Sophie Taylor (Photo credit: Sophie Taylor)
By Reagan Kim, Kyra Pennington, Matthew Kolden, Natalia Andrzejowiec, and Arundet Mee, UW Bothell School of Business
“Be nice to yourself, if all you can manage to do is take a shower, take a shower, and be proud of yourself.” When asked how to cope with depressive episodes, this was the answer Sophie Taylor gave us. We recently had the wonderful opportunity of sitting with and interviewing her regarding her role as one of the newest board members of NAMI Seattle. When you listen to Sophie, you can feel the positive energy radiating from her, as her voice is calm and welcoming. Sophie did not mind us asking her a million questions during her interview and answered them all with passion and enthusiasm. As we interviewed Sophie about her upbringing and confrontation with her bipolar disorder, our motivation was to empower people who live with similar mental illnesses through learning about Sophie’s background.
Sophie told us that she comes from an extremely academic household. As the daughter of a Harvard Law professor, Sophie has had a rather unique upbringing. She recollected that “dinner table debates were settled by consulting an encyclopedia.” Sophie grew up in D.C. with her two brothers, one of whom is eight years older than her and is a psychologist. He influenced Sophie greatly, as she even took the same classes he enjoyed, and read the same books he read. Due to her mother teaching at such a prestigious school, she also shared memories of meeting and having conversations with fascinating characters such as Merrick Garland.
Why Sophie chose NAMI Seattle
Sophie explained that a friend of hers was a volunteer at NAMI and that they had introduced her to the organization. After joining them for volunteer work at NAMI, Sophie was eventually offered a position as a board member for the Seattle chapter, which she happily accepted. She explained she did so, because compared to other nonprofits that Sophie had worked with, she believes that NAMI Seattle best addresses the problems that she herself faced.
In order to make a difference, Sophie feels that it is important to work for an organization that advocates the issues she personally faced as well. Sophie also mentioned that when she did research on disability studies, her own experience of bipolar disorder greatly differed from what she read about it.
Her work experience as a tutor also gave her a passion for educating others and working with children. Her background of teaching and her personal experience living with a bipolar diagnosis inspired her to work at NAMI Seattle, where she can educate others about mental illness and help reduce stigma.
Living with depression and bipolar
Sophie was diagnosed with depression at the young age of 12. It wasn’t until the age of 24, when she was diagnosed again, this time with bipolar disorder.
Sophie has bipolar II disorder, which is defined as a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Type II also tends to have depressive symptoms, more often than those with type I. She explains that the constant battle with depression is all about how the levels of extremity can vary day to day. At its worst, depression causes Sophie to become apathetic towards everything. She will either be stuck in her bed or on the couch because her motivation to do anything is at an all-time low. Her head feels too foggy to read or watch anything, so she will usually just lay there. When it is not as intense, Sophie can carry on with her normal daily routine, like going to work, but just barely.
With having type II bipolar disorder, Sophie also experiences hypomania as well. She explains this as something that looks like anxiety and hyperactivity. Sophie notes that when she is experiencing mania, it can somewhat resemble ADHD. She says this because it tends to have an effect on her hyper focusing on arbitrary tasks. She also has deep insomnia during her mania and can generally only get about 2 hours of sleep at night. Sophie mentions that her mania episodes are generally rarer than her depressive states, and can last from 3-9 days while her depression can last up to 3 months.
Since Sophie was also diagnosed with depression at a young age, she has lived with its symptoms for a long time now and she knows how to make sure the current pandemic situation does not significantly affect her mental health. Sophie explained, “depression is a demon, but it’s one I know. But some [triggered by the stresses of the pandemic] are dealing with depression for the first time”. She also expressed that the Disney movie Inside Out most accurately depicts her experience of depression.
Sophie says that we’re all struggling to find the new normal due to the pandemic. We are all striving to find a way to survive within these four walls: whether it be worrying about losing one’s job, being isolated, or even the fear of contracting the virus. As a result of the isolation, there has been a significant surge in those who feel dispirited or extremely helpless. Having a network of people you can talk to does wonders for those dealing with mental stress, which is why NAMI Seattle’s work in providing safe spaces for support is more crucial than ever now.
Experiencing an episode and how she copes
Sophie emphasizes the importance of keeping things slow. She knows through experience that there’s no easy way to go through an episode. The best thing you can do is take all the precautionary measures you can. For long term solutions, Sophie recommends taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist and finding a therapist that fits your needs. Sophie also said that there were a few books she recommends for research or help with bipolar including; An Unquiet Mind by Kaye Jamison, and Willow Weep for Me by Meri Nana.
Living with bipolar disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, is no easy task, especially if you try to do it alone. We asked Sophie if there were any noteworthy people in life that make up her support system. She mentioned her boyfriend, who although doesn’t have bipolar himself, still does his best to listen and try to understand what she is going through. She also mentions her two best friends, coincidentally both named Rachel, who do a great deal in ensuring she is okay. In addition, her siblings understand that she has bipolar and do everything in their power to help her when she is going through an episode.
Sophie confessed to us that the hardest thing she had to face was achieving the high standards she had set for herself. As previously mentioned, Sophie comes from a very intellectual family who have accomplished many impressive achievements, which had led her to set even higher standards for herself. In the event that she doesn’t personally achieve these high standards, she can be thrown into thoughts of despair and inadequacy, and potentially into a depressive episode.
Another issue she faced in the past is the stigma that comes from having bipolar disorder. Sophie recalled a story about a friend she had in undergrad who had invited her to a concert during a depressive episode. Although Sophie agreed to go, she found herself feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable around so many people — eventually leaving her friend at the concert. When Sophie went to talk to her the next day, her friend remarked: “I had high expectations for my friends”, and was upset at Sophie for leaving early.
Many people hold stigmatizing attitudes toward mental health, due to the perception that individuals are in control of their disabilities and responsible for causing them. Despite this, Sophie explained that in grad school, she discovered people who were much more open about mental health and less judgmental about her mental health needs. Since joining NAMI Seattle’s board, she has found that NAMI Seattle is an exciting and meaningful place to connect with others with similar backgrounds and an empowering place to enact social change.
Taking the next step
If anything Sophie mentioned sounds familiar, and if you’re curious whether you may be living with bipolar disorder, check out the NAMI causes and symptoms page. If you believe you are suffering from an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness, it is also important to reach out to understanding and supportive community and a healthcare specialist. NAMI has great resources you can look into: ranging from hotlines you can call or even support groups you can join. Remember, you are not alone, and by taking action you are helping to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. As a result, you can encourage others to get the help they need. To support NAMI Seattle’s mission in providing support, please consider donating here.
Reagan Kim, Kyra Pennington, Matthew Kolden, Natalia Andrzejowiec, and Arundet Mee are students in Professor Laura Umetsu’s business communications class at the University of Washington.