Sophie Hardcastle was a teenager when she was first struck by mental illness. At sixteen she was misdiagnosed with major depression and she was admitted to hospital four times over the next two years.
She completed her HSC while in hospital, achieving an ATAR of 98.25, and receiving a Premier’s Award for All-Round Excellence. She was fast-tracked into the Sydney College of the Arts.
In 2013 she was admitted to hospital again and received a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.
Now in her twenties, Hardcastle has written Running Like China: an engaging, lyrical memoir of her illness; and a book which could be of real value to schools and families supporting teens suffering from mental illness.
Hardcastle describes in detail the onset of her illness, her journey through various mis-diagnoses, and her coping strategies. She gives us insights into her decision-making processes during her illness, and the numbness and despair behind her declarations to friends and family that ‘I don’t care’.
It’s not always easy reading: Hardcastle’s illness took a real toll on her family – particularly her parents and younger sister – and in her anguish she tried to ‘fix’ herself with sex, drugs, alcohol and risk-taking behaviour (something to keep in mind if offering the book to younger teen readers).
However, her detailed descriptions of her state of mind and explanations of the basic physiological processes at play (the chemistry of the brain, the way our minds try to numb down our mental anguish so we literally ‘don’t care’ or ‘can’t care’) could prove incredibly useful to teachers, school staff and families who are concerned about what’s going on with the teens around them.
In places, Running Like China is almost a stream-of-consciousness work, as Hardcastle meanders through and circles back to themes including family, relationships with friends, social media and encounters with other patients in hospital.
She shows us how some of her closest teenage friends were able to ‘be’ with her during her illness, providing ongoing, valuable support. And she is compassionate towards those who simply didn’t have the capacity to maintain their relationship.
She shows us the hurt of social media bullying, and describes the practical and useful support friends gave by shutting down her accounts and isolating her from some of the most hurtful barbs.
She explores her own relationships with doctors and carers, emphasising that not every medical professional will be the right ‘fit’ for any patient.
Most of all, Hardcastle talks about the importance of speaking about mental illness and the damage that silence can cause. She now works for the organisation Batyr, which she explains:
‘is all about story telling. We go into schools and run workshops where Batyr speakers
give a voice to the elephant in the room by sharing their own experiences with mental illness.
‘By the end of the program the turn around in the students’ attitudes towards mental health is amazing.
Hearing others talk openly and honestly gives the students confidence to open up in their own lives. It inspires hope.’
Hardcastle hopes that Running Like China will help readers ‘see the importance of opening the conversation around mental health and that they will be encouraged to do so. I also hope that my book will inspire resilience and encourage patience because there are so many moments worth waiting for.’
Hardcastle is a born writer. This powerful memoir is just her first published book and she’s currently working on a novel for a major publishing house. Read our interview about her writing career here.
An extract of Running Like China is available on the Publisher’s website.
For educators, there are also teacher’s notes on the publisher’s website, which link the book to SOSE and Science topics as well as Language and Literacy.
There is a short contact/resource list at the back of the book.