Author: Wendy Tuxworth
As a kind, chatty, and good-humoured man with a zest for life and a passion for helping people, Chris Young adored his job as a social worker. But things fell apart when, in 2008, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. His illness brought about the end of his calling and he found himself in need of a new project and purpose. And so it came to be that in 2011 Chris began a campaign called Walk a Mile In my Shoes.
He walks around the edge of the UK – the edge of society being where many people with mental health problems feel they are – without spending any money and relying on the kindness of strangers. In 2015 he joined forces with See Me Scotland to distil the success of the coastal walk into a series of events, inviting other people to join him and discuss mental health. He encouraged them to literally walk a mile in each other’s shoes. Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon is the story of how a normal, nurturing childhood turned into one of neglect and abuse and how this, combined with a little faulty brain wiring, lead to a severe and enduring mental illness.
It is also the story of one man’s journey towards tackling mental health stigma, one step at a time.
Trigger warnings: sexual abuse of a minor, parental death, cancer, violence, self-harm, graphic descriptions of suicide
It’s always difficult to review someone’s memoir. Obviously, I can’t have an opinion about this person’s lived experiences or actions – that would be pretty judgemental of me. However, what I can do is talk about how my personal experiences might be similar (or not!) to his, as well as discuss the more technical aspects of the writing. Let’s start with the latter.
This is definitely a book in two parts. The first half of the book discusses Chris’s childhood experiences, relationships, and job as a social worker. The second half is an account of his Walk A Mile campaign. I thought that the first half was very well done, as each chapter is framed by his relationship with a particular person. This is a great area to explore, as BPD typically causes unstable relationships and difficulty maintaining relationships. He didn’t hold anything back. The second half was a bit of a disappointment, as it was a collection of blog posts that he wrote whilst walking around the edge of the UK. While I appreciate that this was probably a good way for Chris to remember the people he talked to and stayed with, it led to a rather boring reading experience.
On a more personal level: I definitely saw myself in many of Chris’s experiences. When he was 15 he was sexually abused – when I was 16 I was too. For both of us that was a real trigger for our mental illnesses. He also described the feelings of dissociation really well. That’s something I’ve always had trouble writing about, simply because it’s just like…an absence of things? (My memory also gets a bit funny after dissociative episodes). He definitely dissociates a lot more than I do – his is about 1/3 of the time, mine is a couple times a year – but it was really validating to read about. I would have liked more of an explanation about DBT (the recommended therapy for BPD) as he attended group therapy, he couldn’t because of privacy reasons.
There are definitely not enough books about BPD – I’ve really struggled to find another one that I can read. Hopefully this is the start of increased representation of this often misunderstood diagnosis.