Date of Birth:06/03/65
Lodge Park Comprehensive School, Corby
1980 ‘O’ level English Language: C
(I’d just like to say I took this a year early – I thought it was a big thing…just sayin’
1981 ‘O’ level Geography: C
‘O’ level physics: C
1982 Absolute fucking carnage – tried to resit some of the 5 ‘O’ levels I failed; started ‘O’ level accountancy (Accountancy?!) A’ level Physics; ‘A’ level Computer Studies
Was out on my ear after a term. Had one guest star appearance back in the 6th form where I inadvertently introduced dart fighting…yes, it was probably my fault.
1983 Redcar college of further education
Communication Studies (yeah, I know, what the fuck is that? I mean, is that actually a thing?) ‘A’ (ish) level
Maths ‘O’ level (still rocking from being 10th in the exams one year & failing the fucking thing the next)
Sociology ‘A’ level
Crashed and burned after a term & a bit…
1984-1986 Tresham College of Further Education, Corby
Human Biology ‘O’ level: C
Maths ‘O’ level: C
Sociology ‘A’ level: D (yes, that’s a pass! Not a particularly good one, but…)
Psychology ‘A’ level: C (see above)
1986-1989 North East London Polytechnic (NELP)
Bsc Hons Degree in Psychology: 2:2
Perplexed my tutors in the second year as I got a first and 2 thirds in the exams.
Began to realise I was more than a little crazy. Realised I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror; accepted (quietly & to myself) that perhaps self harming wasn’t an entirely ‘normal’ thing to be doing. Kept my hallucinations to myself too.
Highlight of the course – reading graffiti on the wall of the men’s toilets in the ‘Eddie’, a popular hostelry for student types,
‘NELP (North East London Polytechnic) isn’t shit. You are!’
(Brackets added, just in case you didn’t look at the brackets above…God, do I have to spoon feed you guys?!)
1991-1993 University of Edinburgh
Masters Degree (Yeah, I know, crazy, eh?) in Social Work, with the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (that’s the professional qualification) thrown in for free…not quite free..the courses ran concurrently.
Highlight of the course – if you can’t stun them with science, baffle them with bullshit – I did my dissertation on ‘The use of computers as an aid to assessment in Social Work’
It was like introducing Neanderthal man to fire!
Circa 2002 – 2004 (Things had become a little blurry) University of Edinburgh (Yes, again…)
Practice Teaching Qualification
1980-1982 Corby Silver Band Club
Duties – really? You’re really wondering what a glass collector might do…?
Station Road Garage…funny story this..I told my careers adviser that I was interested in engineering as a profession – in no time at all I was filling cars with petrol…it’s a bit like engineering…not that I was remotely interested in anything to do with engineering…
Highlights of my time in these overlapping jobs…
Getting bottled outside Pytchley Court chip shop and being beaten unconscious. Getting short shrift from the doctors at A & E at Kettering general hospital – they assumed that because I was wearing an army jacket (very fashionable back in the day) I was clearly a member of some gang or other and was sent on my way in the middle of the night, 9 miles from home. Not to worry, I visited my sister who lived nearby – her husband answered the door at about 3am and screamed when he saw all the blood all over my face….they hadn’t even cleaned the wound…
Years later…now here’s a funny story…I explained this incident to my psychiatrist, asking her if she thought this might have had an effect on my mental health, she came out with the unforgettable line…
‘Well, it wouldn’t have helped!’ 7 years training…!
Later still, I donated myself to medical science to study what on earth goes on in a person’s head who has Borderline Personality Disorder – during which time I had my head dragged through an MRI scanner…I was still attached…to find that my skull had been fractured all those years ago…
And not even a wet wipe!
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – station road garage – my boss gave me a row for taking the following day off work…
I mean, it’s not even as if he was paying me himself – it was a government funded Youth Opportunity Programme where I got paid the princely sum of £25 per week for 50 hours of my time…
A few weeks later, I tripped over one of the petrol hoses. Instead of it clicking off as it was designed to do, the petrol squirted in my eyes, ears, nose and down my throat.
Since I passed out, I was whisked away to Kettering General Hospital again – where I had calamine lotion applied to my body by a student nurse (she was probably a couple of years older than me) and I had my ears syringed.
Looking back, I’m not entirely sure which was more erotic…
Corby Panel Industries – labourer – inspector – fucking stunt man
I worked in a factory that pressed paper onto chipboard to make it look like the wood it had been before it had been mashed into a pulp and made into chipboard.
