My mother kept all her recipes loose in a box under the bed. If we wanted to bake cinnamon buns, my elder sister and I could spend an entire Saturday morning helping Mom sort through all the recipes hoping to find the right one. If my mother had had a proper recipe box, of course, we could have put all the baked goods under a single tab, and perhaps then we would have been able to taste those wonderful cinnamon buns.
WRAP is my recipe box. For years, even when I was at my worst, I had a mental “under the bed box,” with all the tools I was using to try to stay well. But no matter what state I was in, I couldn’t find what I needed. WRAP helps me organize my wellness strategies so I can access them more easily. I can go to my “triggers” tab or my “daily maintenance plan” tab, and it’s all right there, right when and where I need it. WRAP is like a strategic plan for life, and I’m honored that I’ve played a part in bringing WRAP to thousands of individuals in Illinois. I never tire of telling our story.
Changing the System from the Inside Out
The Illinois WRAP story began in May of 2002, when two state employees—Mary Jensen and Carol Vollendorf—attended a WRAP Facilitator training course in Vermont. They didn’t know much about the program—in fact, they wrote their first WRAP on the plane on the way there.
Later that month, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a self-determination workshop, with Mary Ellen Copeland as a featured speaker. I tend to think this was divinely orchestrated. I attended as the acting director of consumer affairs for the Division of Mental Health (DMH), along with Mary, Carol, and Dan Wasmer, one of our DMH Network managers. Having read a little about WRAP, I went eager to learn more.
The juxtaposition of what I heard at that workshop and what I saw in the room could not have been more stark. Many of the participants were being treated like children. They had been lined up on the bus to come, and they couldn’t even go to the bathroom without their escorts. And yet, I heard Mary Ellen talk about what I had been living. She spoke about taking control of your symptoms and your life. She spoke about staying well. And, most importantly, she spoke about hope.
That very day, and every day since, I have worked to change a system that tells people what they can’t do to one that supports and even expects them to recover and be well. That very day, I stood on Michigan Avenue in Chicago with Mary, Carol, and Dan and said, “We are going to do this all over the state.” That very day, we developed the foundation of a WRAP steering committee, and Dan pledged $5,000 to get us started. WRAP soon became our number one tool for changing the system from the inside out and changing the lives of thousands of individuals.
WRAP Is for Everyone!
From there, it was full steam ahead. In August 2002, “Wrappin’ ‘n Wrollin’ in Illinois” was born. With staff from the Copeland Center, we held a day-and-a-half WRAP orientation attended by more than 100 people. That December, we held our first facilitator training, sending 20 people—two each from the nine geographic areas of the state and two from Chicago. To this day, when people ask me how to spread WRAP, I tell them, “You do it two by two.”
Every year since 2003, the State of Illinois has sponsored a WRAP Facilitator training—we just hosted our 22nd training—and we also provide facilitator refresher courses on a quarterly basis. We have trained more than 400 WRAP Facilitators across the state.
Of course, we still have naysayers—those who think people with mental health challenges can’t recover and live healthy, productive lives. But now, because we have had so many success stories, I can simply say, “Let me introduce you to Patricia.” Patricia arrived at our first facilitator training in 2002 from the nursing home in which she lived. Today, Patricia works full-time as a recovery support specialist in one of our regional offices.
I can say, “Let me introduce you to Pat.” Pat was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 15, and his parents were told he would live out his days in a residential facility. Today, Pat, too, is a full-time recovery support specialist in one of our regional offices. They are living proof that WRAP is for everyone.
Giving People Hope
WRAP is also for everything. I use WRAP as much for dealing with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and for doing well at work as I do for mental health. I have a WRAP for work on the bulletin board in my office. One of my colleagues wrote a WRAP when his mother died. If there is something you think could be better in your life, you can create a WRAP for it. In fact, in Illinois, we never ask anyone who attends a WRAP Facilitator training if they have a mental health diagnosis; that’s not a prerequisite. All they need to have is a WRAP that they use in their personal lives.
Personally, I have come far in the past 20 years. In 1996, I was meeting all my “system goals.” I was taking medication; I had stable housing; I was employed. Yet, I was miserable. My sister even described me as the “walking dead.” With the help of a recovery program at my church, I learned that I was a valuable person. I understood that I had a future. I began to have hope. I started using the type of wellness tools that became the foundation of my WRAP.
The mental health system in Illinois has come far, as well. Today, I ask everyone who works with and for me, “Are you giving people hope?” When we can reach into our WRAP recipe box and find just the right ingredients, hope is like the frosting on the cake. And there is more than enough to go around!
Nanette V. Larson is Deputy Director / Ambassador for Wellness and Recovery, Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health, in Peoria, IL.