John Jay McDonald's Story
I'm one of those lucky people who are very much recovered in a conventional
sense. I've been rock-solid stable on the same medications for nine years,
with no mental health problems whatsoever. There hasn't been a whisper
of a voice, not a hint of paranoia or anxiety; and my socio-phobia, well,
that has just disappeared.
But recovery from mental illness is only the beginning. All it does is
bring those of us who have mental illnesses up to the level that everyone
else started from.
Nine of the most stable years of my life have passed by, and I did nothing
with them. I still haven't looked for a better job, and I don't socialize
with my coworkers or anyone else. I have spent those years coasting - not
trying to pursue my dreams, not trying to socialize, not pursuing an education.
The reason is that after spending most of my life fighting mental illness,
I still don't realize just how much my illness has devastated my life,
in so many subtle ways, unless something brings it to my attention.
My participation in the WRAP [Wellness Recovery Action Plan] group has
forced me to face the consequences of having a mental illness for three
decades. I was too busy fighting my illness to really notice all of the "normal" events
and experiences that I have missed out on.
The experiences that most people have had - college, career, promotions,
marriage, children - all of these experiences are foreign to me and to
many of us in recovery.
I am 48 years old. I have never dated, kissed, or made love. I have not
had successes in college or career. I still don't know how to socialize
well because, at an age when most people were learning these skills, I
was fighting just to function, suppressing all of my emotions, avoiding
any experience that would trigger the almost physical pain of anxiety,
embarrassment, or anticipation of this pain.
This is not the picture of a real life - or a complete recovery.
Seeing others like myself in the WRAP group, and hearing that many of
the issues they feel they need to address are similar to mine, has made
me more determined to resolve these problems.
Without the WRAP group, it might have been several years before I could
bring myself to face these issues. Several more years of my life would
have been wasted.
Innovative programs like WRAP are going to be needed more than ever as
genetic engineering brings more effective medicines to bear on mental illness
and more and more individuals attempt to begin having real lives.
Conventional recovery is only the beginning. The real battle is to continue
dealing with the major consequences that mental illness has had on the
lives of these apparently recovered individuals.
John Jay McDonald
Developed by mental health recovery educator and author Mary Ellen Copeland,
M.S., M.A., WRAP is a series of self-initiated strategies that promote
mental health maintenance and well-being. With its emphasis on hope,
personal responsibility, education, and self-advocacy, WRAP dovetails
with the recovery philosophy.