Support is Key.

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This is blog 8 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  There are substantial numbers of people who go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, not because they are alcohol abusers, but because they heard you can get support there, that you can get acceptance there, that you can get a sense of being taken for who you are, unconditionally loved.   They weren’t getting that elsewhere in their lives, and so they were going to AA meetings.

If I have a best friend who’s concerned about me, he might say “Hey, what’s going on?” If I have a mental health challenge, a supporter or support group will do the same thing, if I allow them to. That helps me to be a more successful person, whether it’s because my best friend is telling me I’m acting like a butt-head, or because I’m having warning signs that need to be addressed. You have to work with it by making lifestyle changes, by being willing to accept feedback.

We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations Arizona (RIAZ) both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others. The WRAP program through RIAZ makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

K describes, “I can get on the phone and call somebody and share that something’s going on with me or I’m having a rough day. There are times when I do experience a challenge, but my Wellness Recovery Action Plan helps me out with that. If we’re not feeling well, we’ll call in and say, ‘I’m not feeling well today.’ Our director will ask us, ‘What percent not feeling well, like 1 to 100?’ I’ll say, ‘Well, I’m feeling 80%.’ She’ll say, ‘Well, can you give me 100% of that 80%?’ She encourages us to still go to work, if it’s mental, if it’s not physical. We all experience challenges at times and our coworkers can help one another out. That’s one of the good things about our job.”

M further explains how it’s working together, “with the people at the hospital, the doctors, ourselves and the ones who help us then the most, our peers.   I’m one of them. They say, ‘Well, how can you do this? I didn’t know that you had a problem.’ I explain, ‘Well, I do, but I take my medicine and I do what I need to do for recovery and that’s how I make recovery work for me.’ It’s a wellness action plan.’”

Daily maintenance is an important theme that the peer counselors advocate.   This wellness action plan must be worked on a regular basis. It’s like the 12 Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous. You just don’t do it to get sober; you do it to get recovery, which is a day-by-day event. Things that you do on a daily basis keep you well. That’s one of the topics in Recovery.

In the next blog, we’ll share more information about Recovery Innovations.

Who’s in Control?

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This is blog 7 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations Arizona (RIAZ) both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others. The WRAP program through RIAZ makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

Many people feel like they are giving up their personal power because they have to take a medication or they have to go to therapy. They no longer feel in control of their emotions.  R describes that when people have some other diagnosis, like hypertension, or diabetes, they are required to make some adjustments in their life. Some of the adjustments might be medications or a change in lifestyle. “We view people with mental health challenges the same way. There’s a change of lifestyle and there may be some medications to help maintain that lifestyle that they want to improve and move forward in their own recovery.

“You’re not losing control. You’re actually gaining more support, support from your family, support from medical personnel, support from your peers. You’re getting the support and it’s going to help you stay well and keep you on the right path, moving forward in your progress in recovery.”  J adds, “I totally believe in my medication because I actually remember when it first worked for me and it gives me a life worth living. I value it very much but I also made many life changes over the years while taking the medication. It’s a part of your recovery, if it’s needed.”

Y agrees. “I’m not angry that I have to take a medication. I’m very happy that there’s a medication that’s making me feel better and be productive in society today and able to work. It’s not just the magic pill. You have to work with it and that’s where WRAP comes in for me. I can detect my early warning signs.”

It’s important to have a good support base system and then review the WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, with the supporter. If the supporter sees early warning signs or triggers, he or she will know what to do.  One of the issues about our culture and our society is that we have to be rugged individualists. Studies have shown that people using support groups have much better achievement, personal and career success and wellness in life. More on this next time!

It’s a WRAP!

 

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It’s a WRAP!

 

This is blog 6 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations Arizona (RIAZ) both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others. The WRAP program through RIAZ makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

J describes it as “a personalized plan that you make for yourself, so we share it in a group but each individual does their own WRAP.” It focuses on what you need and what works for you rather than someone telling you, ‘This is what you need to do.’ It gave J “a lot of balance in my life. When I first did my WRAP, I did not know the difference between breaking down and crisis. It was all lumped together but now after about 10 years of WRAP, I know when things are starting rather than when they are in a crisis stage. I recommend it to anybody, because it helps you learn how to maintain yourself with your systems.”

R adds, “And stay out of the hospital, too!”  It’s preventive maintenance and like preventive maintenance you’ve got to do it on a regular basis. You can’t just do it once and then everything’s good.  M describes it “like a journey you’re going on and you take that journey and you have choice. If you make that choice to do recovery and believe in it and believe in yourself, you can be anything and do anything you want.”

