I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1999 whilst reading for a degree in Genetics at Cardiff University. Before completing my final year I experienced the symptoms of mania: racing thoughts, pressurised speech, losing touch with reality. I was hospitalised for about two months.

It was a relief to be given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder as I was able to begin the process of understanding and learning about the illness.

My first meeting

Having seen a poster in hospital about the Cardiff peer support group (founded in 1988) I went to my first meeting in the appropriately named Oddfellows Club (!) on Newport Road, just a few miles from my home. I was reserved and shy at the beginning. It was a revelation to listen to others and hear of their experiences and how they managed their illness.

Learning how to manage bipolar

For the main monthly meeting the group provided a varied programme. We benefitted from the learning of a wide variety of speakers: psychiatrists, pharmacists, nurses, representatives from other mental health organisations; presentations on nutrition, exercise, hobbies evenings and structured sessions on ‘How to live successfully with Mental Illness.’

For many years we enjoyed an annual visit from Professor Nick Craddock of Cardiff University’s Bipolar Research Department. We built up an extensive lending library and at least four times a year we organised open question and answer sessions. Many people, on being diagnosed, are given little information or sign-posted to inappropriate services.

Coming to the group helps them learn how to manage the illness which is immensely valuable.

Breaking down social isolation

Having discovered that many members felt socially isolated the group organised many events. As I grew in confidence I became the group’s Social Secretary. We went on trips to the Gower Peninsula, Longleat House, Tredegar House (NT), the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, where some brave souls took a helicopter ride. We had regular visits to cinemas, theatres and concerts, including the ‘Last Night of the Welsh Proms’.

Regularly some members of the group would spend time walking around Cardiff Bay, Taff Trail, Bute Park and enjoying a light lunch together (see photo).

We forged links with the nearby Newport group. We played skittles against each other. Informally members of the group arranged evening meals together in a variety of restaurants to celebrate birthdays, and Chinese New Year. These activities strengthened friendships and broke down social isolation.

Members of the group also attended Bipolar UK’s National Conferences held in London and Newport (South Wales).

The value of peer support

I would encourage everyone to join Bipolar UK and take advantage of their services: eCommunity, peer support groups, peer support line, work and learning resources, Mood Tracker materials and enewsletter.

Congratulations on reaching your 40th birthday, Bipolar UK!

George Baugh is a co-facilitator of the Bipolar UK Cardiff Peer Support Group that meets in the Friends Meeting House in the centre of Cardiff on the first Tuesday of each month. Anyone affected by bipolar, over the age of 18, is welcome.

George co-wrote this blog with fellow longstanding group members Janice Grindle and Clive Westwood.

Last updated: 20 February 2023