Book Review: Running Like China

Title: Running Like China

Author: Sophie Hardcastle

Genre: Memoir

Pages: 273

Rating: ★★★★☆

‘When I was eleven years old Mum told me,

“One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.“

Even before I heard that quote I was a child who crammed intense joy into tiny pockets of time.’

Sophie Hardcastle loved life. She was a bright and bubbly young girl with a passion for surfing, a love and deep respect of the ocean, and a strong determination to do her best. She always found the beauty in everything.

This all changed.

Suddenly, Sophie’s love of life is gone. She loses interest in everything she loves; surfing, partying, hanging out with friends. Nothing is fun anymore. She can barely bring herself to get out of bed, let alone to face a day at school.

At first her family thinks this is just normal teenage moodiness, but soon they realise that there is something more sinister at hand.

Sophie is misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue, then major depression, then temporal lobe epilepsy, until it is finally revealed (after two suicide attempts and 5 hospitalizations) that she actually has Bipolar 1 Disorder.

As waves of darkness continue to roll over her, she feels like her skin is shrinking. She can’t explain how she feels to other people, because she can’t even explain it to herself.

This is a heart-wrenching and brutally honest memoir about Sophie’s battle with mental illness. While at times it was dark and saddening, it was also hopeful and uplifting.

This book also provided a lot of insight into the stigma around mental illness, and how this can be overcome with education and understanding. There was a particular anecdote where a friend of Sophie’s asked her why she couldn’t just be happy. He said that if she put her mind to it, she would be able to make herself happy. The book brings to light the fact that while mental illness can be caused by environmental issues (like abuse or the death of a loved one) it can also be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – this is biological and needs to be treated properly.

Telling someone with a mental illness to ‘just be happy’ is like telling someone with cancer to ‘just get better.’

I loved the honesty in this book. No detail was spared; it was just the raw truth about mental illness. The prose was mesmerizing; Sophie weaves words together artistically and with skill.

This story is brave and hopeful; I would recommend it to anyone.  Whether you are going through a difficult time or suffering from mental illness yourself – or even if you know someone else who is, this story will give you hope. Running Like China teaches empathy and understanding for those with mental illness and shows how the best support you can give is your love and your willingness to never give up on someone.

After finishing this book I feel inspired to chase after all my goals, and to chase after life with enthusiasm and passion. As Sophie discovers, no path in life is safe or easy so you may as well do what you love. And no matter how deep you sink, the surface is always in reach.

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