This has been an interesting time in all of our lives. This time, this quarantine, the isolation, the pandemic—they are all things I’ve never experienced in my long life. Sure, my family was quarantined for a few weeks when my brother and sister had scarlet fever, and they put a big quarantine sign on the front of our house. (I was too young to be embarrassed.) But that was nothing like this.
This being a new experience, I have had to learn a lot of new things. Like how to deal with not seeing my family and friends for months and months; having to worry that I, or someone I care about, or anyone at all will get this horrific virus; that so many people will die; that the people who I always trusted to protect us have fallen down on the job.
I realized early on that if I was going to get through this time—however long it was going to be and however it would play out—without breaking down, I was going to have to take really good care of myself and pay attention to the details of my life. In pondering that question, it didn’t take me long to say to myself, “I need to upgrade my WRAP. And I need to live it, moment to moment and day to day. It can’t be in the background. It needs to be in the foreground.”
I began by reviewing my long, long list of wellness tools. I added a few new tools, like having virtual meetings with my friends, attending educational webinars, and doing something every day that inspires me, that reminds me of how much I like being alive and how much I want to live. Some of the tools had to do with living in such close proximity with my spouse for such a long time. We had always spent a lot of time together, but now, when it was forced upon us, I knew that I was going to have to be extra careful to take care of my relationship. A lot of my new wellness tools have to do with mindfulness, with paying close attention to things that I have not paid close attention to in the past.
Being much older than when I wrote my first WRAP, I decided it was time to write a new description of what I am like when I am well. I decided the best way to do that was to not look at the one I wrote originally—it’s a part of my WRAP that I haven’t changed—and write one in this new reality.
Interestingly, the new one is not at all like the one I wrote so many years ago. I still want it to say that I am confident, compassionate, useful, and rational. But now I want it to say that I appreciate each day, each moment, each special thing; that I appreciate myself, the life I have lived, the things I do, the people I interact with, and the people I love. All of that seems to be more important to me now than it was when I listed things like “humorous,” “responsible,” “reasonable,” and “reliable.”
I find that in these times I have to be very careful about, and consider, the things I need to do each day. It would be so easy to “slack off”—to not take good care of myself, my life, and my relationships with the people I love. It would be so easy to subsist on food that is not healthy for me, gain weight, and get very depressed. Instead, I know the basics that I must do.
I must get up at a reasonable hour even though I have no place to go. I must shower and dress in something comfortable that I like to wear. I must eat at least three healthy meals, exercise, and accomplish a task that makes me feel good. I must remind my spouse of how much I love him. I must do something that inspires me, that makes me feel really good about myself and being alive.
Now there are new stressors to add to my list—stressors that have to do with health, viruses, and worrying about family and the fate of the world. I find that I need to know what’s going on, but I can only focus on it for a little while, get a synopsis of the news, decide if there is anything I need to do or can do about the way things are, do it if I can, and then move on to other wellness tools and life experiences that are rich and rewarding and that keep me healthy and stable.
I have some new early warning signs that include obsessing about the virus and where it might be lurking, excessively worrying about family members and friends, sleeping less than five hours a night for two nights in a row, and craving sweets and other foods that are not healthy for me. On these days I find that I have to focus longer, a couple of hours, on one or several of the activities that are totally diverting for me: sewing (I have been making masks), quilting, journaling, sketching, taking photos, walking, or observing nature. I totally avoid the news at this time. I focus instead on taking care of myself for the time being to avoid a much more difficult time.
While I was writing this article, I realized how important it is for me to update my WRAP “when things are breaking down” section and to develop a new daily plan for those days when I need to focus all day on myself and on feeling better. Key signs for me now that things are breaking down include being totally focused on politics or on the pandemic and related issues (so much that I can’t think about anything else), not doing any of the things in my daily plan, feeling morose all the time, not trying to avoid being critical of my spouse, or being nitpicky.
At this point, I need to follow what I used to call “a great plan for a hospital day at home.” As I reviewed my WRAP, I realized that day I planned, years ago, is very different than the plan that would work for me these days. I am working on a rewrite. This new plan will include descriptions of the meals and snacks I will eat during the day, asking my spouse to make my meals for me, meeting on Zoom for an hour with at least one of my closest supporters or my counselor, spending at least one hour (preferably more) outdoors (or on the porch if the weather is bad), walking for at least 45 minutes (if the weather is bad, riding my exercise bike), journaling for at least 20 minutes, sewing for at least one half hour, doing a peer counseling session of at least 10 minutes each way with my spouse, and meditating for 20 minutes. I need to commit to following this plan until, instead of having signs that things are breaking down, I perhaps have early warning signs. Better yet, I keep following this plan until I am ready to resume using my daily plan.
I know that my crisis plan and post-crisis plan need to be revised, but I am not quite ready to do that at this moment. Getting by and keeping myself and my spouse happy and healthy have to be my highest priorities. I will redo my crisis and post-crisis plans soon.
I hope sharing my process is helpful to you in getting through this time that is so hard for all of us. I am ever grateful to those people who, so many years ago now, worked so hard to develop WRAP. I wrote my first WRAP in March of 1997, right after it was developed by a group of peers at a mental health recovery training, and it has been my guide to living ever since. It has pulled me out of the depths of despair more times than I care to count. I am ever grateful to those people, many of whom were in the midst of the worst of times, for their willingness to work, and to share deeply, to bring WRAP to the world.
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, is the co-originator of Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and 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, the simple, safe, non-invasive ways that they get well, stay well and move forward in there lives, and then sharing what she have 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.