The Mental Health Workshop That Changed My Idea of 'Wellness'
“Who are you when you’re feeling well?”
No one had ever asked me that before. In 14 years of receiving mental health services for depression and anxiety, no therapist or doctor had ever asked about what I am like when I’m not feeling anxious or depressed. The focus had always been on alleviating the symptoms — stop the crying, increase motivation to get out of bed, decrease the frequency of panic attacks.
I’d been so focused on my symptoms for so long that at first it was difficult to imagine myself feeling well. It seemed I had lived with these symptoms for so long I could not conceive of another version of me, a me who wasn’t defined by the sometimes debilitating effects of mental illness.
In 2011 I attended my first Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) workshop. Ironically, I was working as a mental health rehab counselor at the time and was sent to the workshop by my employer, so I could learn new skills to help our clients. I was completely unprepared for how this WRAP workshop would change my own view of myself and my illness.
One of the very first things our WRAP facilitator asked us to do was make a list of words describing ourselves when we are feeling our best. This wasn’t so hard. We shouted out various adjectives and the facilitator wrote them on an easel pad: “Happy!” “Productive!” “Goofy!” “Singing!” “Creative!” By the time we were done, our group had come up with a long list of words. I could see that many of us in the group described ourselves in similar ways when we were feeling our best, and we each had qualities that were unique to us as well. Our facilitator then explained we should each make our own individual lists titled, “What I’m Like When I’m Well” using some of these words to describe ourselves.
I was, at first, taken aback by this new idea of “wellness.” For so long I’d considered myself perpetually unwell, having been told by doctors I’d likely need treatment for the rest of my life. The idea I could be “well” was almost foreign to me. But by sharing my description of myself when I’m at my best, and by hearing others in the group describe themselves, I realized I do indeed have days when I feel well. In fact, as I’d become more stable on my medication, I was having many more days when I felt creative, cheerful, silly, and, yes, well! I learned for the first time that recovery from mental illness is possible. Even though all of us have good and bad days, it is important to keep in mind that wellness is a real and attainable goal for each of us.
In that WRAP workshop, I also learned about my early warning signs that signal when I’m not feeling well, triggers such as certain people, places or things that could potentially lead to me feeling unwell, how to recognize when things are breaking down and how to make a plan in case a crisis does occur. Learning about WRAP changed my life and gave me sense of greater control over my mental health and my life. I was able to identify the things I need to do each day in order to maintain my mental health, such as taking medication, spending time outdoors and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. The beauty of WRAP is that each person’s plan is completely unique to them. WRAP allows me to have the ultimate authority over my own wellness, whereas before I had always left that up to the doctors and therapists. Now, I see my doctors and therapist as being partners in my wellness instead of seeing them as the people who have all the answers. WRAP has given me my power back and now I have a vision for what my own recovery looks like.
Later that year, I completed the WRAP facilitator training and now facilitate WRAP groups myself. Having lived and experienced how WRAP can make a difference in my own wellness and recovery, I love sharing it with others. I hope more mental health professionals will learn about WRAP and integrate it into their practices.
Thankfully, this is starting to happen more and more as WRAP has been recognized as an evidence-based practice and peer support has been demonstrated to be effective in recovery. Who are you when you’re well? Has anyone asked you lately? If not, ask yourself. You may learn a lot from your answers.
To learn more about WRAP, visit www.mentalhealthrecovery.com.
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Thinkstock photo via anyaberkut