Having nearly lost my arm (s) twice to the innocuously named ‘glue rollers’ and the rather more dynamically named ‘Guillotine’ I decided to tell the director of the factory exactly where he could stick his fucking job just as he was about to introduce prospective clients to the workforce.
These experiences acted as a great motivation to return to education
Gardener (government scheme – again!) in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.
I say, ‘gardener’; it involved laying into the permafrost with a pick axe until I had stretch marks on my biceps, and burning anything we could find to toast our sandwiches.
1987 and 1988
St Andrews psychiatric Hospital, Northampton
Summer holibag job as a clueless nursing assistant on a secure ward
Got taught control and restraint so I could torture my friends in the pub.
In all seriousness though, it was a confusing time.
London Borough of Newham:
Personal carer in a day centre for people with physical disabilities.
Tower Hamlets Social Services:
Personal assistant to a man paralysed from the neck down following a rugby accident.
I learned that I must never cut someone’s food up before presenting it to them – we eat with our eyes first..
I also learned that no matter how uncomfortable I felt about the subject when he raised it, it was a privilege to talk about euthanasia with him.
Camberwell Health Authority
I worked in a day centre for folk with learning disabilities who’d been decanted from a large local institution to live in the community…
Their understanding of ‘community’ meant building 6 houses and a day centre in a semi gated area, behind a big fence, with signs that bore the timeless legend ‘Private. Property of Camberwell Health Authority’
Day centre officer for people with a physical disability.
I loved this job. To be fair, I really enjoyed my previous jobs too…
All this time, it seemed only natural to work with and not for the punters. Service users who’d just been rebranded as clients…as if they really had a choice.
I’d never worked with social workers – slightly weird since I’d secured a place at the University of Edinburgh to study the dark art.
In my defence it was the day of the day centre Christmas party…and, I did remove the enormous Dennis the Menace head from my fancy dress outfit for the review meeting with, to be perfectly honest, a sour faced senior social worker and her nervous looking supervisee.
1993 – 2008
Social workering – and lots of it, including…
Social worker in the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh…
In the Gorgie/ Dalry area of Edinburgh…
As a manager in a residential home for older people
As a senior social worker in the Polmont area of Falkirk.
16 years of fun in the…
1977 – present date My Mental Health, or, at times, lack thereof.
I have a mental health problem that’s as duplicitous as it is pervasive. When I’m experiencing an episode it persuades me that this is the way it’s always been.
Some folk say it’s nature, others say it’s nurture. In my case, and in the case of everyone with a mental malady I’ve met to date…
It’s a bit of both.
I was merrily flaky up until the day Mum died of cancer, at home in 1977 – I was exactly 12 years and 1 month old.
From my perspective, Dad didn’t deal with it terribly well, often seeking solace in Bells whiskey.
I went from being relatively well off and hovering around the top of the year, to, er, well, not…
During this time, I spent a lot of time fighting, playing a lot of sport, and being secretive about my new friend, self harm.
In these years I must have oozed vulnerability – I was sexually abused – which took my flakiness to the next level.
I decided then that I was going to be a social worker since I wanted to be there for folk, like me, when they’re going through indescribable pain.
I found I wasn’t able to look in mirrors – the guilt and shame about it all was brought to an intolerable peak when I looked at myself in the mirror.
I got a job straight out of Uni – where I’d had around 10 clients as a student, I suddenly had 70. 70 folk that demanded my immediate attention because they were about to be discharged from hospital in need of some manner of support.
I found myself in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital – Edinburgh’s bin of loons- 6 months after I’d started the career that I’d wanted to do all my life.
I was diagnosed with anxiety, then depression…possibly a mixture of both.
I was seen by a number of GP’s, psychologists, counsellors, once, a psychotherapist who was funded by the NHS – he told me it wouldn’t help unless I paid for more.
I asked, ‘How much would it cost?’
He replied, ‘How much have you got?’
With trust out the window, I decided against his brand of psychotherapy.
Work was a roller coaster ride of work – going off sick with whatever was wrong with my head – trying to catch up with the work I’d missed – fearing that I was a burden to my colleagues – blindly hoping that I wouldn’t be bypassed for training/ for promotion…
In those 16 years, I think, I could be wrong, that there were 3 years where I’d taken 6 months off because of whatever was going on in my head.
This was the job that I loved…and hated all at the same time.
Finally I got to see a psychiatrist.
I’d been taking every antidepressant known to humankind – the world was a fuzzy mess.
