I often find myself frustrated with the mental health and the medical health systems; systems that have often taught us that our first defense against a physical health, mental health, or life difficulty is reaching out to healthcare providers or some kind of invasive treatment or the use of a strategy that could have long-term implications. These are systems that usually don’t promote self-agency or prevention. I wish we could all magically transform our thinking to “WRAP First”. I think if we did that, many (not all of course) invasive treatments, hospitalizations, and long periods of discomfort and disease could be avoided. Life could be so much more enjoyable. I am committed to spreading the word about “WRAP First”. Let me explain.
I believe that if each of us thought more about how we feel, and about what is going on in our lives we could avoid using invasive strategies and treatments. We are encouraged to do this in WRAP groups and when developing a WRAP. The keys would be for us to develop an accurate picture of what we are like when we are well, and to create a powerful and extensive list of Wellness Tools. Then, at the very first sign that something was amiss and we noticed a Trigger or an Early Warning Sign, using WRAP right away and intervening with a Wellness Tool or several Wellness tools would allow us to spend much more time happy, healthy and well. I wish I did exactly that all the time. I do it more and more over the years as I have had more and more practice with WRAP.
Let me give you some examples. Suppose today that I notice that I am feeling somewhat anxious. That is not how I describe myself in the “What I am Like When I am Well” section of my WRAP. And I recall that I didn’t sleep too well last night. And that I am upset about my granddaughter’s recent hospital stay. Instead of letting it go, not thinking about it or focusing on it, I refer to my Triggers and Early Warning Signs Action Plans. And I do the things or some of the things listed there, like spending an hour working on an art project, taking the dog for a walk in the park, and calling a friend who gives me plenty of time to commiserate about my troubles. And if none of them feel just right, or I need something more, I go to my Wellness Toolbox and choose to do a few more things. Things like working on a quilting project, watching a favorite show on TV and making myself some popcorn (a comfort food for me). I use my Wellness Tools until I feel a whole lot better and can get on with what I need or want to do.
Suppose Jack, a man who had been a service user in the mental health system for a long time, noticed he was having a hard time getting up in the morning and going to work. Instead of going to the doctor and asking for a medication change, he calls his friend Bill and asks if they can spend the evening together watching a video, talking and going for a walk. During the day he does his relaxation exercises at least three times and avoids eating the sugary foods that always make him feel worse. The next day he plans a get together after work with his sister who always makes him laugh, goes for a run, and eats a healthy dinner before listening to some of his favorite music and heading off to bed. Things are starting to look up for Jack.
Suppose Susan goes to her doctor because she is feeling constantly agitated and irritable. And her doctor asks her if she has a WRAP. She says “no”, so her doctor describes it to her and tells her about a WRAP group that is starting in a week. But then the doctor says that we can begin right now to use WRAP to give you some relief and asks the question, “What helps you feel better when you are not feeling well?” Together they start making a list – the beginning of a Wellness Toolbox. Suddenly Susan says, “I think I will go home and start doing some of these things. I am going to do some yoga, make myself pesto pasta for dinner, go for a bike ride on the rail trail after dinner, and ask Sarah to come over for some exchange listening. Before I go to bed I will read from my favorite magazine, “The Sun”. I will keep using these Wellness Tools for the rest of this week and go to the WRAP class to begin working on my WRAP next Tuesday.
Sophie goes for her annual physical and finds out that her blood test reveals that she has in the pre-diabetic range. She knows that there is a history in her family, her father died of complications from diabetes when he was younger than she is now. She educates herself enough to know that early detection and a healthy lifestyle can keep her from going any further down the road of having a chronic disease. She makes an appointment with a naturopath and together they create a nutritional diet plan. Her Wellness Toolbox now includes a specific exercise plan and a low carb / low sugar / high protein diet. She signs up for a yoga class to keep her stress level down. She feels confident that by using these Wellness Tools, she will not only be able to avoid becoming diabetic, but even be able to get her blood sugar back into a normal range.
Peter had been having a difficult time adapting to life now that he was older and could no longer work. At first he felt sad and bored much of the time. Then his daughter came by with her guitar. Peter remembered that when he was in college he enjoyed playing the guitar. He played his daughter’s guitar and had so much fun he decided to get himself a guitar and take some lessons, perhaps from his daughter. That got him thinking about other things he used to do, before life got so busy. He began restoring an old vehicle in his garage, reading mysteries and doing some gardening.
We would like to hear from you about how you use “WRAP First”. We would love to hear the stories about how using WRAP first, keeps you from needing more serious or invasive strategies that may be harder to recover from. What Wellness Tools do you use to get through challenging episodes so that you come out strong and still in control?
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.