I am sitting here thinking about the beginning 18 years ago on another winter’s day. It was Mary Ellen’s first Mental Health Recovery Workshop in Vermont. Because Mary Ellen and I live in close proximity she rode in the car with our group going to the church in Bradford. On the last day we drove through a blizzard but we were all very committed to being there. This was one of the first times we experienced a training that was out side the treatment center, that talked about whole health in a way that included everyone in the room, so when Jesse stood up at the end of the day and said she couldn’t make it work in her life despite how much she liked the training it was very discouraging for all of us but something that many of us knew to be true. On the way home that day I talked with Mary Ellen about a process that was very helpful in my life and might be helpful for others she asked me to present the idea at our follow up day. I think it was another snowy day and again it was surprising how many people made it to the church. It still amazes me to think that each of us in that room were involved in something that would change so many lives including our own in such a positive way.
I remember that day, Mary Ellen asking the group if they would be willing to try something new, their agreement and we were off. It was very hard for me to describe my idea in words and I hoped that going through the process this idea would start to make sense. In trying to show Mary Ellen and the group how this process might work I asked for a volunteer to share the issues they were struggling with. A young man agreed to do this and he came up to the front of the room. As he shared his struggles I made a list on a large piece of post-it paper. When he was done we started to put together a plan. At first there was only Early Warning Signs, Things Are Breaking Down and Crisis. As he and I began to put the issues from the list into these different categories everyone got involved because so many of us were dealing with similar issues, but what was Early for him was Things Are Breaking Down for someone else and Crisis for someone else. Normally we Vermonters are very reserved but suddenly everyone in the room wanted to contribute and had something to say about what went into each of the categories.
Papers were going up on the wall in rapid succession to incorporate everyone’s ideas and suggestions. When we went back and looked at the original list of issues we had these things left over that did not fit with any thing else and yet were very big problems. As we talked about these things we realized they were a part of some of the difficult things he had experienced in his life and so the category Triggers was added. How Triggers relate to my life and set me up for larger problems continues to be a place of great learning.
We started to put the Action Plan part together. We had spent 1 day a week for one month talking about things we could do to help ourselves be well and as we looked at the issues and talked about what we could do we came up with a few things and we put them in all the categories. They were: call the Crisis Team, take meds, go to the hospital, call my therapist / sponsor, go to the day treatment center. I am sure Mary Ellen expected that we would incorporate all the things we had learned about in the last month but we did not. What we realized was a sobering truth when we start having difficulty we give our power away and it is very difficult to remember that there is something we can do for ourselves that would help. The Tool Box was incorporated and we realized that we have to do it before we put together our plans because it is so much easier to think about things that are helpful when they are not in the context of having a hard time. The Tool Box took on a huge importance as does writing it down so we can remember when we are having a hard time. We also realized that we have to take care of our health every single day and the Daily Maintenance Plan was incorporated.
In reflecting on that time I realize we developed a process to incorporate the Key Concepts into our every day life. Every time I sit down and create a plan for something that challenges me I feel the Hope of knowing I can make a difference in my life. I have learned a way to take Personal Responsibility that makes sense and it is so much easier to Self Advocate and Educate my Supporters so I get help that helps.