As a senior social worker, I had an open door policy – social work is stressful enough without an inaccessible boss.
Until…I closed the door.
A colleague came in to challenge me, gently, ‘Chris, what are you doing?’ he asked – I’d been turning up for work, but little else.
I told him that I didn’t know who I was.
I was disabled out of work. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder – possibly the most stigmatised of all loony conditions.
I met an ex colleague at a social gathering. She was a mental health officer – a specially trained, mental health social worker.
She said, ‘I hear you’ve been disabled out of social work, Chris…was it your depression?’
‘No,’ I said – unnecessarily brightly in retrospect – ‘turns out I’ve got Borderline Personality Disorder.’
Imagine Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ – that was my ex colleague’s response as she made excuses for her sudden exit – something about hoovering the cat…
That said, the vast majority of the ex colleagues I’ve been in touch with since THE DIAGNOSIS have been fabulous.
It was recognised that one of my major problems was dissociation – a defence mechanism my mind used at the time of the abuse, where I’m taken on a holiday – where the world isn’t real, where I don’t feel any emotions.
This lasts from between an hour and 3 weeks and jumps into my life completely unannounced.
I can go into double dip recessions, where I’ll go from one dissociative episode into another…then another…
I can be in whappy land for months with a few days respite here and there.
I had 2 years of great group psychotherapy – where my expectations shifted from wanting to be CURED to accepting that this crazy condition is manageable with more than a little help.
I take antipsychotic medication in variable doses depending on my levels of craziness. They serve to calm my galloping thoughts – they make me docile, when I need to be…
They shut my head up so I can sleep.
And then I sleep a lot.
Voluntary Work 2008 – present
2008 ish to er… CAPS
The great thing about voluntary work is, it’s just that, voluntary. I helped when I could, and was met with kindness and understanding when I couldn’t.
I’d been speaking to my psychiatrist about borderline personality disorder and how, like everyone else in the world with the condition, with access to a computer, I searched the web for all things BPD.
I told her I’d found a group of people, who’d been given the same diagnosis, who met up regularly in Edinburgh.
I said, ‘I think I might meet up wi…’
‘DON’T!!!’ she exclaimed, ‘These are very sick people…’
Er….nothing…it’s probably just me…
Needless to say, I met up with these people, and what a wonderfully validating experience it was.
Through them I volunteered with CAPS, a voluntary advocacy organisation, supporting them with their campaign around personality disorders, ‘More than a Diagnosis.’
My self esteem needed a lot of building following my crash out of social work.
And this certainly got me on my way.
I tell people that it was my decision not to return to social work – since it wouldn’t be great for my mental health.
I suspect though, given my history of mental ill health and the rather large gaps in my employment, social work wouldn’t be rushing out to employ me.
To tell or not to tell…?
Well, that’s for another blog.
With CAPS I was reminded I had skills – I could interview folk, I remembered just how much I enjoyed public speaking, and how much I love just getting on with folk.
6th of April 2011 – present Walk a Mile in My Shoes.
It was off the back of my work with CAPS, my therapy and the love of the people around me I was able to make the decision to walk around the edge of the U.K. to make a noise about mental health stigma.
Take a look here for more on it’s origins
This has meant being a full time walker, mental health campaigner, subject of a film, blogger (yes, I know, you’ll be the judge of that), conversationalist, public speaker, runner and designer of workshops, fundraiser, and scrounger – although I like to see that as giving people the opportunity to demonstrate their kindness – so it’s a win – win situation.
So, walking around the edge of the U.K., anti clockwise from Edinburgh, with no money, demonstrating the fabulousness of folk, doing something I absolutely love…obviously I was cured.
Well…I got to Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire before I got battered around the head with reality.
Of course I wasn’t cured. I knew that. That’s why Ella, my lovely partner, phoned me three times a day…not just so I could tell her tales of derring do – but to make sure I was OK.
My madness – even when medicated – even after cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, incarceration, group psychotherapy – was alive and well.
Even when I’m doing something I’m good at – something I absolutely love doing – it’s still there.
It comes at me in a variety of guises.
I mentioned dissociation earlier. The world becomes unreal. I look at my hand – it’s not real.
I’m not real.
If it persists, at its extreme, other personalities, for want of a better word, can manifest – I can be a 5 (?) year old child – I can become someone with no confidence in what I do – I can become an omnipotent being…
Usually though, I feel nothing. I’ve said this before, but for people around me…Ella….she’ll see me as going from being a a cuddly, affectionate kind of a guy, to someone who hasn’t got the capacity to feel. When I touch her in that state it feels like I’m handling a piece of meat.
