In an age where there is so much digital connectivity, but also such disconnect between people on a personal level, it can be gratifying to discover a sense of community and the knowledge that we really are all in this together. The screening of Walk a Mile in My Shoes at the Glad Café in Glasgow’s Southside provided the story and the setting for just such discoveries.
The film presents an honest (at times brutally so) portrait of Chris Young as he embarks on a journey of 10,000 miles around the periphery of the UK, in an attempt to challenge mental health stigma. He draws attention to the isolation that results, often leaving those living with mental health problems on the ‘periphery’ of society. More than that, however, the film poses questions about our ability to trust and our capacity to see ourselves reflected in one another.
In 2008, following years of mental ill health, Young received the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a condition which even by the standard of ordinary common or garden mental health stigma seems to be particularly targeted for shame and misinformation. A quick internet search for the label and it’s not long before we are faced with words such as ‘attention seeking’ and ‘manipulative’ and the characterisation of those living with the condition as incapable of relationships and even dangerous. As Chris himself jokes with a passerby he meets on his travels: ‘If you watch CSI, I’m usually the one who did it’.
It was the news of his diagnosis and the often fearful and closed minded reactions he faced from others that propelled Young towards the desire to highlight the experiences of people living with mental health problems. His enthusiasm for simply walking and talking gave rise to the idea for the coastal trek in which he would rely on the kindness of strangers to provide him with food, shelter and companionship to sustain him.
Surprisingly, or perhaps it shouldn’t be, those he encountered stepped up, by welcoming him into their homes and lives time and time again. Sharing food and warmth and at times their own stories and struggles. Young’s charisma, honesty and capacity to trust that there is good in others as long as we choose to give it space to shine through are perhaps what helps to attract those he meets and to make him a compelling presence both on screen and off.
The film, however, does not pull back from showing the difficulties and pain that Chris faces; we see with vivid clarity the reality of living with a condition which at times renders him incapable of putting one foot in front of the other, or communicating with the people and world around him. With a huge degree of honesty, he says, it was his desire to give a ‘3D view of BPD’ and the film achieves just that.
Walk a Mile in My Shoes is a film about a man living with the rigours of a challenging condition, a man with immense warmth and generosity of spirit, a rounded individual who is far more than just a label. It is a film which asks us to take a chance and trust in the inherent need for connection and potential for compassion that exists in all of us. When the task of breaking down the barriers between us – which allow stigma and exclusion to exist – seems so great, perhaps it would serve us well to remember that all we need to do is to start somewhere, connect with one another and talk. Maybe it really is possible to take on mental health stigma, one conversation at a time.
by Susan McKinstery
Also taking place at the Glad Café, Out of Harm sees young people use storytelling, film and photography to explore self-harm and the reasons for it, and takes place from 7-8pm on Wed 26 Oct. Click here for more information. For full film listings in Glasgow and Edinburgh, see our film flyer.