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I just bit the skin around my nail, so far, that I am sore and bleeding, again. My fingertips look like I stuck my hand in a food processor. Every time I have bitten my nails this week, I am reminded of WRAP by Mary Ellen Copeland. I am brought back to the straw that broke the first camel’s back.

In 2007, after the murder and funeral of the biological father I never knew, meeting his family for the first time in my nineteen and a half laps around the sun, surviving two suicide attempts, and suffering a miscarriage, I had a complete mental breakdown. I’d completely given up, and I am not ashamed to admit I thought I couldn’t take any more sadness. After crashing my car into a telephone pole, I spent my entire summer in a psych ward. That place made me even worse. Anyone who has experienced these places knows that until you are ready to get better, the idea of going on a mental vacation sounds great; of course, until you get to the end of the first twenty-four hours. After that, there is a constant sense of challenge to meet the criteria for the end-goal of discharge: attend and actively participate in every group. The other requirement for release is medication stabilization and compliance. Often, this led to patients claiming medications made them feel better; when really, most of them just wanted to go home and knew what the doctor needed to hear to sign that paper.

Just like school, I was the dork that took notes, paid attention, and retained most of what I learned. The excessive amount of Haldol in my system made it difficult to write a straight line in my recovery notebook, control my saliva, form certain consonants in my speech, and even keep my eyes open. This was how most of us lived on the days we were in the ward, empty and numb; whether it was three days or three months.

Even though I was barely coherent, I remember bits and pieces of what I learned and the personalities beside me as I attempted healing and recovery. In one of the many, daily groups, we discussed the WRAP. Almost fourteen years later, I can still picture my handwriting on my original Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It was light grey and bold from the dull pencils we had to use for safety purposes. Why a pencil is less dangerous than a pen, is beyond me. Why not a crayon or, perhaps, a washable marker, if it’s that serious? But the fact that I melted away nine layers of skin using the hot glue gun they let us use is no problem.

In these short-term facilities, they Xerox certain pages from the book for each person to fill out about themselves. The activity from the book (this wasn’t the only program I’ve attended that cited WRAP – it is very popular and helpful) was like an outline or map of your individual self.

In my interpretation, I think of the entire mind in an analogy of a house. Happiness, Freedom, Restfulness, and Stresslessness have a standing invitation to live in the home. These are the goal feelings you list in your Plan. On the other side, you write, for lack of a better term, “signs that you are in your goal feelings”. These are the friends that usually tag along with the auto-invites: Humor, Confidence, Hygiene, Creativity, Self-Worth, and more. WRAP teaches you to accept that you will most likely be faced with the occasional party-crashers: Anxiety, Panic, and Depression. For many people, including myself, these guys never come alone. Dr. Mary Copeland exercises you to make a list of warnings that these visitors are on their way. Insomnia, Fear, Fatigue, Self-Doubt, Irritable Bowel, Worthlessness, and all their loud-mouth, obnoxious pals, traditionally reach the door, first. They knock like they’re the cops in search of the town murderer, so you know it’s them every time. These assholes compile the list of signs of a current or incoming, emotional episode, and sometimes they don’t leave unless you kick their asses out, yourself. This is your house! Mary urges you the importance of making this “guestlist”.

As a faithful user of this Plan, I know the state-of-mind I wish to have and can note the proof of that, to myself. The most valued and referred-to piece of the plan, personally, is the other hand: The negative.  When my nails are on point, perfectly-polished and manicured, it's a way the people who know me can tell I am doing alright. But then there's times when I'm not okay; my fingertips have dried blood and wounds that set my soul on fire, with every dish I wash." The memory of the neat, thick, silver penmanship on the over-copied copy of my list flashes into my vision every time I think, “Son of a bitch, why did I bite my cuticle so deep??” At the top of my negative list, the friends of the party-crashers: Nail-Biting.

Just two days ago, for the first time in my life, I had the courage to call a crisis hotline, ironically, straight from my own Resources Page on this site. I have been biting my nails constantly for weeks and completely ignoring signs that the crashers have already arrived. Any other time in my life I have felt this torture, I never told a soul – I had attempted.

Are you okay today? Need a new friend to check in? Write me.

Your Friend,

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© 2020 Amanda K. Esposito