ByAdrian Baileyon 21 November 2017
Not a literary masterpiece, but that’s the last thing it sets out to be. Its value is not in how it is written but in what it says. Be assured, though, although the review here covers some pretty serious issues, the book is a good read, with lots of smiles along the way. It has a relatively small number of ‘professional’ pages at start and end but is mainly conversational and intimate in style.
Chris set out in 2011 to walk around the edge of Britain (something he’s yet to complete). A good chunk of the book comprises his blog entries from Edinburgh, around the west coast of Scotland, Cumbria, Wirral – and the many people he meets. He set out with the belief that most people are lovely and trustworthy, and this is what he found. The walk was to highlight mental health awareness and challenge stigma. The pages at the end of the book explain how this idea blossomed into ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ events across the country, backed by the charity See Me and others.
Before this, there’s a powerful, often raw account of the author’s childhood which is happy and sad, sometimes devestating, and all the signs of a nascent ‘mental’ state that is going to cause him big trouble, pain, bewilderment, shame, isolation, fear. It’s a privileged, brutally honest insight for the reader, written with intelligence and at its best concision. As part of his self-described loon personhood, it’s also very funny throughoughout without ever detracting from the seriousness. It needs to carry trigger warnings for many reasons, not least because it refers to suicidal ideation and sex abuse.
Myself, I could identify with much of Chris’s experiences; others will too but the book is a testament to the fact that there is nobody who doesn’t have mental health issues. Part of his task is to gently educate society at large, but also those who may be reluctant to deny that their distress is not, in fact, a virus. I really hope the book has a wide readership, each reader unique of course, but with a relevance to particular abstract categories such as professionals, campaigners, carers, media people, teachers – anybody whose life does, or should recognise the need for ever greater awareness of mental health. For the many who are suffering or have suffered, the book will be interesting, and for some there will be points of disagreement. The diagnosis that Chris accepts is of borderline personality disorder: there are campaigners who have had this diagnosis and are seeking to have it overturned. Chris would not want to argue with them. A central point of his mission is bringing people of all sorts of different, often opposing, views, beliefs attitudes, political orientations together, to work together to address the prejudices all of us have, a recognition that these are most often not malicious. His primary practical task is to build a ‘trickle up’ movement from individuals, groups, organisations and communities to
influence funding, resourcing, and destigmatising mental health services which are structurally embedded in state thinking in unacceptable ways.
Chris intends to resume his walk in the south west of England, but not just yet. He’s currently on a 42 days hunger strike protesting about the time the new ‘universal credit’ social security benefits system in the UK takes to reach people. As in his book, he has a strong belief that individuals can make a difference, and more so when they come together. There are interesting videos and information on the See Me Walk a Mile in My Shoes website, a good complement to the book. When I finished reading the book I felt I knew more about mental health, more about myself, and pleased to have met Chris. One of the people he met on his walk had suffered deep depression, a farmer, and he advised three approaches o mental health (and life): ‘Honesty, honesty. honesty’. I think these three words (in that order) provide a fitting distillation of the book.
You can buy the book directly from Trigger Press here P&P is free
You can also order it from Amazon in the UK and USA
Not a literary masterpiece!!! Really!! None taken – I’ll happily accept those 5 stars though
Walk a Mile