Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.
by Colleen Jasper
Office of Consumer Relations, Michigan Department of Mental Health
When a person is feeling well and being productive, often we forget (thank God!) the difficulties that we have had in the past and all the suffering that goes with those hard times. Unfortunately, we often do not want think about getting sick again, so we fill our days with people, events and things. The needed preparations for those hard times are often sidetracked and overlooked.
I did well on my medication (Lithium and Navane) for seventeen years. During that time I organized a two-day training in WRAP from Mary Ellen. She flew in from Vermont and we got a hands-on training which we busily promoted throughout Michigan with monies from our Federal Block Grant.
However, what happened to my own WRAP? I did not want to face the fact that I was not doing as well as I thought I was with relationships: family, friends, and my social life. I simply did not want to face the reality that I did not have anyone in my life that could help me with my disorder during a time of crises. To my detriment, I did not complete a WRAP for myself.
I was in denial and the hurt below the denial was too much for me to handle. I avoided thinking about future episodes by not concretely looking at myself and my life. As you can guess, I ran head-first into five years of pain, heartache, and despair.
I had decided to try the new wonder drugs on the market which were promoted so smartly by their manufacturers. My doctor kept me on the new drugs and simply added to the cocktail more and more new drugs when they failed to control the voices, the delusions and tactile hallucinations. In fact, the more new drugs my doctor gave to me, the more symptoms of schizoaffective disorder appeared. I had never heard voices even in my earlier hospitalizations.
So determined to be a “good patient” , I simply did not want to accept the responsibility of my own pain nor the way my life was turning out. My “excellent compliance” masked the irresponsibility I had in making positive mental health decisions that I, of all people, should have known better. As a consumer and working as a trainer in recovery for mental illness, I did not take my own advice. I simply did not object to adding new drugs, paradoxically, as I sank deeper and deeper into both physical and psychological pain, the less I was in asserting myself. My psychiatrist was growing inpatient and careless as I failed to “respond” to the all the medications she was giving me.
I was hospitalized three times in five years. On the first two hospitalizations, they kept me on the new drugs, however, the third hospitalization was different. I had gone to Ireland equipped with the latest array of new drugs—five different anti- psychotics plus lithium and an anti-depressant. I was over medicated, and that was an understatement. And without a WRAP to follow and direct my recovery—-I was in big trouble to say the least.
I knew I was over medicated, so as the pain increased beyond my tolerance, I did the only thing I could think of. I went off all my medication “cold turkey” in a country resort among the hills of Ireland. I was so sick. I paced. I did not sleep. I got the “shakes”. I threw-up. I stayed behind in the hotel room as the others of the tour went to see the sights. How would I get home? How will I manage security and customs at the airport? How would I survive the 8 hour flight? My thoughts races.
The delusions and audio hallucinations gradually slowed, but the mania was taking over. All I wanted was to get home and get admitted into the mental health hospital that I was familiar with. I was terrorfied that I would be left behind in a psychiatric hospital in Ireland where I did not know the unspoken rules and customs of being an inpatient. I was scare, so very scare. I did not allow myself to think about dying alone in a foreign country.
They say that the most important part of recovery from mental health disorders is our connectedness with other people and our relationships. I survived my ordeal in Ireland only because I had one friend traveling with me. She turned out to be the best Friend in the world. (We are still very close today.) Several times a day she checked in on me. She brought me food. She took me on walks. We walked arm in arm through the streets of Limerick looking for a pharmacy to buy over the counter sleeping medicine. She literally had to hold me up to keep me from falling. I was so sick and all I wanted to do was to get home to America. I did not want to think about how I had ruined my vacation to Ireland. I just wanted to get home. Home to the good ‘ole’ U.S.A.
Somehow I managed security, customs in Shannon, Ireland, and the O’Hara Airport in Chicago with my friend and her husband. I was finally home in Michigan. I fell into a deep sleep, once home in my own bed. However, I woke up in a panic. I have to get to the hospital. Now! Immediately! I knew I could not drive. I called 911. I had no plan as how to get to the hospital. I was not thinking. Well, anyway, the paramedics first took me ER and there I told them in a loud voice, stereotyping myself. “I am a mental patient and I need to get to the mental hospital.”. Surprised, they looked at me and said “Oh, you will go voluntarily?” I nodded my head. I have to admit I was not totally out-of-it. I remember one ER doctor referring to the mental health hospital by saying: “In my country, we call it: A place of reconditioning.” I thought to myself “that’s interesting”.
This hospitalization was actually the beginning of my recovery. I had a young female doctor who asked how I had stayed out of the hospital for such a long time (17 years). She replied by saying: “I am going to put you on the same medication’ In a few days the medication started to take affect, and I began to slowly re-gain my balance.
I returned to work in three months. Previously, I had been off work for two years (when I was on the new drugs) after my second hospitalization in those five years. I was back on the “old” drugs, Lithium and Navane. I was busy re-building my career.
So was it too late to do a WRAP? No. I had learned that health including mental health has no guarantees even for someone who works in the mental health field. I sat down and re-read the red WRAP book Mary Ellen had given me. I knew who I could count on in the future—- I wrote down simply “me”. I had to face the cold reality that I was the only person who would benefit from a WRAP. And that I could help myself. I had to. There was no one in my life that could FIX me but me.
I had not taken my own advice that I had preached so actively. I paid a high price for that neglect—five years of my life. Oh, what a high price to pay but I knew the past was the past. However, the present and the future where my responsibility and I needed to make those years good years. Very good years.
I completed my WRAP. When psychiatric Advance Directives became law in Michigan, (a project I worked on for 6 years) I used my WRAP to organize and write my Advance Directive. I review my WRAP periodically to keep in mind—what good mental health entails. If I need to adjust it as I re-gain wellness, strength, and empowerment I do so.
No, it is never too late to create and implement a WRAP. I feel much more confident that I know myself better and know more about planning for the hard times as well as learning about wellness and recovery. I feel more secure knowing that I have a plan that works in both the good times and the painful times.
I have yet to start planning overseas trips but on my next trip to a foreign country—I can guarantee that my WRAP is coming with me. Hopefully, my next trip will be a domestic one—to the Copeland Center in Vermont to learn how to become a WRAP facilitator so I can directly help others create WRAPs and Advance Directives in Michigan. It is never too late to learn.