For years I felt stuck, chained, and trapped by the psychiatric diagnoses that I had been given. I wanted to be free of the unwanted effects of medication and to be able to travel without having to worry about missed appointments or whether or not there was a pharmacy that would fill my prescriptions and accept my health insurance. Years ago, I remember a conversation I had with Mary Ann, my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.
It was the summer of 1996, four years after I received my first psychiatric diagnosis, when I was sitting with Mary Ann on her porch petting her dog Heidi. I was talking with Mary Ann about not wanting to take medications. I shared my feelings of being stuck and talked with her about how I would prefer to take the risk of a possible hospitalization than to remain emotionally numb.
Mary Ann then echoed what my psychiatrist, my therapist, and my parents had been saying, “You need your medications.” I was saddened to hear this. Mary Ann saw the look on my face and repeated what she had just said. “You need your medications.”
This time Mary Ann kept talking, “You don’t have enough tools in your toolbox, but someday you will.”
“What do you mean by toolbox?” I asked.
“You’ll understand when it’s time to understand,” said Mary Ann.
It was not until the spring of 2009 that I heard of wellness toolbox in the context of Wellness Recovery Action Planning. At that time I was taking part in the Massachusetts Certified Peer Specialist training. I had an epiphany when wellness toolbox was mentioned during the WRAP overview. “So, that’s what Mary Ann was saying,” I thought to myself.
A couple of years later I took my first WRAP workshop and then soon after I was accepted into a WRAP facilitator training. It was during the facilitator training that I found my voice and began trusting in my own wisdom. Of course there were other times in my life where I was confident and sure of myself but this was somehow different.
Upon completing the training I had the opportunity to offer a WRAP workshop for the human services provider that I was working for at the time. I was fortunate that the co-facilitator had a couple of workshops under her belt, since once I started facilitating the workshop self doubt flooded back to me in waves. Not too long after completing the workshop I was presented with a job offer to work at a state hospital doing full time peer support work.
When I started my new job I found that I was the only WRAP facilitator. I wanted to stay true to the fidelity of WRAP so I chose to hold off on offering a workshop until one of my co-workers was able to go through the facilitator training. For the time being offering another WRAP workshop was on the back-burner. I talked with the people I supported about WRAP and offered people the opportunity work individually with me to create their own WRAP, unfortunately no one was interested.
Then, in the spring of 2013 I found myself hospitalized. It had been twelve years since my last hospitalization. Prior to being hospitalized it was suggested that I take time off from work. Although I had A WRAP, I was nowhere near to finishing my crisis plan. I never took the time to have the conversations with my supporters.
When I was in the hospital I carried around a bright orange mini WRAP that I got through the facilitator training. I filled it out and on occasion I used it as the ground of my conversations. On my little bright orange mini WRAP under the daily maintenance plan heading I wrote, “Watch the sunrise, practice Tai Chi, play guitar”. I was fortunate that some of the third shift staff was okay with me watching the sunrise; one staff even helped me find the best spot to watch the sunrise.
I took the opportunity to dive into my WRAP. Although I was on a locked ward I was also taking a break from my life. If I had completed my Crisis plan and had it my way I would take a break from life by going to a the local Zen temple or the Tai Chi school that I go to or if I lived in Western Massachusetts I’d see if I could go to the Afya house. My plans were in my head, they weren’t tangible. I think a WRAP can survive in that fashion, but the Crisis Plan needs to be tangible.
I also took the opportunity to create a Post Crisis Plan. When crisis situations arose in the past, it would seem as if my world had shattered and that it was a process of picking up the pieces. My Post Crisis Plan helped me to find the missing pieces and ensured that I didn’t drop what I had already picked up.
Upon discharge from the hospital I eased my way back to work. And worked my way through the excessive amounts of medication I was given. I still work in a state hospital doing Peer Support. I am happy to say that we are just finishing a WRAP workshop in the state hospital and will continue offering workshops.
So, how has WRAP helped my life? Through WRAP I found my voice and learned that it was okay if I lost it. WRAP gives me something meaningful to do at work. WRAP gives me a framework to share my wellness with others. Most importantly WRAP has helped me grieve the loss of my dear friend, mentor, and teacher. One of the best wellness tools I ever had was a big hug from Mary Ann. Now, I can shed a tear or not and that too is okay.