via Chronicle Live

Let’s talk about Lewis Kirkbride, a 38-year-old charity worker from Durham in the Northeast of England. But what did this person do, you may be wondering. Well, Kirkbride walked some 300 miles over 20 days to let the English know about the population’s widespread – but largely undiscussed – struggles with mental health.

Kirkbride modeled its route on that taken in 1066 by King Harold Godwinson or Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. On September 25 of that year, King Harold met the invading Norwegian forces at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire and won a decisive victory. For Kirkbride, there is a perfect metaphor for mental illness built into the story.

Harold was “defending his kingdom from all sides, from invaders, and I think sometimes mental health can feel a little bit like that: you’re just besieged from all sides, and everything seems to go wrong,” Kirkbride explains.

In addition, he notes, “there is the metaphor of putting on the armor every day and knowing I have a 20-mile job ahead of me. Is putting on a brave face every day.”

 

The March Itself Required More Than A Brave Face

via Peterburough Telegraph

To prepare, after a former reenactor donated the suit to his project, Kirkbride took short walks around his hometown wearing it, all four-and-a-half 63-pound stones. He quickly learned that he would have to remain ultrasensitive to the grip of the metal on his body.

Kirkbride also tried to reconstruct what King Harold’s route would have been, then plotted his own as close to it as possible, without denying himself access to food and lodging and without endangering himself on impassable Roman roads.

Kirkbride, a longtime medieval enthusiast whose work sometimes touches on mental health issues, had been considering this walk since October 2019. However, he finally decided in April 2020, when he was out for a walk and came across a memorial for a local man who had taken his own life.

“I found that about one in three people I talked to from villages close to home had lost someoneto suicide,” he explains.

He partnered with Men’s Health, an organization that helps men combat mental illness, and hoped his walk would raise more than $13.700. As England learned more about his plans, Kirkbride shattered that goal, ultimately raising more than twice that amount.

What Kirkbride planned as a solitary march quickly became a community effort. So much so that many – posing as Normans – followed Kirkbride to Sawtry on horseback.

“When I reached the finish line, I turned around and found that between 300 and 400 people had joined behind me in a socially distant procession (…) One of the messages I wanted to get across was, ‘Well, look, if a trained killer in 6’2″ armor can talk openly about mental health, hopefully, it’s okay for anyone else to do that. It’s not unmanly, it’s quite a brave thing to do: to show some vulnerability and reach out when you need to.”

He hopes his effort can be a shining example of how mental illness can be stigmatized.