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The Beginning of WRAP

I have been thinking about where WRAP came from. It is such fun to go back and visit those times. I had compiled my data, started giving workshops based on what I learned (even though a psychiatrist told me I could never lead a workshop) and even began writing a book based on my findings (I was also told I could never write a book). I went to conferences and presented on my findings and they were packed with people. People were sick of hearing about medications and changes in their brains and just wanted to feel better and move on with their lives. A wonderful man, David Hilton, hired me to present workshops, one day a week for 8 weeks, in every county in New Hampshire. And then Vermont decided to do the same thing. I felt like I was on a roll. I was doing very well myself, using what I had learned from others. I had two published books based on my findings, I had purchased a condominium and was no longer living on Social Security Disability.

It was at one of those Vermont trainings that something really profound happened. I thought the training had gone very well. I was feeling good about it. But then a woman, Jesse Parker, stood up and said, “This is all well and good. But I have been in institutions all over the country and I wouldn’t have any idea how to organize this into my life.” So we, as a group of people living with mental health issues including Jane Winterling who was working with me, all of us together, over three intensive days, developed WRAP—just the way you know it now except with the addition of the Post Crisis Plan which came a bit later. I thought it was quite good so I took it home and on a wintry afternoon I developed my first personal WRAP. And right away I noticed how much better I felt, how well it worked for me in my life. I decided then that, with the help of others who I would teach over time, I would spread the word about WRAP far and wide. And together we have done that for almost 20 years now. This coming March will be the 20th anniversary of the time when that wonderful group of people braved the winter snow, ice and cold and developed WRAP.

The First Research Project

I sent out postcards to national, regional and local mental health agencies and organizations asking people to write or call me if they were willing to share their experiences. This was almost ten years before e-mail. E-mail and the Internet would have made this so much easier. I thought I would get a few responses—maybe 25 if I was lucky. Imagine my surprise when 125 people responded. I sent them the first survey. I planned on three surveys with the first survey being very general questions that were designed to help me figure out the questions I would ask in the next two surveys. The responses were overwhelming. People wrote and wrote and wrote. They wrote in the margins, and on the front and back covers. They sent tape recordings. The stacks of surveys grew higher and higher and higher in my living room. I had an early computer, figured out a system and began compiling the data, a little bit at a time. There were no programs at that time to do this kind of thing. I went to a university that had a program that taught people how to work with people who had mental health issues and that did some research. When they saw what I had they laughed at me and said I should have asked questions and then given people choices like 5 would be a lot and 1 not at all. I said I didn’t even know the questions to ask and they wouldn’t even go there. They said I reminded of a woman who had done something similar and had all her responses on index cards in a shoebox. They thought that was really funny and laughed about it. I wish I could find that woman. That university is gone now. And the people who laughed at me are long gone somewhere too—I don’t know where—but I do know they are not part of the mental health recovery movement.

How It All Began

All my life, as I struggled with deep sadness, and sometimes-scary elation,  I thought there was some way I could get this under control.  I always had hope that there was a different way.  But it wasn’t until I started reaching out to others who had similar life experiences and asked them how they coped every day, and how they moved forward in their lives, that I began to figure it out for myself.

I remember asking my psychiatrist back in 1987, how people like me coped, how they got well and stayed well.  He said he would have that information for me the next time we met.  I was looking forward to that appointment with great anticipation.  At the appointment, he didn’t mention it so I brought it up (I think he was hoping that I had forgot about it).  He said they didn’t have any information like that that.  The only information they had was about medications, about electroshock therapy, about hospital and day treatment programs, and about restraint and seclusion.  Imagine how that made me feel.  I became more and more convinced that the information existed, and others like myself were the key.  I will be forever grateful to the vocational rehabilitation counselor who listened to my plan to do a research project to learn from others how they cope, get well and stay well and who said, “Yes, we can get you the grant you need, and you do can this.  And I will help and support you.”

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