I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993.
I was 21. I think it’s important to say that back then we didn’t have the technology that we do today.
I didn’t have the same freedom of information, and the ability to communicate with people from all over the world that I am privileged to enjoy today. I mention this straight away because I do believe that with knowledge, education, support, and self awareness, people living with mental health problems can have a good quality of life.
I was given a label, ‘Manic Depression’
Back in 1993 though, it was a very different picture. I was given a label, ‘Manic Depression’ they said, and some pills, and that was the extent of the ‘support’ I received. I had experienced a psychotic manic episode, which led to being hospitalized. I was confused, frightened, and very inept to deal with what was happening to me. I felt like I carried a dirty secret and felt very ashamed to have this label.
It wasn’t until my third admission to hospital in 2008 that I was fortunate to meet with someone from Bipolar UK. David was a Bipolar UK volunteer, going into mental health wards and sharing his own story, and inviting us to join Bipolar UK, an organization that went on to become very important to me. I was so touched by David’s story. I had never met another person with bipolar at this point. His story was very similar to my own experience of the illness, and yet here he was, large as life and listening to my hypomanic ramblings.
I had never met another person with bipolar at this point.
I might add that between 1993 and 2008, fifteen years, not one of the professionals involved in my care had even signposted me to the charity!
When I became well again, I joined Bipolar UK. I then went on a 3 day self-management training course, which has changed my life. Not only did I meet another 12 people with Bipolar, but I began to take back control of this condition, realizing I held the keys to my own well-being. This was enormously empowering to me.
I later went on to train as a facilitator of these courses. I also did volunteer peer mentoring for Bipolar UK, and co-facilitated my local Bipolar UK self-help group.
I should say at this point that I have a background in Music and Dance; that I am a creative sort of person. Last year I noticed something was missing in my life. Some key to bring it all together, my experience of mental illness and my creativity. I talked it over with a friend, the idea of bringing together other musicians and dancers who also had experience of mental illness. Later this idea would become MaDCaff, open café events showcasing the talents of those who have been, or are affected by mental illness.
I was invited by a friend, Dai Sharkey to perform at an event he was putting on called ‘Schizophrenic’. He was working in partnership with Time to Change Wales, in an attempt to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health. This was right up my street. I had been well for almost a year, and relished an opportunity to sing my songs, and talk about my experiences. I did the gig, and met the TTCW team. I then applied for funding from TTCW with the help of a very good friend, Rachel Stelmach, West Wales Field Officer for Disability Arts Cymru, and MaDCaff was born.
I have been well for well over a year now and I am so happy to be involved with TTCW and their campaign to end stigma around mental health.
March 21, Students Union, Aberystwyth
April 12, Small World Theatre, Cardigan
Further dates in Lampeter, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Cardigan TBC very soon!
Find out more about MaDCaff and get your tickets here.