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Tintin - Appalachian Trail Journal - 2010

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Stuart "Tintin" Skinner
City: Weymouth
State: Dorset
Country: England
Begins: Mar 14, 2010
Direction: Northbound

Daily Summary
Date: Mon, Dec 7th, 2009

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 768
Journal Visits: 10,485
Guestbook Views: 457
Guestbook Entrys: 8

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Churchill's Trail

"I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been in preparation for this hour and this trial" (Winston Chruchill)

I first heard about the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust whilst participating in a documentary for BBC Horizon entitled: "How Mad Are You". The documentary was inspired by the 'Rosenham Experiment'; a famous experiment into the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, conducted in 1973. Twelve 'healthy' subjects were asked to present symptoms of auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain access to 12 psychiatric hospitals in 5 different states.

The patients then acted normally and told staff that they were symptomless, however, all the hospital's staff failed to detect these patients were actually healthy. Instead, they believed that they were exhibiting symptoms of ongoing mental illness. The staff were also asked to detect "fake" patients yet they falsely identified large numbers of genuine patients with an actual diagnosable illness. The study concluded that it was "clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals".

The aim of the BBC documentary was to take 10 volunteers, half with psychiatric disorders and the other half without. Over the five days we were put through a series of challenging experiments - from performing stand-up comedy to mucking out cows. The events were designed to explore the character traits of mental illness and to ask whether the symptoms might be within all of us. Whilst we were undergoing these challenges, three leading experts in mental health observed footage of us in an attempt to spot the volunteers that have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The experts were only able to correctly detect two out of the five volunteers with a diagnosable illness. Whilst I was on their radar for a while, they failed to spot that I had bipolar disorder. It was a challenging experience, but a richly rewarding one; I believe that those who watched the two-part documentary became more knowledgeable about mental illness and question preconceived judgements they had about people with a mental illness.

Although Stuart did not feature in the documentary, he provided a filmed interview account of his experiences with schizophrenia and the discrimination that arose from what is perhaps the most stigmatised of all the mental illness diagnoses. It is a condition that evokes fear amongst the misinformed public, borne from sensationalist misrepresentation by the media. The term "schizo" is seemingly lavished upon anyone who commits an act of gratuitous violence in moments of "madness". Such fear has no foundation in fact, merely in attention grabbing headlines: 'The reality is that, at odds of 1 in 10 million, you are as likely to be struck by lightning as to be killed by a stranger whom is mentally ill' (Homicide Inquiries: What Sense Do They Make?, Psychiatric Bulletin, Szmukler G, 2000).

The dating scene is no easy arena, especially for those with a diagnosable illness as Stuart was to find out. A foray into internet dating was to highlight the stigma that exists in society: 'I got talking to this one woman. We spoke on the phone and even arranged to meet. Whilst I was driving to this particular place I got a text from her saying "I can't see you". I came back and rang her to ask why she didn't turn up. She just simply said "I've typed your name into google. I know who you are. I have to protect my children. Leave me alone". That sort of reaction is very hard to deal with. I haven't had to deal with it as hard as that from other people, but quite a few people I've tried to get to know, once they've heard the diagnosis, you don't hear from them any more.'

Ironically, she found out through the public speaking work that Stuart does to shift the ignorance of his illness by providing an accurate, personal portrayal. However, she chose to succumb to hysterical headlines and dismissed him from unfounded prejudice. Not only had she completely misunderstood the illness and Stuart, she was also clearly unaware that the symptoms of schizophrenia, like any other mental illness, can be overcome if the illness is managed.

We shared more in common than just our names; we are both active in speaking out against discrimination and we both discovered that challenging pursuits had been instrumental in our recovery. Filming for the documentary had commenced two days after my 1,200 mile bike trip from the most northerly point of the UK to the most southerly. I undertook this trip one month after my 4,000 mile bike trip through SE Asia. In 2003, Stuart trekked to Everest Base Camp: "The whole event, from the training to reaching Base Camp was extremely important to me. Finding a positive and worthwhile goal in my life and finding a positive structure has helped me tremendously.'

