This week’s post is by Linda Meyer, who recently founded a suicide attempt survivor support group as part of her New Jersey-based wellness center, The Support Place. She is a strong supporter of Wellness Recovery Action Plans, or WRAP plans, and with good reason. They are useful in bringing order to a sometimes chaotic experience, they create a network of supporters who can spring into action once certain signs of crisis are noticed, and they are an assertion of a person’s intelligence and control at a time when caregivers risk overlooking them:
There was a time in my mid-forties when my depression became so bad that the only way I thought I could feel better was to just die. I suppose it was a way of controlling the uncontrollable when every emotion and every physical pain left me feeling hopeless. It was very hard for someone like me, who had a lot of hope and was very much in control of my life. I was happily married, raising our seven children, and beginning to work outside the home.
Until I discovered WRAP, I didn’t have the self-awareness to begin to control what I was experiencing. My suicide attempts left me floundering in a world with no tools and too many people controlling me. This led to 27 hospitalizations, and I began to understand that being controlled was exactly what I was trying to avoid.
My awareness from WRAP gave me what I needed to help myself. A new awareness of my triggers allowed me to peel them apart like an onion to reveal the many layers I needed to become aware of to avoid depression and thoughts of suicide.
The hypersensitivity I experienced from being controlled gave me insight that there must be a reason for my hypersensitive reactions to everything else. Through the help of my psychiatrist and the creation of my crisis plan, I was able to go back to my childhood where it all started, with traumatic events that I had repressed most of my life.
I keep asking myself, what is it that is triggering me? Each time I identify it, I peel another layer and begin to reveal more triggers such as certain voices, attitudes, ignorance, someone not following rules, people being taken advantage of or me feeling vulnerable. I realize these triggers affect many parts of my life even if the original trigger is not there.
A recent triggering event was witnessing a police brutality incident where a man almost died. Testifying in court brought up memories of my childhood experiences. When I was 9 years old, I was in the same courtroom testifying against my perpetrator and feeling vulnerable from being taken advantage of by boys and men.
That early experience answered many questions I had asked myself, like why I always beat the boys up, why I became so competitive in sports and enjoyed beating them there, and why I struggled with male teachers.
Triggers led to a buildup of hypersensitivity and not knowing what to do about it. The depression got heavier and deeper until I constantly lived in a state of suicidal thoughts. Taking my own life was the only way I felt I could regain control of it. I realized that the controlling treatment from people who tried to help me was only making those depressed feelings worse.
I now have immediate action plans and continued action plans, which are very different. For instance, an immediate action plan if someone isn’t using their blinker while driving might be for me to yell “BOZO!” shake my head, and take a deep breath. I feel it, acknowledge it and then I am OK.
If a single trigger is compounded by other triggers in one day, and I begin to feel more angry, depressed or suicidal, I reach into my continued action plans. I listen to music, go to the movies, go shopping or even go play pinball, which helped in my childhood years and can soothe the little girl in me.
Unfortunately, there have been times when some of my wellness tools have not worked. I become more stressed and begin to dissociate, sometimes for days. So instead of worrying my family and being unsafe, my WRAP allows me to reach into some of my more extensive action plans. For instance, my husband knows to drop everything to drive me around and divert my attention any way he can while trying to help me stay safe.
During this time, my family is alerted that Mom is not well. The family becomes not only my support but each other’s support as well. Their awareness is as important as mine. They learn how my WRAP keeps me safe, and they learn how important it is to help each other.
I have learned to use my home as a place of respite. Someone “babysits” me rather than my going to a hospital only to become more traumatized by doctors who don’t know me and to be given medication I don’t want. WRAP helped me recognize this, and it is amazing how I have felt comforted by something that was once an intense trigger, my own home.
My family is aware of when I am depressed, as they know my “Early Warning Signs” and “When Things Are Breaking Down” parts of my WRAP. My family assists and supports me with my action plans, even if it means watching me eat my favorite Chinese food for days on end. It is so much better to avoid the traumatic past experiences of getting a call from the police, or having the police come to my home to take me to the hospital.
I have found incredible self-awareness in being able to peel apart a trigger in order to understand logically why it is a trigger and what it truly reveals. Now I challenge all my triggers that were once firecrackers until they are duds.
No more hospitalizations, no psychiatric medications. My transformation continues each day as I come to understand that I am my own best supporter, and that I am worth living for.