Walk a mile in my shoes
Posted Friday 26 October 2012
There comes a time in a man's life when he should embark on a pilgrimage (or so says Satish Kumar). In actual fact he suggests that when a man reaches middle age he should be off on his second jolly. He is a Jain monk. I, on the other hand, am an atheistic, bald ex senior social worker carrying more weight than he would like, with a mental health problem.
On 6 April 2011, I began a tour of the UK with the aim of circumnavigating this fair island on foot, relying solely on the kindness of other people for food, water, shelter and compassion.
The reason for the date is simple - it was the 34th anniversary of my mum's death. She died of cervical cancer when I was 12. My dad, devastated by this, turned to alcohol, often leaving my brother, one year older than me, and I to fend for ourselves.
At this time I also became the victim of sexual abuse from someone close to the family.
I started self-harming - probably as a result of this - at the time it felt like just another thing to isolate me further.
To the outside world I became a complex mixture of violence, high school achievement, crazy humour, smelliness and misery.
I became a social worker so I could be there for people where no one had been there for me.
My mental health was ignored in my youth and bubbled up sporadically throughout my adult life. Time and time again I was misdiagnosed with depression. Maybe if I just took a few more pills?
In 2008 I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, an umbrella term for the array of symptoms I'd been experiencing; from suicidal thoughts to self-harming and the major problem for me - dissociation.
As far as I understand it's a reflexive response of an over protective mind where I'm suddenly plunged into a world of no emotions, of unreality, of seeing myself as not of this earth.
Even after two and a half years of wonderfully successful group psychotherapy, I'm left with this pain-in-the-arse, potentially life-threatening symptom.
My traffic sense goes. My ability to take part in day-to-day living evades me - I even find stairs a mental challenge.
This can last anywhere between an hour and three weeks. It comes on me suddenly; sometimes with a stress trigger, but most of the time apropos of nothing.
My only management technique is to wait for my partner, Ella, to come and mop me up... plonk me in front of loud American cop shows of which I only have a sketchy memory afterwards - I can watch them again without any loss of enjoyment (you could call it two for the price of one) quietly whispering the mantra, "This will pass, this will pass..."
And it always does.
After a dust-down from Ella, I'm good to go again.
I hope my story illustrates that a combination of events and a quirk of brain-wiring can lead to the normality of mental health difficulties.
The walk is raising money for my two chosen charities - Mind and Penumbra.
I chose Penumbra because its name signifies the light edge around the edge of a shadow - that helped me decide to walk around the edge of the UK, because that's where folk with mental maladies often feel they are.
Mind was an obvious choice because of their endless campaigning, advocacy and advice on behalf of people with mental health problems.
This particular journey is not so much about me - it's about the people I meet on my way, their beauty and kindness and the beauty of this lovely island that we share. I want to hear and share the stories of anyone who feels they have felt the squeeze of prejudice or where they felt their words were unheard.
My motivation comes through the feelings of isolation and prejudice I have experienced because of my condition, and my knowledge of the discrimination felt by so many users of social work services - older people, people with a physical disability, people with mental health problems, people with a learning disability, people from minority ethnic groups, people who choose a different god and people who choose to live their lives in different ways.
But not just them. I want to hear the voice of the majority who feel they are unheard.
This is a reaction against the mainstream press who portray a divided and scared Britain - a dangerous Britain full of individuals who look after themselves - a Britain where there is no society, let alone a big one.
Help me to prove them wrong - show that although we are divided we are not yet conquered.
Last year we raised nearly £1,000. And we proved that the people of the UK are kind and compassionate, offering me food, shelter and support more times than I actually needed it.
Looking back I feel I was a little naive - I thought I'd be finished in 18 months - completely failing to factor in my mental health problems... and who could have guessed I would have caught Lymes disease from a tick?
I have walked around 1,300 miles - up the east coast of Scotland, across the top and down the west.
I'm currently in Troon having enjoyed a few days of beautiful, if not chilly, Scottish weather and a monumental amount of Scottish kindness and hospitality.
If anyone would like to be involved - whether by walking with me, talking with me, joining the Facebook group or by offering me some manner of hospitality on my way do get in touch.
Commenting is now closed.