a mountain that I only continue to climb.

Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles

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