“Anxious, depressed, low-functioning, codependent. My life was a continuous struggle. I was rapidly going downhill. I had social anxiety so badly that I hardly left the house to go to work. Doing something like buying groceries or pumping gas was impossible. On top of the anxiety, I was having problems with heavy depression.”
That was how Tori MacNutt described her life before the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (also known as WRAP), a free self-management program offered in partnership with the Vermont Blueprint for Health.
For ten years Tori struggled with mental health challenges and fibromyalgia, a physical condition that causes chronic pain. She tried numerous medications and therapists. Yet, Tori’s life continued its downhill slide and her struggles intensified. At her lowest point, when she felt she had nothing else to lose, a family friend recommended a WRAP workshop.
It changed Tori’s life: “I am living a life I never thought was possible. I live independently in Burlington. I am working full-time and taking steps to be able to pursue a Master’s degree. Before WRAP, I seriously doubted my ability to support myself and move out of my parent’s house, never mind to a city! My health, both mental and physical, has improved significantly.”
Our understanding of the relationship between chronic conditions and mental health has grown dramatically in the last two decades. It is now recognized that people with chronic illnesses, like Tori, have much higher rates of depression and anxiety than the general population, which can affect their ability to cope with an illness, and participate in the treatment and recovery process. WRAP benefits this population by helping people feel better more often and improving the overall quality of their lives.
What is a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)?
Developed right here in Vermont, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a system for monitoring, reducing and eliminating uncomfortable or dangerous physical symptoms and emotional feelings. WRAP has proven so successful that it is now an evidence-based practice changing the lives of people around the world. Research suggests that WRAP reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety and improves a person’s sense of recovery from mental health conditions.
What Happens in a WRAP Workshop?
During a WRAP workshop a small group of people come together with trained peer- facilitators to develop their own personal WRAP. A WRAP plan helps people identify their own wellness resources and how to use them in daily living, as well as deal with symptom triggers, early warning signs of illness, and times of crisis.
After learning to use WRAP, Tori began to feel more comfortable in social situations. “My depression began to lift as I truly began to take care of myself and utilize the tools I’d identified in my Wellness Toolbox.” In particular she said: “Identifying “red flags”– behavioral and mental changes that meant I wasn’t doing so well—was huge. I can think of many occasions where I have managed to circumvent true crises by recognizing these symptoms and following the steps I’d outlined in my action plans for each red flag.”
Abby Levinsohn is a trained facilitator and uses WRAP herself. “WRAP is self-empowering,” she says. “Your plan is all your own initiatives and requests. We are all dealing with very different challenges and WRAP helps us manage and confront those challenges in a very personal and individualized way.” She will teach the next WRAP workshop series, starting on October 17, 2013 (Learn more about the Wellness Coop at www.thewellnesscoop.org).
Previously too anxious to even visit Burlington, now, say Tori,“I live here and I love it!”
Our next WRAP workshop series will be held Thursdays, from 4:00pm-8:00pm, from October 17 – November 21, 2013. For more information, or to register, please call 802-847-2278.
Robyn Skiff is program coordinator for Medical Home Self Management, part of the office of Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center.