Andrew Bowen is a Gwent history enthusiast who works as a research librarian and is known from his love of poetry and writing. He shares his story with ALICE ROSE

“THERE is still so much prejudice surrounding gay people and mental health.

I thought it was time to speak out about it.

I am actually on a number of social media websites and it’s amazing how many people are out there who are gay or curious.

I have bipolar disorder and suffer from depression and these have been things which have meant I have struggled in life, but I’ve always tried to push through them to my best abilities.

Looking back I have had an interesting life and I aim to help those who suffer with similar issues to myself. It’s good to help people.

I was born in Usk at a place called Llanbadoc Hospital which has since been knocked down.

And then I moved to Cwmbran and then we moved to Caldicot when I was about two-years-old. I stayed in Caldicot for about ten years, made some good friends down there in Caldicot but unfortunately they emigrated to Tasmania on the £10 ticket.

People were encouraged to go to Australia and Tasmania on the £10 ticket to start a new life because they needed electricians and engineers and things like that. But sadly, when they got there the dream wasn’t what they thought it would be.

That was sad because there was a family called the Creeds and I had a lot of time with them. David was my best friend, he had three sisters and my mum and dad were also friendly with the father as well. We all went down to Southampton and waved them off on the boat. It was the first time I felt loss really. I felt so low and broken by that. I was eight-years-old.

From that point of the view it wasn’t a very happy time. Dad then decided to move to Newport for a better paid job, he was the senior inspector for life insurance. We moved to Newport in the year of 1970 and lived with my grandparents until the house was ready in Beechwood.

We stayed there until 1974 then moved to another house in Newport and I went to a private school called Springfield. Which at the time was the poor relation to Rougemont really, it wasn’t up to the standards of Rougemont but the head teacher tried to make it like that.

When I got to the big school, the head of history at the time said there was no way I was going to get anywhere with my history and I might as well forget it. But it was another teacher Tony Lewis who encouraged me, he encouraged me tremendously and to cut a long story short I ended up with a 2:1 degree in history, English and linguistics at St Mary’s College in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

I was there for three years and then at the end of my degree I was lucky enough to get two offers to study a master of arts in linguistics at Royal Bedford College or 18th century literature at Queen Mary’s College in East London.

Unfortunately, I had a very disruptive nervous breakdown and that stopped me going on with the masters. I had to come back to Newport and take stock of the whole situation. Bearing in mind, I had been away for three years, I had come back and a lot of the people I was growing up with had either gone away or sadly in two cases one committed suicide and another person had difficulties. That was very sad to have a friend going at the age of 23. He had drug related problems and we found out he was gay as well and he couldn’t cope with it.

It was the 1980s and it was a generational thing. I still feel the loss of him really, that was very very sad and totally unexpected. From the three years at St Mary’s where I came out as a gay man I had some relationships there which were very nice but I still had a girlfriend along the way. Sort of like a dual thing but my feelings were not in that direction.

So, I came back and had worked in Clarence Place doing basic admin work and then I worked at The Queen’s Hotel as a barman. I also did a bit with the South Wales Argus doing research for them. Then in 1985 I decided to try and go back to London and stayed with a girlfriend of mine in Peckham. I worked just around the corner in Trafalgar Square in a team of chartered surveyors. That’s where I became more and more interested in librarianship and I worked there for two years to get my experience then went to the University of London to do a diploma in librarianship.

After that I went back into specialised libraries and it seemed to be like that for the next 18 years. I worked my way up from library assistant, assistant manager, information manager and then the depression and bipolar kicked in and I had to be signed off.

What I have done since then really is to try and work on my skills. You think that your skills go when you have this breakdown and you think that you have nothing to offer anybody.

I’m pleased to say I have come through it and through the other side.

Coming out to my father was very difficult, he actually said some very hurtful things. Basically he wasn’t very supportive at all and said that I was more-or-less not the son he wanted and I would be ostracised from society.

Being both Christian it was even more hurtful.

Thinking about it, have I been too harsh on him? If I had been in his position back then in the 1980s would I have said the same thing to him?

I have the green light now that Maindee Library will let me have a two hour art therapy session to help people who are struggling with mental health issues on Tuesday afternoons in September from 2pm to 4pm. Hopefully that will go well.

The course of my life has been quite exciting and from a Christian point of view I have managed to keep my faith through all these struggles and difficulties.

At times it has been particularly difficult and at times I’m thinking ‘am I a lost cause?’ and it’s a very difficult situation.

I have worked out in my own way after a lot of therapy that the only person who can work out the answers is yourself really.

Having come through it and understood it – I still have my bad days – things can get better and you can get through it.

I have an idea for a play around Henry VIII of England and his six wives which I’m looking to work on which should be interesting, and I’m going away later this year to work on my writing which will be a nice break.”