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Julie and Chris’s story

Building a strong social circle transformed our lives and wellbeing

Julie was referred to the Pathways programme 3 years ago by her support worker.

I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time following an abusive childhood that took time to come to terms with.

I was diagnosed with bi-polar and had contact with psychiatrists and psychologists for years but became very unwell in 2000 which lead to me being hospitalised. My husband Chris had previously worked full-time but had to leave his job to help care for me. During this time we both became very isolated, barely leaving the house except for attending appointments.

We eventually found out about Platfform through my support worker and started attending their groups and courses which made the biggest difference to our lives. We went from having barely any contact with the outside world to slowly attending a schedule of weekly events that involved meeting with people, pursuing hobbies and learning new things.

Platfform has been the support network that hasn’t changed. Getting involved with the charity has been the most positive experience and a complete turnaround for both of us. My GPs, psychiatrists and psychologists have all changed frequently but at Platfform I can meet with and speak to the same people who know me well. It’s such a relaxed environment, it always makes feel at ease.

It’s been amazing to meet with people from our local community who have also experienced difficulties with their mental health. Myself and my husband love going to the weekly social drop in (Food Co-op) at the office – I’ve now started hosting a craft corner and supply everyone with their greeting cards.

Our lives have transformed from the time that we barely left the house

I now also volunteer at Platfform’s offices one day a week doing office admin and I run my own support group every Friday in Risca for women who have bi-polar or depression. This actually makes me feel well, it’s so rewarding. I plan the group each week and we have guest speakers and do crafts too. If someone is feeling down or struggling with something we all talk through how to overcome their issue until they feel better.

It’s even reached the point now where the other ladies in the group encourage and support each other, without my guidance, which is so good to see

I’ve learnt a lot about what helps me to keep well; I’ve tried CBT with a psychologist which has really helped, I do mindfulness, and find keeping busy and sticking to a routine important for my wellbeing.

The number one thing I would say to people is don’t be afraid to talk, it’s so important to communicate with whoever you need to speak to about how you’re feeling

Chris

My wife, Julie, became unwell with bi-polar in 2000 and so I gave up my full-time job to be her carer. Our lives changed significantly at that point, I went from working 7 days a week to driving and accompanying Julie to appointments and so forth but we were mainly at home for the majority of the day. Julie found out about Platfform [formerly Gofal] from her support worker and started to get involved with the groups and services that they had to offer. She was always really positive about her experiences there and suggested for me to join her at the Food Coop one Tuesday.

Originally I used to drop Julie off and leave her there and so I was a little bit apprehensive when she asked me to go but then I got to know people and really started to enjoy it.
The experience has really opened me up to other things; I made friends and found out about a music group called Rec Rock which I also go to now. I sang on stage through the group which is something I never thought I’d do. We’re even performing at Caerphilly’s Big Cheese Festival this year!

I’ve also learned a lot about mental health which has helped to give me an insight and to better understand what Julie is experiencing.

We’ve done a number of courses through the Pathways programme too which have been interesting and helped to build our confidence.

My experience with Platfform has taught me to not be afraid to try new things – some things I’ve tried and thought actually that’s not for me but others I’m still going to years later. Getting involved here has really turned things around for both of us, I went from working 7 days a week to being a full-time carer, at home almost all of the time.

It’s no good sitting in the house all day and since being involved in the project it’s opened so many doors for me, even as a carer.

I’ve also come to learn that helping others really helps open people up and feel better themselves. You can see it through attending the groups, when people interact and support each other they feel better themselves.