I go from someone who can happily talk in front of 100’s of people to someone who can’t achieve, never mind maintain, eye contact.
We treat that with upped medication and sticking me in a darkened room with loud American cop shows.
Every year I lose around 3-4 months – that’s 3-4 unpredictable months, because of this…this…craziness.
And that’s doing something I love.
2014 Safe Haven Corby
This wonderful organisation in Corby (the town of my birth) lost its funding – I decided that it would be the Walkamile thing to do to support them in their quest to stay open.
I was the chair of the trustees for about 6 months as we raised awareness and money through newspapers, local radio and events.
We managed to raise around £80 thousand through grant applications too.
Great! It felt like I was working.
In no time at all though, I was back in the world of social work…
I’d do some work…
I’d go crazy…
At least this time I had Ella acting as a filter when the folk I was working with, understandably, thought they could help by talking to me, or thought perhaps I could just…
I couldn’t, I can’t and I don’t.
This isn’t defeatist. It’s not a self fulfilling prophecy. After spending years of learning, observing and accepting what it is to be me.
Thrown into this milieu was…is the self destructive drive that accompanies the dissociation, the desire to feel anything, followed by the feeling of abject failure and self loathing.
At these times graphic, livid imagery of self harm and suicide cascades through my mind. I’ll leave out the details – but you’ll have to trust me, it’s breathtaking.
I also hallucinate at these slippery times – and at others – everything from my mums head manifesting on the shoulders of my friend, to the most recent, where an astronaut was climbing through the ceiling above our bed.
I find them all completely unbelievable now – but, especially when they’re accompanied by incoherent whispering, I can still be taken by surprise.
But there you go…
2015 SeeMe Scotland
I lost a lot of 2014 due to the madness. Which, in turn, meant I lost a lot of fitness. I’d made it to North Wales – but I’d ground to a bit of a physical and psychological halt….
I saw that SeeMe – a Scottish anti-stigma charity were running some courses around Scotland to prepare people with mental health problems to apply for a series of grants they had on offer.
I had some notion, while I was getting fitter, that I’d have something to offer and to gain from this process.
We liked the cut of our respective jibs, and before we knew it, we were working together to develop a brand, a Walkamile website and, more importantly, to run events that we felt were a distillation of the the big walk.
Looking at social media, we’d found that mental health professionals and punters were fairly active on the interweb.
However, there wasn’t a great deal of crossover. Even though there is many a professional with lunacy, there wasn’t much in the way of sharing social spaces.
It has gone and will continue to go fabulously.
People have continued to prove just how delightful they can be time and time again.
and we’ve got more to come around Scotland on the 20th of April this year – including Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A shortened, 45 minute, version of the Walkamile film will be ready by the time of these events…and…all being well, the film will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in September.
Here’s a little taste of what to expect.
December 2015 – whenever
Establishing Walkamile as a charity – or, to give it it’s full title, a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation.
The hope is, using the weight of SeeMe and the momentum we’ve gained, we can build a small organisation that can provide an infrastructure that’ll help us to realise the Walkamile dream of completing the ramble, educating folk of all ages, providing workshops, and demonstrating folk are fabulous, challenging mental health stigma one conversation at a time…(I’m all about the brand)
Hopefully too, it’ll provide me with gainful, flexible employment that recognises I have something to offer, at the same time accommodating the periods when I require gentle hands and a darkened room.
Something that’ll allow me to make hay while the sun shines.
I know I’m not alone in all this – my experiences – good and bad – my hopes and aspirations – my talents and skills – my needs for love, care and compassion – there are millions of us in a similar position.
These people – volunteers – folk who support each other face to face or through social media – people who provide the cornerstone of mental health support in our lovely country.
People who challenge the state sponsored stigma of skivers versus strivers; of ill thought through tough love; taking up the slack of swingeing cut after swingeing cut – although we dare not speak it’s name, this is the big society that David Cameron could never conceive.
Yes, I appreciate this has been a long and rambling CV, with more detours and cul-de-sacs than your accustomed to.
Am I fit for work beyond my dream charity?
Does our current system of work, volunteering, support and welfare fit my needs?
Does the spare the rod, spoil the child philosophy get the best out of me and my huge group of peers?
It’s my hope that my endeavour – whatever that is at any given time – will demonstrate that by starting from a position of trust and love things will get better.
That said…I think we’ve got a long way to go.
Would you employ me?
Let’s make a noise
Walk a mile