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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Margo Robinson

Reprinted from the "Recovery" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 9 (1), pp. 23-24

Depression used to have a powerful hold on my life. I was a slave to it, barely able to function at times. I have bipolar disorder, but only experience mania occasionally.

In 2006 I experienced a debilitating depression. I hardly ever dressed or got out of bed. I’d been an avid reader and enjoyed time on the computer. Those loves were taken from me because I lost my concentration. My days consisted of lying in bed with the TV on but not really watching it. The days were endless, dragging, the clock seemed to move so slowly.

After six months of this, I remembered a Mood Disorders Association of BC (MDABC) group I had attended for a few months in 2001. My partner had told me he couldn’t go on with me this way, so I finally started attending the MDABC peer-led support group. My depression began to lift as I began to relate to my peers.
Through my MDABC support group, I heard about some courses to help me in my recovery. One of them was the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) course. I asked what that was and was told it was a course that would help me learn how to stay well. I said, “I want that! How do I get to take this course?” I was given a name and phone number to contact.

Taking WRAP was the best thing I ever did for myself—other than my MDA support group—to help me stay well and live in recovery.

WRAP—What’s it all about?

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan®, or WRAP®, is an evidence-based system used world-wide by people who are dealing with mental health and other kinds of health challenges. It was developed by a group of people with lived experience of mental health difficulties. WRAP is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a database of the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The key concepts of WRAP are: hope, responsibility, self-advocacy, education and support. And there are seven components to building a WRAP plan:

  • Wellness toolbox
  • Daily maintenance plan
  • Identifying triggers and an
  • action plan
  • Identifying early warning signs and an action plan
  • Signs that things are breaking down and an action plan
  • Crisis planning
  • Post-crisis planning

The WRAP course is eight weeks long, and the weekly sessions are two and a half hours long. The course is led by trained peers.

Why I love WRAP

It was a great bonding experience with other people living with mental illness. But it was much more than that—taking the course taught me how to recognize my triggers, identify things I could do to deal with these feelings, and develop positive coping skills.

I learned to recognize my early warning signs and take appropriate action. What is appropriate action for depression? Well, for me, it’s getting out in the world. This can be going to the support group, or for a walk or coffee with a friend. Since taking WRAP, I’ve not spent a single day in bed when I get depressed. At the first signs of mania, I contact my doctor. Although it’s tempting to stay with the good mood, I know where mania can lead, so the earlier it’s treated the better. Since taking WRAP, I’ve never had to be hospitalized or even had the mania get out of control.

When things are breaking down. I take the right action, which may involve going to the hospital, or may just be seeing my doctor and calling one of my support people. For example, when I recognize that I’m starting to become manic—not sleeping, more energy and excessive cleaning and sorting—I see my doctor right away. He prescribes the appropriate medication and some behaviour modification—often, to stay away from stores and wherever there’s lots of activity.

With WRAP, I learned the value of having and identifying my support system. Thanks to my MDA support group, I have a whole network of peers I can call. I’ve made some very close friends in the group, and we are each other’s support system.

Learning how to change negative thoughts to positive ones was very helpful. A key exercise for this is writing positive rebuttals to challenge the negative thoughts. For example: in response to thoughts like “This will never end” and “I will never feel well again,” I’d write “I have felt this way before and it always gets better.”

I also learned that I was responsible for my own recovery. Taking responsibility for myself, rather than relying on other people to ‘fix’ me, motivated me to take other programs to help me in my recovery. I looked for ways to improve myself and to cope better with my illness. I know I have to make my own positive choices on a daily basis.

The section on having a crisis plan is very important. I have written out my wishes in case I am hospitalized. I’ve specified what I would not want done for treatment and have listed medications I’ve had a bad response to or that wouldn’t be an option for me for various reasons. I keep a record of my current medications and supplements up to date. I list the name and phone numbers of my doctors and my
support people.

This information is included in my personal WRAP book, which I put together.

If I’m hospitalized, what happens when I come home is very important as well. What will I need to help me feel better? What will make my feel worse and not be helpful? Who will I want involved in supporting me and helping with chores, meals and support? All this and more is laid out in the crisis plan.

By far the most helpful part of WRAP, for me, is the daily maintenance plan. This is a list of things I will do each day no matter how I feel. In addition to having major depressive periods, I often feel poorly due to dysthymia, a low-grade depression. So, the first item on my plan is that I will get up by 9 every morning. Previously, on days that I felt especially bad, I would roll over and go back to sleep. Then I’d awaken to find it was almost noon and would feel guilty and even worse. For me, this one act of rising at 9 a.m. sets the tone for the day. I may still feel crummy, but I put one foot in front of the other and stick to my plan.

The other things on my daily maintenance list are: take my meds, eat good nutritious food, eat three meals and drink six glasses of water daily, write in my journal, read my devotions and Bible, and pray. And I try and get out of the apartment every day,
even briefly.

I feel passionate about WRAP because of the significant change it has made in my life. Because of this passion, I trained as a WRAP facilitator, to share with others the tools that have empowered me.

No, it isn’t always easy, but I keep moving and do what I need to do. I suit up and show up. That, for me, is what recovery is all about.

About the author
Margo has taken first year English and psychology at Vancouver Community College. She is a certified WRAP Facilitator and previously facilitated a Mood Disorders Association of BC (MDABC) support group for four years. Margo now does public speaking for MDABC and co-facilitates a faith-based support group called the Living Room

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