Today my life, both personally and professionally, is all about mental health recovery and wellness, but that was not always the case. About 8 years ago, my mental health issues really came to a head once again, this time robbing me of my life’s work, my closest relationship, and my will to fight back. I was told that my “treatment-resistant Bipolar disorder” would not allow me to work due to the stress that I must avoid at all costs.
My psychiatrist eagerly filled out the paperwork for Social Security Disability, for which I was approved on the first try. I was now DIS-abled. So, I fell into that role: I was not able—not able to work, not able to function much at all. I was quite able as a patient, though—I met with my treatment team every week and took my medication, which constantly needed adjusting due to the incessant mood swings. I was miserable, but I had succumbed to this way of life, successfully convinced that it was the only life for me.
One day, a former therapist with whom I had loved working in the past, before I had gotten to full breakdown/crisis situations, called out of the blue to say that she had changed practices and was now accepting Medicare/Medicaid (she was another positive that I had been forced to give up from my “previous life”). On our first reunion meeting, she asked me what my goals were for our sessions—this was new to me so it took a lot of thought on my part. Finally, with tears flooding my eyes, I responded, “I just want to learn how to live with this; to really live!”
One of her first recommendations was that I attend a Peer Support group. I was so not on board! I felt that I had enough of my own issues and I wanted no part of sitting around, listening to other people complain about theirs! She gently encouraged me each week to give it a try and, in all honestly, I finally agreed to go just to shut her up. But, that first group not only changed my thinking about support groups, it changed my life!
It was such an indescribable relief to be amongst others with shared experiences—people who could really relate to what I was going through! I felt understood, accepted, and safe! There was only one disparity—I kept hearing about “Recovery” and, quite honestly, this was off-putting. I felt as if they knew a secret that they were not sharing. How did they “recover” when I couldn’t? What made them so lucky? So special? So worthy?
I began to grapple with familiar issues of self-doubt, self-worth, and overall injustice (aka: why me?), none of which was helping me. Rather, I started slipping deeper into depression, feeling even MORE hopeless. It was one thing to be deemed “incurable,” but to realize that others in similar situations could “recover’ and lead productive, satisfying lives whereas it was not an option for me, was just too much to bear. I started going to the Peer Support groups less often and becoming more isolated.
One day when I did manage to go to group, I saw a flyer for a WRAP class and, although I had no idea what it was, I focused on the word “Recovery” and thought—“Could it really be taught?? Is that how it worked with others?” I was always a good student, maybe I could learn how to be recovered! So, I signed up. This was another life altering moment for me.
First and foremost, I learned what “recovery” really is, in that it is different for everyone and that it is not necessarily an end point, but it is fluid and allows for set-backs, as well as successes. It is not so much about a finite cure but a process of learning to live with my life circumstances in a proactive manner.
Over the 10 weeks of WRAP, I gained tools to manage my life, as well as the confidence to use them. Again, I found that one of the best parts was the sharing and support that took place amongst my peers (including the class facilitators).
That WRAP class also stands out for me as it (eventually) led me to a true sense of HOPE. At the point in class when HOPE was first introduced as a Key Concept, I voiced my feelings that I lacked hope due to my “illness” and its impact on my life. My peers were very validating but also shared how they discovered and held onto HOPE and what it meant in their lives.
Over time, I began to sense a shift in myself. I started feeling more hopeful about my own situation, realizing that I was building a toolbox full of tools to take my life back. Through the development and use of wellness tools, along with adopting a more positive outlook, I have held strongly to HOPE these past years and it has made all the difference in the world!
I started to make plans, set goals, and achieve milestones again—first small steps then larger ones. I was taking more PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY over my life.
From there, I set out to EDUCATE myself about recovery, reading memoirs of those who have struggled and come out the other side, listening to people’s stories, and getting more involved in the peer movement. Importantly, I invested time and work into educating myself about ME and my recovery needs—what works for me and what doesn’t.
By educating myself, I gained the confidence I needed to speak up for my rights and my needs—to SELF-ADVOCATE. I realized that I am the expert on myself so I began to work with my treatment team differently. First, I fired my psychiatrist who wasn’t one to listen to my input. In searching for a new one, I actually interviewed possible candidates until I found someone who answered my questions to my satisfaction.
Today, my treatment team and I truly work as a team and my voice is represented at the table—better yet, my contributions are truly heard and respected!
In terms of SUPPORT, I have learned to branch out more, not relying too heavily on the same one or two people in my life. This actually led to my reuniting with my best friend/love of my life! I have also broadened my definition of “Support,” realizing it may not necessarily mean family. My treatment team, peers I’ve gotten to know and other friends, even acquaintances, can be on my list of supporters as they fulfill different roles in my life. An acquaintance may be the person I meet for a meal to get me out of the house, even though I may not depend on her to listen to all of my woes.
I don’t just have a WRAP plan, I LIVE my WRAP! From my Wellness Toolbox (which I keep a typed list of with my Daily To Do List binder, as well as a physical representation of, which I refer to as my WRAP First Aid Kit, in my car). Some days, I just need to scan my list to remind myself to, for one example, schedule down time in my day; other days, I may need to see an actual picture of my son and my grandson from my WRAP First Aid Kit to get through a tough moment, as they give me strength and motivation.
My Picture of Wellness, which I really struggled with during my first WRAP class, needing to seek input from others to even start it, is taped to my mirror—a constant reminder of me when I am well. My Daily Maintenance List has become second nature to me but I still keep it posted because I need to remind myself what I need to be doing at the first, subtle signs of change in mood or behavior. These are the times when I may stray from my daily routine or neglect things from my Supplemental Plan.
Not only do I use my Action Plans from my WRAP, I look at them with a critical eye to update them as needed, depending on what is working best for me in the here and now. I have shared my Crisis and Post-Crisis plans with my supporters and engaged in dialogue with them around these plans and their roles in them.
In the summer of 2014, things came full circle for me when I became a WRAP Facilitator. Although facilitating is different, I was a trainer/adult educator in my “previous life,” so this was the ultimate, especially as it was a goal that I set for myself back when I took WRAP the first time. Best of all, one of the Advanced Facilitators of my class was a facilitator of my first WRAP class. It was a special reunion and it just felt so right!
I am continuing to live my WRAP and learn through the WRAP classes that I facilitate. In our last class, one of the participants shared her way of organizing her Wellness Toolbox—by scrap-booking a page of her Wellness tools. As a fellow scrapbooker, I was inspired! I now have my own scrapbooked page of Wellness Tools that I show as an example at my class, letting people know that the idea came from a participant.
For me, WRAP is not just a program, or a class, or a plan, it is a way of life. It is a way of life that saved me from being “ill” or “broken” or “disabled.” With WRAP, I have found wellness and recovery—not a cure-but recovery on my terms! I have discovered how to manage my situation in a proactive manner, which gives me the ultimate control.
Now that I’ve found my way into the driver’s seat, I’m no longer willing to be a passenger along for the ride!