This is an extract from Running Like China, by Sophie Hardcastle.
It was in the thick of winter when dark rumours were passed among my peers. Two friends who I’d loved and trusted first uttered the words and within days the comments had festered.
It was said that I was a fake and was making up my illness for attention. It was even suggested that I had been staying in a hotel, not a hospital.
I found out through social media and it tore me open.
Shaking a little, I stood up from the computer and told my parents I was going to get changed into my pyjamas. Upstairs however, I bypassed my bedroom and retreated to the bathroom.
I tore myself open.
I had barely been home and I was already being admitted for the second time. Mum sent me a message on her way home from the hospital saying I miss you already.
I remember feeling so guilty because I knew how badly she wanted her little girl home and I knew I couldn’t fulfil her desire. I was sick. Mum and I fought a lot during that admission.
I was seventeen and legally didn’t have to have her in my meetings. She hated the hospital, because she loved me and she hated me being there. She hated the hospital and the doctors and the psychologists because they had taken me away and were yet to fix me.
Ultimately, I think Mum hated the fact that she couldn’t fix me herself.
One day in particular, I was so exhausted I was wishing I were dead, and Mum visited saying she wanted to take me out on leave and go for a walk. I had an hour sign-out and we walked down the street to a café. The entire time, I was saying how I wanted to go back and go to sleep. I stopped multiple times on the footpath and it took several minutes each time to coerce me into continuing the walk. I was so depressed that the mere act of placing one foot in front of the next was agonising.
‘Don’t you want to be outside? Look at how sunny it is!
Don’t you want to be out here in the fresh air and not in . . . in that place?’
She couldn’t understand that I didn’t want to be anywhere; I didn’t want to exist – I simply didn’t want.
And who could blame her?
What mother wouldn’t find it impossible to understand why their child no longer wanted to live?
Mum was angry because she loved me so much but had no control. She was helpless, and yet her anger made me stressed. No matter how many different ways I tried to phrase the answer, no explanation was adequate. At the time, she couldn’t see, and I couldn’t make her see, so I shut her out.
In hindsight, I realise she was terrified but I was fighting battles in my head every day. My attention had turned inwards as I fought to silence my enemies; so I had very little energy for anyone else.
Mum and I fought bitterly; it was a muddy tug of war. But eventually, we found each other in the middle.
The greatest thing I learnt from my second time in hospital was to distance myself a little from others – in particular, other patients.
I learnt the benefits of receiving smaller portions of detail with regard to other patients’ stories as well as sharing smaller portions of my own. There is only so much you can digest and if you consume the problems of every other person you meet, there is no room for you to address your own. I learnt to empathise with other patients and share small portions of my story that applied to theirs without overwhelming myself with the weight of each person’s plight.
There is great comfort to be found when you confide in someone who understands and shares your grief but trouble arises when you neglect your own fight to attend to theirs. The tapestry you weave has to be yours – not a replica of theirs.
In September 2011, after almost four weeks in hospital, I came home.
For three months, I lived in the shadow of my mum. I was her dark silhouette, and although I did not appreciate it at the time, she was my crusader.
She fought for me until she was beaten black and blue – and then she’d swing her sword again. My mum was ruthless and relentless.
I owe her everything.
At that point I was seeing my psychiatrist with the snow beard three times a week. I would then see my GP once a fortnight to make sure I had all the right prescriptions. I also saw a naturopath once a fortnight. After meeting with her, Mum and I would drink miso soup. It was a salty treat that reminded me of the late February sea.
After I’d been home for a few weeks, Mum started her sun-kissed campaign. She’d force me out of bed every day at nine. Most days, it would result in screams and tears as the nasty cocktail of drugs I was on had me waking each morning with a wretched hangover.
Mum would wait for me to take my meds, bring me out to the dining table, place a bowl of nuts and seeds with homemade almond milk on the table, before blending up a thick green smoothie. After that she’d hand me my clothes and shoes. We’d argue and I’d cry because the morning fog was yet to rise above my eyes, and my skin was tight, and a deep sadness sat like acid in my stomach. I’d tell Mum that I didn’t want to live anymore and ask her over and over why she was making me.
But then she’d swing her sword again, fighting until my shoes were on and we were at the beach car park. Then she’d fight until we were halfway down the beach, and when I sat on the sand crying, she’d fight until we’d made it to the end.
‘See, I told you you’d make it.’ She’d smile even though her lips were trembling.
In early November, Mum started doing casual work again. I would go with her into the office and she’d try to ignore the way the other staff members looked at her as she walked in with a seventeen-year-old zombie in tow.
I was her shadow under the desk.
For two weeks I sat on the floor beside her with my earphones plugged in and my laptop on my knees, making a video with a bunch of photos and an accompanying song. When it was done and I showed her, she bit her lip as tears welled. She knew exactly what it was; I’d made a memorial video for my family to play at my funeral.
The few weeks of late spring and early summer that year were among the lowest I experienced. My moods were not as volatile as they had been earlier in April and May, so I wasn’t really experiencing those intense waves of devastation. Instead, I was a vegetable. I cried a lot and I laughed at nothing. I was sipping on a fruity cocktail of drugs that made me black out for hours at a time, I had no energy and I was numb in every sense.
I was a vacant stare, and that’s truly no way to live.
I remember reducing my dad to tears, telling him just to let me go, because his daughter was already gone. I told him I was just the shell of a girl who no longer lived inside.
I honestly believed that.
I wrote in a journal:
I don’t know if I’m angry with them for trying, or if I just feel sorry for them as they grieve.
‘I am already dead!’ I scream at them.
‘That girl you loved; she’s not coming back; she’s dead. And I’m sorry I’m not her. I’m sorry I can’t bring her back to you, but she’s gone . . . You need to accept that.’
I owe it to my family for never accepting those ill words.
They admitted I was lost, but they refused to stop searching until I was found.
Speaking with my mum recently, she told me that loving someone who didn’t love her back was the hardest thing she’s ever done.
My mum had been fighting for a daughter who refused to fight for herself.
I asked her why she’d kept fighting.
She told me that even if I’d forgotten who I was, she hadn’t.
When I was a baby, Mum walked the length of the beach from Collaroy to Narrabeen every day with me on her shoulders. When I grew old enough to walk, I’d trail on the sand in her shadow. Now, Mum persisted in getting me out of the house and to the beach to walk because that was where it had started. On the cool, wet sand between the land and the sea, that was where we had always been.
She told me that depression had sapped the love and affection from beneath my skin. In loving me, however, she knew that eventually I would remember how it felt.
Like I said, I owe her everything.
Sophie Hardcastle is currently based on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. After writing her first (unpublished) novel at fifteen, Sophie was misdiagnosed with Major Depression the following year. Her memoir follows her struggles with Bipolar 1 Disorder, through hospitalisation, misdiagnosis and finally acceptence. Sophie is determined to help change the lives of thousands of young people living with mental illness and works to break the stigma surrounding mental illness.
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