Running Like China | Sophie Hardcastle

Kernel Fi reviews Northern Beaches local author, Sophie Hardcastle’s memoir looking at her battle with depression, eventual bipolar diagnosis and suicide attempts during her younger years. Hardcaslte is a lady who has gone to hell and back and she has a somewhat unique look at this debilitating issue that effects many people, two of whom write for Salty. This could offer much help to teenagers and people everywhere from a lady who now dedicates her life to assisting those that are in the situation she was. RUNNING LIKE CHINA is out now from the fine folks at Hachette Australia, it will be available in most good bookstores or you can obtain it HERE in paperback and e-book. Enjoy Fi’s review…….all the best……..JK.


The subtitle for this book is; A MEMOIR OF A LIFE INTERRUPTED BY MADNESS. Sophie Hardcastle has written a raw and honest account of her battle with mental illness and suicide and the effect it has had on her close knit family. A new name on the literary scene, Sophie is a beautiful twenty something art student from Sydney’s northern beaches who first became ill in her early teens and was originally diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. The misdiagnosis then extended to major depression and frontal lobe epilepsy before the correct diagnosis of Bipolar 1 Disorder was arrived at some three years later.

Those three years saw Sophie hospitalised five times with two serious attempts to take her own life. As her parents and sister tried desperately to help her while running a whole gamut of emotions, Sophie began self-harming and turning to sex, booze and drugs to ease her pain. Mistreated by boys and lambasted and condemned as a fake and a drama queen on social media, Sophie’s world spiralled out of control.


Running Like China Book Cover Image


A gifted art student and a budding writer, Sophie is keen to demystify mental illness and help break the stigma attached to psychological conditions. She currently works with Batyr, a not-for-profit organisation that trains young people with mental illness to visit schools and universities to share their experiences. She is also affiliated with Headspace.

Anyone acquainted with me either through the real world or on Facebook, will know that I am strongly in favour of changing the way society regards those of us who suffer from mental illness. Having grown up with a parent with bipolar and losing my best friend to suicide at 32, it often astounds and saddens me how primordial and retrograde current attitudes are. In RUNNING LIKE CHINA, Sophie Hardcastle goes a long way to challenging the deeply entrenched views surrounding mental health, medication and the concept of sanity.

Similar to Body Lengths by Leisel Jones, both memoirs highlight the enormous prejudice that mental health sufferers face. Interestingly, both women are lovers of the surf and swimming (Leisel Jones  is an Australian Olympic Gold Medalist) but at the height of their illnesses, they were unable to connect with the watery worlds they so dearly love.

Significantly, Sophie shines the spotlight on the attitudes of her peers. On a ferry trip home one night, a friend of hers tells her that his sister is suffering from anorexia. Frustrated, he says “it’s mind over matter, like she could just eat.” Sophie responds by telling him that the reason his sister can’t “just eat” is the same reason why she can’t “just be happy.” Her friend is convinced both girls could change their situations by simply changing their attitudes. There is a real sadness to this conversation in that Sophie’s friend is somehow blaming people with mental health problems and assuming that all they need to do is get their act together. Would he tell someone with a heart condition or diabetes to just change their attitude?


running like china sophie harcastle cover image


The really disappointing factor here is that despite the emphasis by the media on initiatives such as RU OK? DAY and other mental health campaigns, there still exists a staggeringly high number of people who equate psychological illness with “craziness” and “fruit loopyness.” In many quarters, it’s not cool to admit you see a counsellor or a psychiatrist or that you take medication. When someone suicides, many families go to great lengths to disguise the details as if they are somehow ashamed of their loved one. A work colleague of my husband’s took his own life in 2012 by hanging himself under the family home. His wife made sure the public story at work and the funeral was that he had gone to sleep and hadn’t woken up. I found this cover up to be almost as tragic as the death itself.

As a society, what frightens us so much about discussing or acknowledging mental health issues? My grandfather, a veteran of World War II and what I would term a psychologically strong and grounded person, always maintained that counselling and psychologists were for the weak and feeble minded. He could never understand why so many Vietnam vets claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorders. To him, this kind of admission was not only shameful, it was laughable. I always found this interesting given that his own father went completely off the beam after World War I. The war had been over three years before he came home from Europe to his wife and five children at which time he was a full blown alcoholic who proceeded to drink himself into an early grave. Traumatised? I would strongly suggest so.


running like china sophie harcastle cover image


Is the real fear that in admitting our loved ones or friends are unwell, we may be called to account regarding our own mental health? Is it preferable to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol or gambling or sex or food than to put our hands up and say that we aren’t coping and we need some help? Never mind that INXS front man, Michael Hutchence had ingested a cocktail of drugs and alcohol including anti-depressants on the morning he died.  Or that he had called numerous friends and acquaintances in a highly distressed state. The late Paula Yates and many of Hutchence’s family members would rather believe that he had died by misadventure in a seedy auto-erotic sex act than to accept he had taken his own life.  This sort of cloak and dagger approach to suicide does nothing to lessen the stigma attached to mental health issues.

One of the aspects of RUNNING LIKE CHINA that differentiates Sophie’s story from many others is her privileged up-bringing and her family’s socio-economic status. By her own admission she was able to access and avail of superior psychiatric help in private hospitals in private rooms because her parents could afford private health cover. For the great number of patients who aren’t so lucky, the mental health services available to them through the public system are limited and the waiting periods lengthy. Sophie has also benefitted from a supportive and loving family and some very understanding girlfriends. There are thousands of others out there without that kind of emotional safety net.

Nevertheless, RUNNING LIKE CHINA will reverberate with many teen and young adult readers. Sophie’s writing style is flowery and imbued with naivety. She also relies heavily on alliteration. The writing mode aside, her message is clear. As a society we owe it to ourselves to stop treating mental health as a taboo subject and suicide as a four letter word. As she points out, there is something quite beautiful and magnificent about imperfection and a little touch of madness.


3 Pops



Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.