“Discovering and being able to manage my triggers has been one of the most important keys to my well-being.” –Lisa St. George

When I arrived at my interview to work at the company where I am still employed 23 years later (RI International), I was still emerging from having been told 8 years earlier, “You can never work again; you can’t take the stress.” I heard those words, and even though my wisdom told me differently, I believed it because my doctor said it.

I believed the words so much that when I did return to work, I didn’t tell my doctor because I was unsure of the ramifications for disobeying that directive. Would I be hospitalized against my will? Would I be removed from the system of care I counted on? I didn’t know. But I did know I needed to support my family, do something to stimulate my mind and return to social work and hopefully bring good to the world through my work. It was my calling.

I couldn’t believe it when I was told there was an organization that wanted me because of my trauma and my mental health history, and even valued those parts of my life. I was so excited to be interviewed for a job where I didn’t have to hide any part of who I was. Little did I know, the gift of work would come with an even bigger treasure.

On my first day of work, I was given a little red book. It was a Wellness Recovery Action Plan book. I’m going to be honest: Part of me was haughty, and I said to myself, “What?! I am a social worker, and I would know if there was a tool such as this that could help me. I would know if something this easy existed that could help people. I would have learned about it in school.” But I came to see things very differently as I built my WRAP.

I took my time and very carefully put my WRAP together. I asked questions of the WRAP Facilitator at RI International (Marianne Long). She told me about being taught by Mary Ellen Copeland herself (one of the originators of WRAP). She talked about how it transformed the way she saw herself and greatly improved her well-being. I had come through such a dark time that I wanted to have any tool that would be helpful to me.

So I developed my WRAP. I had four legal-sized pages (the long, yellow paper) of triggers/stressors. Seeing those pages and line after line of abuses that caused me great distress opened my eyes to the fact that I was experiencing triggers most of the time.

The big “aha!” moment from that was that when I was triggered, I had a startle reaction that caused me to take a big breath in, but then I would not breathe out again. So, I’d become dizzy, and my hands would start to tingle until I remembered to breathe. I had never picked up on the consistency of that behavior before then, and it gave clarity to so many things I experienced. Because I had made a strong list of wellness tools prior to arriving at that point of listing my triggers/stressors, I was able to draw on those tools to build a plan. The first tool on the plan was: BREATHE!

Before I knew it, I wasn’t just using the plan to manage my triggers; I was actually eliminating triggers/stressors from my list that had been getting the better of me for years!

Now I have only a few left on my list. My life is not one constant trigger anymore, but when I am being triggered, I use my plan immediately. I have actionable physical tools, and I also have quiet internal tools that I can use anywhere, anytime. I even use them in meetings, and no one knows I am managing my well-being while I am participating.

Discovering and being able to manage my triggers/stressors has been one of the most important keys to my well-being. And WRAP has been the most important tool for maintaining it. If you don’t have a WRAP, make one. You will be so glad you did.

This blog was originally published on September 15, 2022 on the WRAP website. This has been duplicated with permission from the author.

Lisa St. George, MSW, CPRP, CPRSS

Lisa is the Vice President of Peer Support and Empowerment for RI International.  Lisa has treasured serving at RI for the past 20 years.  She developed and implemented many of RI’s peer support services in Arizona, California, and New Zealand.  She was a primary author of “Peer Employment Training,” “My Wellness, My Doctor, and Me,” and many more trainings for RI International.  She is an expert in peer support and recovery practices and shared from her heart and experience in support of service to the people we serve.