Tales of a Wandering Loon: Walking to raise awareness of mental health

Chris has still to complete his challenge

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase – never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.

It seems only fitting to attribute it to Chris Young.

Walk A MIile: Tales of a Wandering Loon

For the 52-year-old has used it to launch his own mental health awareness campaign, a Scottish-wide fundraising initiative with See Me and an epic trek around the shores of the UK.

It also forms part of the title of his newly penned book, Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon which is, in part, autobiographical as well as detailing his many adventures on his journey around the UK.

St Michael himself would have been rightly proud of the kindness shown to this stranger on our shores.

That generosity is all the more remarkable as Chris, in his own words, looks like a bouncer in a kilt and has a mental health issue – he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2008.

His eventual diagnosis spurred the former social worker on to try to change attitudes to his condition.

Chris had been working in Falkirk and living in Fife for three years when he was medically retired from work.

And the reaction of some of his former colleagues to his diagnosis made him want to change hearts and minds.

Chris explained: “One of the biggest things for me was the stigma attached to my diagnosis, even from those working on the front line.

“One of my colleagues said I was too nice to have borderline personality disorder.

“I was at a party and told another former colleague about my diagnosis and the look of fear on her face was unbelievable – she backed away from me as quickly as she possibly could.

“She was a mental health officer and her reaction was hard-wired – so what chance was there for others to understand it?”

It’s for that reason Chris decided to set off on his walk around the UK.

Having spoken to Penumbra – one of Scotland’s largest mental health charities – Chris’ subsequent walk was actually inspired by its name.

He explained: “Penumbra means the partially shaded outer region of the shadow.

“The charity chose its name because that’s how people with mental ill health feel – on the edge of society.

“I thought, I’m going to steal that and walk right round the edges of the UK to help raise awareness.”

That’s exactly what Chris did, also taking inspiration from monk, Satish Kumar, who did an 8000-mile peace pilgrimage from India to America without a penny to his name.

Chris explained: “Satish’s guru told him he couldn’t take money because the only people he’d meet at the end of the day would be hoteliers.

“That made total sense to me but my poor partner Ella wasn’t convinced at all.

“She slipped £5 into my first aid kit...happily, it’s still there today.”

Otherwise penniless, Chris set off in his kilt, with a 35kg rucksack and tent from Edinburgh on April 6, 2011 – 34 years to the day after his beloved mum’s death.

His route took him to South Queensferry, across the Forth Road Bridge, up into Fife, Angus, Aberdeenshire, on to John O’Groats, across to the islands and down the west coast, into Glasgow, then down the Ayrshire coast and into Gretna before crossing the border into England.

He has now reached Porthmadog in north Wales, where his journey will resume in spring 2018 before eventually reaching full circle back in Edinburgh.

Chris’ condition means his walk has been a marathon rather than a sprint...but he has every intention of completing the mission.

And he has nothing but praise for the people he has already met along the way, including the many generous Scots who gave him a bed for the night, donated cash for B&Bs and “lots of Irn Bru” or happily shared a meal and their own stories with him.

He said: “There’s not been a day where I have not been wonderfully surprised.

“I say hello to everyone I meet and do my best to strike up a conversation.

“It’s not about the walk, it’s about the talk for me.

“And because I’m able to talk about my mental health, people open up to me too.

“It’s difficult to talk about stuff like that with people you know but a wandering stranger? Not so much.

“It was a real privilege to share my story with them and to hear theirs in return.”

There are many heart-warming stories in Chris’ book featuring the Scottish leg of his journey.

Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon is available now, priced £11.99, from Amazon, where it has five star ratings from eight reviewers.

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