Wellness Plan – Early Warning Signs

The next step in the WRAP Plan is to list the signs that indicate I need to take action before things get worse. They are changes in the way I think, act or feel, so they are observable, either to myself or others.

This section of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan requires that I face my fears about the initial red flags which indicate an episode is possible. It’s more than just Stressors; it’s actual changes in my thinking and behaving. This is a key part to the WRAP – to recognize these signs as serious and do something about them before they get worse!

These are behaviors or attitudes that point to a potential problem – perhaps a descent into a mental illness episode. For me, indicators include things like listening to my music really loud – perhaps to drown out my spiraling negative thoughts. I apologize a lot, and have excessive guilty feelings. I have a strong desire to speak to my old-time long-term therapist, Ted. I find it hard to concentrate, even for a short TV sitcom. I begin to think “What’s the point?” which is an elusive question, as I don’t define “it;” I guess I just feel fatalistic. I desire to be alone with my self-blaming thoughts. I have trouble making decisions, feel easily overwhelmed, and have a lack of energy.

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan book (copyright 2018) suggests that I review this list of early warning signs regularly, perhaps even daily, so that I become familiar with them and can respond before things get worse. A list like this can be an inventory of emotions and behaviors to note. If I am experiencing several of them, I need to ask myself what’s going on, and why I’m feeling out of sorts. And I need to put the next part of my Action Plan into place.

The wellness tools I will use if I see these early warning signs are:

  • Tell my husband, sister, and friend
  • See my therapist
  • See my psych doc
  • Listen to my music playlists that are encouraging and uplifting
  • Have a coffee date with a friend
  • Rock in my glider
  • Try to interrupt the spiraling thoughts with the truth of God’s Word
  • Email, maybe even FaceTime, my old therapist.

Other actions might be to take a walk, or do some stretching exercises.

In the future, I might make this into two lists – one of actions I must take, and one of actions I might take, when I observe these early warning signs. And I can always go back to my Wellness Tool Box and pull activities from there to help me avert a depressive episode.

Wellness Plan Toolbox

The first step in writing my wellness plan is determining the helpful steps I already have in my daily life. When I am healthy, what is it I’m doing to make me that way? What are my day-to-day activities that signify health and wellness for me? “What things do I already do to help myself be well, stay well, and live in the way I want to live?” (reference: WRAP Plan app)

This toolbox of activities is critical to my Wellness Plan, as I’ll draw from this list at different stages along my path from wellness to illness and back again. When I feel stressors, or triggers, that might signify a depressive episode is coming, what can I do to alleviate it? Are there any tools in my toolbox that I can pull out and implement to avert an episode?

If I’m further down the path toward depression, and an episode is imminent, which activities can I use to lessen the severity of the episode?

If I’m on my way out of a depression, which tools will I use first to help me post-crisis?

My initial list was 14 wellness tools:

  • time alone with God in Bible reading and prayer (TAWG)
  • taking my meds
  • journaling
  • eating well
  • good sleep hygiene
  • spending time with friends
  • sufficient down-time
  • seeing my therapist regularly
  • keeping my psych doc appointments
  • blogging or writing
  • taking naps
  • reading
  • watching movies
  • Fresh Hope Support Group

But as I thought about steps I can implement in a pre-crisis, I realized I have several more tools, even though I’m not currently using them. Things like savoring a cup of tea, or coloring, or taking a walk in nature. I certainly need to tell my support team that I’m struggling, so they can help me watch for warning signs.

One thing I’ve learned about depression is that it clouds my thinking. I can have this wellness toolbox, but in the midst of a crisis, I’m paralyzed and don’t know how to get out of it. That’s the reason for writing a wellness plan when I’m mentally healthy: so when I’m not thinking straight, I can look back and see what I recommend to myself.

I intend to share my wellness plan with my support folks (husband, sister, therapist, friend) so that they can help me remember to reach into my toolbox when I need to. As soon as I’m done writing the whole thing, I’ll pass it on to my care team.

Am I Supposed To Write A Book?

In my last post, I mentioned writing a book. And I decided that I don’t need initials after my name to be an expert – particularly since it’s my story. Who knows it better than me, besides God? (“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms‬ ‭139:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Ted first suggested it, many years ago. He said it during several of our therapy sessions. He thinks “I have a book in me.”

While living in Florida, my then-therapist Elizabeth told me that she, too, thinks I should write a book. She said it almost every time she saw me – that I should write it all down. And she’d buy it!

Carol and Anne and Stacy have been encouraging. So has Jane. Even Dad a little. I have support from several friends who think I could do it.

From where will I get my story? I began journaling consistently in March 2008 – right at the beginning of my depression journey. And I wrote lots! Some days I wrote several times throughout the hours, especially when I was in the depths of the darkness. How do I even begin to sort through them? I’ve developed a color-coding system with 3M sticky arrows, to highlight different entries I wrote that might be significant to outlining the book. Now to read through all 17 journals and flag them appropriately!

I also began to write email summaries of my appointments with Ted, often with questions for clarification, and I kept a copy of most of them. I wrote in Docs at work when I didn’t have my journal, so I have those notes. And finally, I joined WordPress to try blogging. Maybe I should print out these things and flag them as well.

