How WRAP Helps Me Live with My Bipolar


A few years ago a friend introduced me to the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) by Mary Ellen Copeland, MS, MA. WRAP is designed to manage symptoms of psychiatric conditions by people living with mental health conditions who were trying to feel better.

It focuses on a five part system of:
1. Daily maintenance plan.
2. Dealing with triggers.
3. Dealing with early warning signs that your mental health situation is getting worse.
4. Dealing with symptoms that have gotten worse but haven’t reached a crisis stage yet, and
5. Multifaceted which involves professionals and supports to help you when you are no longer able to be safe or care for yourself. WRAP seemed simple enough and easy to use, so I thought perhaps it could help me manage my highs and lows with bipolar disorder and live a life that I wanted to live, in recovery.
As I worked through the WRAP I developed a wellness toolbox, or things that I have done in the past to stay well and that I could continue to do to feel better.

My Wellness Toolbox:

-Playing guitar and writing songs.
-Spending time with friends or family.
-Reading books
-Spending time walking my wonder pug dog, Rocky.
-Having a healthy sleep schedule,
-Eating regular meals
-Taking my medicine as prescribed.

My Maintenance Plan:
My maintenance plan included identifying how I felt when I was feeling well like content,creative, social, joyful, and how those feelings were related to my wellness toolbox.

My Triggers:
I then focused on my triggers or things that happened to me that caused me to have anxiety, depression, hypomania, or negative or uncomfortable feelings. Triggers for me were romantic relationships, jobs, financial burdens, isolation, poor sleep, too much caffeine or alcohol.

My Early Warning Signs:
Next I focused on early warning signs that my moods were no longer stable such as sleeping for as little as 4 hours or less at night to irritability and intense anger or feeling very sad and lonely without a desire to connect with other people. I knew if I started to experience these early warning signs my mental health and bipolar was getting worse, and that I needed to deal with these symptoms. I would then go back to my wellness toolbox and focus on my daily maintenance plan.

My Support Team:
If things got worse or deteriorated quickly to a crisis stage like having intense suicidal thoughts or actions of self-harm/suicide attempts, I had in place people who were part of my support team. I identified these people in advance when developing my WRAP, so that my family, friends, or medical professionals knew my wishes as to who I wanted involved in my care even if I was not coherent or capable of making those decisions at that time. I wrote out which hospitals I preferred, who my psychiatrist and therapist were and their contact information, which family and friends I would want to know about my crisis and how they could help. I wrote down names and phone numbers in my journal that I used for my WRAP and kept it with me when going to the hospital.

Doing WRAP helped me tremendously. I have only had to use the multifaceted part during a crisis a few times, but I’m glad it was there to help me and those helping me. What I liked most about WRAP is I determined what worked best for me, and I identified what helps me stay well and what triggers affect my mental health. I think WRAP can be very beneficial to anyone living with bipolar disorder. You can get a WRAP book like I was given, or use the website or mobile app to develop your own WRAP. A journal works just as well also.

Living with bipolar disorder and living in recovery is a full-time, on-call job for me. Utilizing WRAP as another tool in managing my symptoms, stressors, and aids me in maintaining balanced moods. I believe it is important to discuss and share your WRAP with those you trust, both mental health care professionals and community supports. But the greatest tool or strength in your WRAP is yourself.

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