My late daughter, Kristen, loved music, especially country singer Lee Ann Womack’s heartwarming song, “I Hope You Dance.” My own life journey has been like a country line dance—two steps forward and one step back. I have danced in joy and in sorrow. My faith and creativity have guided me. Along the way, I discovered what I would come to know as the five key concepts of WRAP: support, education, self-advocacy, personal responsibility, and hope. Living WRAP has helped me learn to live in the moment, and truly being with another person in the moment is the greatest gift anyone can offer.
Reclaiming My Life Through Support
My story begins with support. In 1987, I was a single parent, newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had just been in a homeless shelter. I felt lost. Because I had seizures, I was intrigued when I saw a sign on a storefront in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, announcing an epilepsy support group. It was there that I began to reclaim my life.
I had graduated from Temple University but was only able to work for several years. With the encouragement of my family and friends, I returned to school and graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in adult and community education. My thesis was on nonverbal communication patterns in families where parents have disabilities, and I received grants to develop weekend education programs for children in such families.
My mother, who was my main supporter, passed away unexpectedly in 1996, the same year I graduated. Friends from my church family were there to support me when I walked across the stage. I was beginning to understand that I can’t recover on my own. When I invited others into my life—and learned that I could give back by supporting them, too—we broke down the stigma, shared our stories, and grew together.
Teaching Education and Self-Advocacy
Education and self-advocacy have also been critical for my own recovery and are among the tools I pass on to others. In 1998, I went to work for Keystone Human Services in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I began sharing my life story and my knowledge of health literacy. I helped my peers understand that they have a voice and a choice. They don’t just have to say “yes” to the doctor. They can create a relationship that helps level the playing field and focuses not on “you” or “I” but on “we.” I developed my first engagement tool called “Com-mun-i-cators,” in which encouraged individuals to ask questions about how their health would impact their lives. Navigating the Health System and Surviving is a user-friendly handbook I created in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers Association.
Living Personal Responsibility
Personal responsibility is my touchstone. I knew I could have lived out my days on disability. Certainly, that seemed like an option in 2005 when I was on medical leave from my job with two broken legs, the result of osteoarthritis and a couple of falls. But I made a choice to recover. In 2006, I became the first person with lived experience on the management team at Keystone. I became the community relations coordinator, a job I still hold today, and married my soul mate, Bill. I made a choice to help transform the mental health system toward recovery.
One of my first trainings in my new role was on WRAP and was based on what many call the “red book.” I wrote my first WRAP on transitioning from being a direct care worker to being a manager, identifying the tools I needed to stay well in the process. In 2007, I wrote a WRAP for diabetes as my “dance” with this challenging disease began. In 2008, I wrote my WRAP on grief when Kristen, my youngest daughter, was killed in an automobile accident. This was a very practical WRAP that helped me get out of bed and do at least one thing for myself each day. I listened to the music my daughter loved and wrote about all she had taught me about living and loving life. As Lee Ann Womack sang, I had the choice to sit it out, but I decided to dance.
At Keystone, I’ve helped create WRAP for peer leadership and WRAP for the effects of trauma, and, when I was offered the opportunity to become a WRAP facilitator, I integrated trauma experiences into my WRAP so I was ready to share it with others. My health challenges continued over time, so I created a WRAP for total health.
As a WRAP facilitator, in partnership with our individuals in services, we created a leadership council. We began to offer interactive activities to engage individuals in the key concepts of WRAP through wellness festivals. Through the WRAP classes I facilitate, I offer individuals creativity, storytelling, and opportunities to grow. In 2013, I became an advanced level WRAP facilitator and helped graduate 27 WRAP facilitators. I’m excited to see the “birthing” of WRAP across Pennsylvania. We continue to move toward our vision of living into the reality of wellness and recovery.
Living WRAP, Sharing Hope
I’ve realized that I have been living the key concepts of WRAP all along, and I continue to do so. I educate myself about my health conditions and have helped others do the same. I advocate for my right to work and still take care of myself, working in partnership with my health care team and my employer. I take personal responsibility for my choices and my recovery. I give and receive support every day.
Most important of all, I have hope. When I didn’t have hope for myself, others held hope for me. Before I had hope, I was merely existing. I did what needed to be done, but I had no dreams. When I have hope, I see the possibilities, and these become my dreams. If you can dream, you can dance. I hope you will.