October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, and this year’s focus is “Young people and mental health in a changing world”.
One young woman who can speak to this subject is author and artist, Sophie Hardcastle, 24 who – until the age of 16 – lived a charmed life by the beach in Sydney.
A bright student and competitive surfer, she began experiencing fatigue and depression in her mid-teen years, followed by weight loss and excruciating episodes when she felt as if her skin were “shrinking”.
She sought help from her school counsellor and GP, but her depression and anxiety steadily worsened, leading to self-harm, suicidal ideation and several psychiatric hospital admissions. Eventually, Sophie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with support from friends and family, began to learn to live with her condition.
While still struggling to adapt, she began writing Running like China, her “memoir of a life interrupted by madness”. Today, having completed a degree in Visual Arts, Sophie is studying modernist poetry at Oxford University in the UK. She spoke to MiNDFOOD.
MF: Why was it important to you to write your memoir, Running like China? What kind of feedback did you receive, both critically and perhaps from people it had helped?
SH: It was important to write as I felt there was still a lot lacking in literature that deals with mental illness, particularly bipolar, and particularly mental illness in young people. After it was published, I was inundated with emails and letters from people thanking me for writing it, which showed me how endemic mental illness is, and gave me great comfort to know my story had resonated with so many people. It was inspiring to read other people’s stories.
MF: In your book, you said: “I wanted so, so badly to go to sleep and never wake up”. How painful was it to write your memoir?
SH: Writing it helped me make sense of a lot of things. I had, however, been psychotic for some of my early episodes, and had been numb, so I hadn’t felt the full effect. Writing the book meant I re-lived those experiences and felt the full weight of them. That was very painful.
MF: How do you manage your bipolar disorder and maintain good mental health these days?
SH: I eat well, pay attention to sleep hygiene, surround myself with people I respect and admire, exercise, and take my medications properly. Since writing my memoir, I have had one hospital admission and several major episodes. It shows that bipolar is a chronic disorder, not something I triumphed, but something I have learnt to deal with. If anything, those episodes have helped me to produce better, more creative work.
MF: What are your ambitions for the future? Are there any more books in the works?
SH: I’m currently working as a Provost’s Scholar at the University of Oxford, studying modernist poetry, and working on my second novel [Sophie has also published a novel, Breathing Under Water]. I’d like to work in academia as a teaching professor one day, and of course, continue my work as an author and artist.
MF: What are the worst and best things about having a mental illness?
SH: Worst: It’s an ongoing challenge to stay well. Best: my creative work is far richer, and much deeper because of the wide spectrum of emotion bipolar exposes me to.
MF: What message would you like to give on World Mental Health Day to those dealing with mental health issues?
SH: Patience is key. Nothing lasts forever, everything changes. So no matter how endless an episode may feel, it will always pass. You just have to be patient and look after yourself while you ride out the storm.
Need help, or just to talk?
Lifeline: 131 114
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 82 88 65
Kidsline: 0800 54 37 54