An important part of a WRAP program is the requirement that you be willing to ask for help or allow others help you. One of the biggest issues in working with mental health challenges is the idea of having to take a pill or go to a therapist, giving up control of life emotionally and psychologically.   M accepts, “The pill has to now control my emotions and allow me to be less depressed or not to have psychosis symptoms.” Part of the issue of empowerment might also mean, “I need help. I need assistance. I may need to take a medication as a part of that process of recovery.” It’s a very difficult area. In Medicine, we might wrongly call it “non-adherence” or noncompliance.

If someone is not working a strong WRAP program, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and not using support systems, it creates a lot of difficulty in that person’s life.

We’ll focus on this in our next blog.

 

Strategies Against Stigma

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This is blog 5 of a series of 10 on this topic.  Peer support and a wellness approach to mental illness have brought great changes in people’s lives.   They foster a renewed sense of choice, hope and empowerment, that assist in regaining well-being.   We’ve had a lot of talk in our community over the years about stigma and overcoming it.   We’ve made strides. We’ve fallen back. We have tragedies that occur that maybe set us back even further and then we claw back again.  What are some of the strategies the peers at Recovery Innovations have used to handle stigma? We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others.

R states, “I’m a person, I’m not a diagnosis. I don’t accept labels from others, saying ‘You’re this.’ No. I’m me and that’s how I deal with a lot of the stigma.”

The family can be the hardest sell. M confesses, “My family dropped me, denied that anything was wrong with me when I got sick and didn’t have anything to do with me.”

K shares, “They didn’t understand depression in the sense that everybody gets depressed but they didn’t understand the biological factors that played into my depression at the time. Labels – I moved them out of my words because I don’t think it’s fair at this point, because I am a person, I am a human being. I’m K.”

Is it difficult to get people to accept the way a person can change? Over time, do they fall in line or do you have to do more personal education, ask for their support? What kind of things can a person do to help move that along?

Y shares, “I had my mom go to some of the conferences on people with mental health challenges and she learned from that and she also learned from me just by observing me and knowing when I’m well and when I’m not well. She’ll say to me now, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ I’ll think, maybe I’m not having a good day, but I’m OK. I had to educate her and my whole family. My family kinda disowned me for awhile because of the challenges I was going through.”

Do the peers feel today that they are now better champions of wellness as a result of educating family members? Do they still have to give refresher courses?

J’s sister-in-law had some mental health challenges and her brother had to learn from his experience with her and “he now understands me a lot better too, so it’s an ongoing process.   He tells me things that he reads on the Internet on new treatments and asks me about them now too, so that’s a big step for my brother to do right now!”

In our next blog, Vernon will share some stigmas he dealt with in his own family.

Family Skeletons

 

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This is blog 4 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  One of our biggest family secrets is a family member who’s had a psychiatric condition or mental health challenge that was either pushed under the rug or just ignored. We had relatives, “country folk,” who would describe a relative as “he was just touched.” People would be allowed to go untreated and would not get services.   They wouldn’t get help and they would languish. People would talk about it as being a spiritual affliction, that it’s something going on spiritually.   They’ve been a bad person and that’s why they are being punished in this way by having psychiatric or mental health challenges.   People can feel they are being ostracized or being punished by people with that belief system.

We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others.

Y confesses, “My parents knew something was going on with me but I really didn’t know because at times I would self-medicate. At one time, I was mandated by the courts to get mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. At that time, I really didn’t want to but then I think that was the best thing that could have happened to me to reach those support groups and get the support and educate myself on my diagnosis. It helped me find Recovery Innovations of Arizona to become a peer support specialist. At one time, I didn’t think I would be able to get a job because of what I was going through and being on a fixed income, but now, I’m on my journey to recovery and I know I can get off Social Security. I know I can get a job, a better job, with the company I’m with now and better myself.”

M admits that her family didn’t accept mental illness in the family and they never talked about it. Years ago, she was told she had to have shock treatments and her brothers finally realized “Oh, maybe she really is sick.” M adds, “It’s been a continuing thing trying to have them understand what’s going on and how I’ve made my recovery by not putting a label on myself and I’m an important person and I’m going to accomplish something one day.” Being there for the peers, the WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, put “me into a state of knowing, learning and continuing to learn all about everybody, especially myself.”

We’ll discuss the WRAP program more in the next blog.