Category Archives: bi-polar

MaDCaff at L;ttle Sparks, Part 1 and Part 2

MaDCaff was delighted to be asked to be part of L;ttle Sparks, the first ever Welsh Mental Health Arts Festival. The Festival saw events across Wales from Cardiff to Caernarfon and many places in between.

MaDCaff put on two events, one at Theatr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil and another at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. Both were new venues for MaDCaff, Theatr Soar provided an amazing backdrop with its beautiful organ and the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales is a venue that is hard to surpass in terms of the splendor o the architecture and the flora and fauna are just amazing from the exotic planting to the flock of native sparrows that have made the glasshouse their home.

The other thing that was very different at these two events was the lack of Miranda. This is the reality o living with a mental illness. Bi-polar disorder is not an easy thing to live with and whilst MaDCaff celebrates the creativity of people with mental health conditions we also have to live with the not such fun aspects and in this case, Miranda had been unwell for months, so unwell that there was no way she was able to face being in a public stage, never mind M.C.’ing an event so that part was left to me, despite the protestations of certain people who didn’t really think I could do it… well, surprise, surprise, I did do it and it wasn’t too awful. So, lets see what happened at the two events.

Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil

So, this was the first event MaDCaff had done outside Ceredigion and having never been to this venue, it took me some time to find it and then be escorted through the various lifts and corridors to reach the theatr itself. It’s not a big auditorium but it certainly is perfectly formed with a historic look despite it being opened in 2011. The organ has to be seen to be believed – this image is courtesy of Theatr Soar’s website


So, once we had all arrived and set up we realised that this was going to be a rather different MaDCaff with many more spoken word performers than musicians. I think this was due to the new location and also to Miranda not being able to round up all the musicians, as she would normally have done. We did, however, have one stalwart of the MaDCaff scene, Mr Dai Sharkey, always a vey popular performer, not just with the MaDCaff audience. Dai was with his gorgeous daughter, Sophie who accompanied him on several of his songs and a few solos. Sophie and Dai singing together are a delight to listen to, harmonising together in a way that only family singing together seem to be able to achieve. Sophie is going to be a great singer in her own right one day and being able to sing with her Dad is a great grounding for her.

Amongst the spoken word artists we had everything from “A Poem about Pain, Death and Loneliness” (yes, ok, that was me) to the antics of Fit Rich’s stand-up comedy. Richard Newnham is a really funny guy, whether he is on or off the stage and we were regaled with stories about dinosaurs as well as his trademark – tell me the name of an animal and I’ll tell you a joke about it. I think he must have a wealth of animal jokes in his head because he always has something funny in response. We had poetry rom Maggie Hampton and Sara Mackay, Disability Arts Cymru’s Directors who were let out of the office for the weekend. We heard Beth Mackay on the piano, pretending she couldn’t play it then secretly tickling the ivories when she thought we were all clearing up. The prize or best newcomer though, had to be given to Michael Breeze, and his poetry. Any poem that can incorporate Mobius bands is a winner as far as I’m concerned and we all really hoped to see Michael again.

The gallery below shows, in order of appearance, Sara Mackay, Maggie Hampton, Richard Newnham, Michael Breeze, Beth Mackay, Dai Sharkey and Sophie.

The Great Glasshouse, National Botanic Gardens of Wales

Despite being without Miranda again, this was a successful event, though weighted rather towards the spoken word artist again – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Ruth Cooke and her guitar provided us with both songs and poems, all delivered in her inimitable style. Michael Breeze, who we discovered at Theatr Soar, came along and gave us some more of his poems. We think he probably has quite a collection and he’s good, really good, someone should be hammering on his door begging to publish his poetry (if they haven’t already).

Would you believe that in a small nice in Cardiff there are 2 Sara Mackays (one we know as Sara Beer for the sake of confusion avoidance) and both were in attendance and provided us with spoken word entertainment. There’s so much talent in that once it’s amazing that any real work gets done.

It was my Birthday – completely by co-incidence and having spent the previous year’s Birthday in agony with a newly prolapsed disc, on my own, it was rather nice to be with company and doing something rather more cheerful. So, to celebrate, I did a completely improvised monologue about suicide, forgetting that I was being broadcast to the whole of the Great Glasshouse, not just the MaDCaff audience, but it turned out ok and I had a complete stranger tell me that she had been moved to tears – I think it was a compliment, or at least I’m going to take it that way.

The Gallery below shows, in order of appearance, Sara Beer, Ruth Cooke, Rob, Michael Breeze (these two seem to have colluded on the pink trousers) and Sara Mackay.


Whilst both events went well, despite a smaller audience than MaDCaff  is used to, at least we trod some new ground, having always wanted to extend MaDCaff  beyond Ceredigion, so we certainly achieved that. There was just one thing that was not quite right, the lack of Miranda and all I can say is that we missed her and both MaDCaff  and I want our Miranda back… get well soon, we need you.


Miranda’s Story


Miranda playing at Dai’s gig ‘Schizophrenic’

Hi, I’m Miranda and I am the co-founder of MaDCaff, and thought I’d share my story with you…

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993. I was 21 years old. I think it’s important to stress 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.

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 people with bipolar 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 knowingly met another person with bipolar up until 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 might add that between 1993 and 2008, fifteen years, not one of the professionals involved in my care had even signposted me towards the charity that is Bipolar UK!

When I became well again, I joined Bipolar UK. I later went on to complete a 3-day self-management training course, which has changed my life. Not only did I meet another 12 people with Bipolar, but I was also empowered to begin to take back control of this condition, realizing I held the keys to my own well-being. This was enormously powerful for 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 – something 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.

Dai Sharkey at Schizophrenic

Dai Sharkey at Schizophrenic

Last year, 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. (More Photos here) 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.

Today, with a clearer insight into my own triggers and warning signs, a significant support network, and new technology, I no longer fell alone with my label/diagnosis. I belong to an online group of people with bipolar disorder, as well as a couple of chat rooms. I also have an e-mail mentor from The Blurt Foundation. All of these things significantly contribute to my well being.

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.

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