I can add to this what I learned when I facilitated the depression support group at my old church. My friend advised when I shared with the attendees, I should simply start with my current situation. “Start with where you are.”

So, is that what I do if I want to write a book? Start with where I am now? Or start with the beginning of the journey? How will it be different from blogging? How do I know to whom I’m writing – who is my audience?

I’d like to write a memoir or devotional of the time of my life when I first experienced depression, up to present-day struggles. To explain to Christian women with depression (there’s my audience) that it’s possible to have hope in Christ in spite of having a mental illness. That I am not my depression – I’m a beloved daughter of the King, and so are they. I want to offer them this hope, as I found it in my journey through the desert of depression.

There are many tools and organizations available to me to help me write this book. A friend of mine just recently published his first book, and he recommended a writing program. Perhaps I’ll use one of those to keep me organized and on-task, and to give me regular feedback in the process. I took a one day writing workshop a few months ago – I need to get the workbook out and finish those exercises. They’ll help me be disciplined, too. Perhaps these tools can give me an idea of the order in which I tell my story.

No matter what, I think I know what my next adventure is. Let the writing begin!

What makes an expert?

I’ve been pondering the word “expert.” What makes someone an expert in an area? Could I be one? Do I need initials after my name to be considered particularly knowledgeable?

Merriam-Webster defines expert as: “having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.”

If experience is enough, then maybe I’m an expert in depression. I’ve lived with it for 10+ years. I’ve blogged about it for several years; indeed, the focus of my blog is being a Christ-follower who has depression. And I’ve read a lot about the subject, from textbooks to memoirs. I’ve started writing down my own story in a book draft.

Probably because this is an area of struggle for me, I find the topic of depression intriguing. I’m slowly building my personal library of books on the subject. My list of authors on my Book Buddy app who I’ve yet to read is 20+ titles. I regularly read several mental health blogs.

At my most recent appointment, my therapist asked me why I wasn’t a counselor. Funny thing… I’ve thought a lot about that. Way back in my early college years, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. Then as I got tired of school, I decided getting a PhD was too much work, so I nixed the idea. But I’ve come back around, and am intrigued by her suggestion. I’ve spent the last couple of days researching online Master’s counseling programs.

I want to help people through mental health challenges. I love my role as a facilitator in the Fresh Hope support group. Tuesday night is the highlight of my week, as we meet and talk about what it means to live with a mental illness. I love navigating the discussions and leading the group. As I’ve said before, I feel like this support group is a way for me to give back, from all the help and encouragement I’ve received as I’ve journeyed with depression. It’s an answer to prayer, from when I begged God to not waste my experience in the darkness.

I love families, and family dynamics. I find them fascinating. I’d like to help people build healthy family and marriage relationships.

I’d also like to be an expert in the field of counseling. Of mental health. To have those initials behind my name. So that when I write my book, I’ll be taken seriously.

But returning to the dictionary’s definition, I don’t need those letters. My experience, my research and reading, may be enough.

Maybe I do know what I’m talking about.

What to Expect in 2019

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I tried a few times over my 50+ years, but they never stuck. Why set myself up for failure?!

At the same time, there are things I’d like to see in my life in the upcoming year. So call them resolutions if you must, but I’m giving myself lots of grace, and no deadlines.

I’d like my morning time with God to be more consistent. It has been in recent months, so I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue to be a priority. I get several daily devotionals, but I’m not counting those. I’m talking about me in God’s Word each day. I just purchased a Lectio Divina devotional, and am looking forward to using that as my devotional tool.

I want to be more intentional about the friendships that matter most to me. I intend to make more phone calls, send more texts, stay more connected. I want to plan a trip back to my old hometown to see those people in person, to hug them and tell them how much they mean to me, even over the miles and years. I need to get that on the calendar!

I can’t say that I’ll exercise, because I am physically-active-averse. But there’s no reason that I can’t walk around the block several times per week. Just the block – no commitment to anything more. (Though I’m hoping that once I get out there, with headphones on, I’ll keep going.)

I plan to send more care packages to my kids. They’re no longer in school, so it’s really just “thinking of you” boxes. And I want to shop locally for the items in those boxes. I want to do a better job of supporting local small businesses.

I’ll try to eat more vegetables. Thank goodness for the vegetarian choice of Hello Fresh! I’ll use my new instant pot to put healthier meals on the table. I’ll learn to cook for two, instead of just reaching for the frozen pizza.

I’ll read more books. Goodness knows that I have plenty of them on my shelf that I haven’t even started yet! And that doesn’t count the books on my to-read list. Not just good-for-you books; I want to read for fun, not only for personal development. I used to read lots of fiction but got away from it in recent years. I want to get back to good ole stories.

There are activities I’ll continue in the new year: the library book club (which encourages me to read books I might not otherwise choose), volunteering (I want to get back to 2x/week), serving at church (leading a new mental health support group starting January 8th!), work, developing local friendships, taking weekend adventures with my husband (this requires spontaneity that I have to work at).

So I see myself growing and improving in 2019. If I do any of these things, even a little bit, I’ll be better for it. Resolutions, no. Aspirations, yes.

Happy New Year! Wishing you God’s blessings and a growing closeness to Him in 2019!