It's Stuart's ultimate ambition to climb to the summit of Everest. However, this dream of his has been met with resistance, despite the awareness that it would raise of the much-maligned illness. However, it was not the illness itself and the potential problems that may arise that has swayed support against him. It was the very fact that he could inspire, that penalised him. Mental Health organisations and professionals are wary of giving people false hope and they feared that a successful attempt by Stuart would install false hope in other people with schizophrenia. But therein lies problem: 'The world of Psychiatry never wants to give false hope. What I needed from the beginning was hope. I had to find my own hope. Which I have found. Life would have been so much easier if someone had said to me as soon as I was diagnosed, "it's likely that you will overcome your symptoms"... instead of being told that I wouldn't.' Some of the central symptoms of schizophrenia (and Bipolar) are grandiosity and poor judgement.

Stuart has not only suffered from the stigma that exists in the public eye, but also within the world of Psychiatry. The premise of the documentary we were involved is was that we are all on the same continuum, with everyone sharing in similar characteristic traits. Grandiosity and clouded judgements aren't traits exclusively reserved to those with a mental illness, nor are they always found in those that do.

Luckily an organisation saw sense to provide Stuart with funds to at least reach Base Camp. It would be somewhat incongruous if they were to succumb to stigma as they were established to commemorate the legacy of a man who was often accused of grandiose pomposity; whose judgement was called into question several times, so much so that some of his views were dismissed outright. Unfortunately, if people had taken heed to one of his warnings, the Second World War could have been averted and millions of lives saved. This man had a mental illness that he famously described as the "black dog". This man was Winston Churchill. A man that was voted the Greatest Briton ever in 2002.

His illness was said to have benefited the nation during the war time effort: "Had he been a stable and equable man, he could have never inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded we were finished" (Anthony Storr). Conceding defeat would never be considered by a man so renown for his Bulldog spirit. 'Churchill's key contribution was, by his oratory and bulldog pugnacity, to inspire the nation and its political and military establishment, with the courage, self-belief and dynamism that enabled Britain to soldier on alone, even though throughout Europe all organised resistance to Nazi rule had come to an end'.

Britain was under overwhelming pressure, bombarded in the Blitz with thousands of citizens losing life and home. During the Battle of Britain, he called upon the country to make this their "finest hour" and paid homage to the Royal Air Force that thwarted the Nazi aerial attack: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Churchill held the nation's nerve to the very end. Victory was his aim as Prime Minister and victory he achieved. The world as a whole perhaps owes much to this determined stalwart.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust honours the memory of this Great Briton, an icon for all time. Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965 and many thousands of people, out of respect for the man and in gratitude for his inspired leadership, gave generously to a public subscription which now funds Travelling Fellowships and Bursaries at Churchill College Cambridge, based on the Trust’s Object of 'The advancement of education in a part of the world for the benefit of British citizens of all walks of life in such exclusively charitable manner that such education will make its recipients more effective in their life and work, whilst benefiting themselves and their communities, and ultimately UK as a whole'.

Whilst getting some much needed down time amidst all the filming, Stuart told me about the Trust and the travels he was able to make with the Fellowship. When I had it in my mind that I wanted to thru-hike the AT, I placed my hopes in the Trust's hands and I was rewarded after a 6 month application process. I love the seemingly random twists of fate that have led to the most memorable of experiences. They day I finished reading Bill Bryson's account of his experience of the trail, I met a couple who had successfully thru-hiked the AT. The book stirred the notion and my fate sealed when the couple told me "it's not something we'd wish upon anyone, but it's something you have to do.”

It seemed too much of a coincidence. As someone whom is a keen mythologist, I took it to be a sign that hiking the AT was to be part of my personal myth. The wise words of Thoreau have inspired much of what I do, as have the heroic undertakings of Merriweather Lewis. A thru-hike of AT seemed something I was destined to do. To continue the legacy of a man who achieved so much in spite of having a mental illness is perhaps the greatest honour that could be bestowed upon me. I shall take his Bulldog spirit to the trail.

I hope that this hike and my daily journals will help me to continue my mission to create a society where everyone has the right and opportunity to experience mental health. For those who experience illness, to do so without prejudice.

Any support along the way would be greatly appreciated. For more about what I do and my efforts, please visit my website: www.therealadventuresoftintin.com

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Journal Photo

The Real Adventures Of Tintin

- Tintin

Thru hiking to Maine whilst raising awareness of mental health issues.

www.therealadventuresoftintin.com

 

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