"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
December 27, 2013
What are You Like When You're Well?
by Sarah Hancock

Here it's a few days after Christmas and all through the house, decorations a plenty, even for the pet mouse. The stockings are hung by the tree with such care, yet chaos abounds, rifting hearts in a snare. For tho the excitement of holidays experienced by most, many there are frazzled out like burnt toast. And dad with his Snuggie and I with my WRAP, have protected ourselves from a long mental snap.

Okay. Perhaps you're wondering what on earth a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) can do to help someone make it through and even enjoy the holidays. The answer: everything.

A vital component of a WRAP requires understanding what one is like when they are well. Part of knowing what I'm like when I'm well leads me to better identify what I'm like when I'm notat my best. In doing so it allows me to recognize potential problems, taking measures to stave off unraveling (decompensation) which can occur if left unnoticed. In other words, it allows me to be proactive in my own wellness.

A large component of Mary Ellen Copeland's WRAP is personally brainstorming and even enlisting the assistance of trusted loved ones to help recognize what a person is like when they are at their best, or in other words, when they are well.Many people have been unwell for so long, that they forget what they were like before they became symptomatic. Having a trusted friend or loved one brainstorm characteristics and personality traits of one's wellness, allows the person to rediscover themselves.

Allow me to give you an example from my own life. After living with my illness for nearly 10 years, I basically believed my true self had died somewhere along the journey. It was discouraging to compare my previous life before symptoms to what my life had become. When I sat down with a loved one to contemplate the change, it was heart wrenching for both of us. As I started identifying who I used to be, I didn't believe I could live that life again. But in writing down who I used to be, it helped me identify behaviors, habits and quirks that helped me feel like my old self. This in turn helped me return to those basics, allowing me to experience (at first only momentarily)who I once was. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to share with you the real me in an effort to help you identify your or a loved one's true persona.

When I am well, I'm cheerful, not easily upset or offended. I'm an extrovert and being around people energizes me. I regularly shower, wear makeup, complete house chores, wear clean clothes and even enjoy doing my hair. Following complicated conversations and ideas with ease come naturally. Maintaining my line of thought long enough to carry through conversations, complete tasks, set goals and creating plans to achieve goals are all within my innate nature. I generally have a 'to do list" for the day and steadily work through it. This includes daily basics like reading scriptures, taking walks, praying and frequently singing at the top of my voice alone in the car. In general, I have a very upbeat, humorous perspective on life. I laugh easily and sleep well, waking up energized and enthusiastic about the day before me.

My description of what I'm like when I'm well, is individualized and won't look the same for someone else. For example, I have a friend who is an introvert. She finds peace and energy when she is alone, the exact opposite of me. For her, "isolating" is a good thing. For me, it's not.

Identifying what one is like when they are well goes beyond identifying what professionals refer to a identifying a "baseline." A baseline helps the clinician recognize what is the person's normal behavior. However, there can be a huge discrepancy between what a person's baseline behavior, affect and personality and what a person is like when they are well. For example, for about eight years, my baseline meant a lot of suicidal ideation, auditory hallucinations and not understanding how to care for myself resulting in decompensating every six to eight weeks to the point that I required hospitalization. Unfortunately, that was normal. My inpatient psychiatrist expected it because it was my "baseline." However, it was not what I was like when I was well.

As I learned more about creating a WRAP and identifying what I was like when I was well, I increased my ability to identify my thoughts and behaviors (both positive and negative), allowing me to either strengthen my wellness or recognize the first moments of mental unraveling. This enabled me to take measures to fix my own decompensation, quickly. I've learned that if I can thwart the early stages of decompensation, it is much easier to get back on track. For that reason, I've now enjoyed a remission of sorts for the past nearly five years. I have been able to reverse my symptoms as they arise by proactively take care of myself. In some cases, that means learning how to self advocate in an effort to help others recognize my need and ability to quickly squash symptoms.

In keeping a written description in my WRAP of what I'm like when I'm well, it helps me remember who I really am--outside of my diagnosis. It also helps mentally solidify a personal awareness. When symptoms crop up, rather than missing the warning signs which lead to stronger symptoms, recognizing and squashing them becomes second nature.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but my life in the norm, with a brain well and clear. And I heard myself exclaim as I lived my full life, "Create a WRAP y'all, and symptoms melt out of sight!"

May this coming year be a blessed and prosperous one!

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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