An interview with Sophie Hardcastle, author of Running Like China by Eloise Baker.
I finished reading Sophie’s memoir in one day, mostly on the beach with the Fijian cyclone swell pounding in the background. I was captivated by her honesty, not just the declaration of having a mental illness but the revealing of the scary, hard times and the acceptance of all parts of herself. Sophie chronicles her life as strong, intelligent, and creative child. At 12 years old she was surfing competitively, by 15 mental illness had interfered with everything she knew herself to be. Years of deep depression, suicidiation, self-harming and destructive behavior she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is when Sophie’s journey to rebuild herself begun and continues.
In the foreword Lauren Enever reminds us that 1 in every 5 people suffer from mental illness. When you’re in the lineup remember that someone or yourself in that moment could also be struggling with mental illness.
Do you still surf and if so how does it help with your mental health?
I spent the second half of 2011 in and out of a psychiatric hospital with undiagnosed bipolar. I barely made it into the water. Depression drained me and left me dry on land. I lost my place in the ocean. I lost myself. The year after, I was diagnosed with bipolar and put on the right medication and my moods stabilised. I was given a plan to maintain my mental health in my day-to-day life and I experienced an indescribable calmness. I was putting my life back together but I wasn’t whole, there was still something missing…
I didn’t find myself until I rediscovered my place in the ocean. It was hard at first, my board felt foreign and my body was weak, but soon enough, I made it into the lineup and melted into the silence between sets.
Today, I surf every few days and I find the water levels my moods no matter where I’m at mentally. The ocean has a way of smoothing rough edges.
How did you find the courage to write about and accept the things that most people hate or hide?
I was told that courage is when you fear something but choose to do it anyway. I don’t see myself as courageous for writing about this stuff because I’ve never feared it. Perhaps I’ve never feared it because of the way I was brought up. Two people who believe in honesty raised me. Everything was laid out on the dinner table and no judgment was passed. My parents maintained that it didn’t matter what had happened, we’d get into more trouble if we kept it a secret and so I never kept secrets. I think that’s why it felt so natural talking about my mental health with my parents and sister.
When I think of how I’ve come to accept this disorder, I feel I can attribute my level of acceptance to my place in the ocean. The water empowers me; it lifts me up. I realised that bipolar doesn’t render me weak. The waves give me strength and when I find my feet on my board, I ride above mental illness.
What helps you stay stable?
I’ve adopted a healthy, holistic lifestyle. I want to stress ‘holistic’ because I strongly believe optimal mental health cannot be achieved without optimal physical health and visa versa. For this reason, I eat wholefoods, mostly plant based, and eat organic, seasonal produce whenever I can. (I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets.) I exercise by taking classes at the gym, doing Pilates, walking my happy black dog Louie around Long Reef Headland, or surfing. It also helps me to practice mindfulness either through meditation, yoga or painting. And then, of course, there is writing. I love to write more than anything.
I love the way you explore chance and irregularity in your book, can you talk a bit more about these concepts?
I’ve learnt to not only live with a mental illness, but also thrive in spite of it by surrendering to chance and irregularity. I surrender to the universe. It’s like getting caught in turbulence underwater. Waves will climb out of the sea and surge towards me whether I like it or not. I can’t control them. I can’t stop them. And if I find myself underwater, getting dragged and rolled by whitewash, fighting it will only waste my breath. And so I surrender, the turbulence subsides, and I emerge through the shoulder of the wave. It’s glorious.
What life lessons have you learnt from the ocean?
The ocean has been my greatest teacher. It challenges me, physically and mentally. The ocean has taught me that we are limitless. After all, the horizon is seems impossibly far away and yet we paddle for it anyway. Surfing has also taught me resilience. Sets can be punishing and leave me starved of breath, but when I push through and make it into the lineup at dusk when the ocean glasses over, it’s worth it. In that moment, everything is perfect. No two waves are the same, and although you can learn the character of a reef break or beachy, each wave has its own unique identity. In learning to read the differences in lines of swell, I’ve learnt to adapt to different situations. Most importantly, the ocean has served throughout my entire life as a reminder that I am human. It centers me, reminds me who I am, where I come from and that while I am one tiny part of a great cosmic body, the mere fact that I exist makes my life significant, it makes my life worth fighting for.
You can grab a copy of Running Like China HERE.