At 19 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don’t remember much about that moment, apart from sitting in a light and airy doctor’s office, finding everything a little too amusing – likely a bit hypomanic at the time. “Here are some tablets. You’ll probably have to take these for the rest of your life."
That’s a lot to hear at 19, but with little other knowledge or choice presented to me, I assumed the doctor must be right. I tried to push my diagnosis to the back of my mind and left for university two weeks later.
The next couple of years were a struggle, trying to balance my mental health with university, relationships and a social life. Medications came and went, and came back again. During that time, I had two major depressive episodes that were physically and mentally exhausting. My memories of those are all a little jumbled. I had lost focus and something needed to change. After some experiences trekking for charity, I decided to sign up to Three Peaks in 24 Hours for Mind.
This time it was personal. I went away with a group of strangers and within hours discovered something new. We spoke openly and honestly about our mental health – and we laughed – it was a free flowing conversation, not something that was hidden, and certainly not something to be ashamed of. That was the start of my fundraising journey.
It didn’t take me long after the London Marathon to put my doubts to rest. I knew I wanted to run it again, but I wanted to challenge myself further
Last year I ran the London Marathon for Mind. In the last few miles I didn’t know if I’d ever want to run again. I was totally exhausted, emotionless and the aching in my legs was intense. I hardly had the energy to wave and couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than place one foot in front of the other. I think that’s the most important part of running – regardless of the distance - you have a goal, so you just have to keep going.
It didn’t take me long after the London Marathon to put my doubts to rest. I knew I wanted to run it again, but I wanted to challenge myself further. Running for Mind, I had seen the incredible community that surrounds the London and Brighton Marathon teams. So why not run both? Two marathons in two weeks.
First up, Brighton. A hot (isn’t it April?!) day on the beautiful coast, surrounded by a sea of runners dotted with blue vests and friendly faces. At mile 6 and 12 I met the incredible encouragement of the Mind cheer teams, screaming and shouting my name. It was impossible not to smile. It was an incredibly tough day and in unseasonable heat, I finished with pride. This time I relaxed a little and enjoyed the experience (aside from a few painful miles – you can’t escape those entirely), meaning that with only 14 days until London, I was feeling positive.
Managing my bipolar disorder will always be a balancing act, but being open about my mental health takes a huge weight off my shoulders
To date I have raised over £8,000 for Mind and covered hundreds of miles in my trainers. I have found confidence in my creativity again and now sell my arts and crafts for Mind. I’ve held Crafternoons, pub quizzes, bake sales and sweepstakes. I’ve probably pestered every person I know for sponsorship, but all of it has helped me speak out. I now talk openly at work about my health and try not to cover up difficult days. People ask how I am, and often want to talk about their own mental health, or a friend’s. I’m honoured that I’ve become someone they feel comfortable talking to. For the 19-year-old girl in the doctor’s office who didn’t really know what was going on, it is so important for me to encourage others to understand their options and most importantly, know they are not alone.
Fundraising for Mind has also hugely helped improve my mental health
Managing my bipolar disorder will always be a balancing act, but being open about my mental health takes a huge weight off my shoulders, as does being able to tie up my trainers and get away from the world for a little bit. Running is very peaceful. It lets me clear my head and sleep better. Running takes you away from the relentless everyday distractions and you relax. As hard as you might be working, your mind has a little thinking time, even if you’re thinking about nothing at all. Fundraising for Mind has also hugely helped improve my mental health. It has brought me together with a team of people who stand side-by-side and speak openly about mental health. It is a unique and special community and one that I am proud to be a part of.
In 2012 I couldn’t run 100 yards. On Sunday, I will complete my third marathon for a charity that will not give up until every person with a mental health problem gets support and respect.
See you at the finish line – I’ll (try to) give you a wave.
To donate to Sophie's amazing effort, check out her fundraising page.
To find out more about the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon - including our Mind cheer points - read all the info here.