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Sophie Gradon: In Memoriam

Sophie Gradon has been in the news a lot this last week since her tragic death, leaving her family, friends and a legion of fans shocked and devastated. Me included.

Like many, I laughed and cried along with Sophie when she was on Love Island in 2016. I never imagined I’d be shedding tears of grief for her just two short years later. Her death has hit hard because the world has been deprived of a truly wonderful woman whose soul was as warm and beautiful as her smile.

Sophie Gradon

Remembering Sophie Gradon

Despite swearing off any reality TV after becoming transfixed by an early Big Brother series(!), I couldn’t resist watching Sophie’s season on Love Island. I loved watching her on the show because she just hadn’t changed from when I studied with her a few years before. She was as funny, feisty and mischievous as ever!

I keep closing my eyes and seeing her grinning her welcome as we came into class. Waving that flipping teaspoon of peanut butter she was sucking around as she was talking animatedly and nearly making Shan sick! Her face a picture of compassion when I was going through a rough time and struggling to concentrate in class. How she looked so embarrassed when someone quizzed her about her modelling and how humble she was about it. Her sadness and the gritty determination that flashed across her features when she talked about some of the knocks she’d taken early in her modelling career. Her anxiety when she was getting so stressed and overwhelmed by too many communications and social media notifications coming her way, and her guilt that she was struggling to keep up with people.

I just can’t get my head around that light going out.

The importance of maintaining healthy boundaries for mental wellbeing

However much I’d have loved to keep up with Sophs, I didn’t because it was clear even back then how her popularity exerted a pressure. She had such a big heart that like many of us, she struggled with guilt about not keeping in touch with everyone as much as she wanted to. For me, being a friend to Sophie was keeping at arms length; only there when she wanted me to be.

I deliberately took this approach because I understood a little of the feeling. When I was seriously ill and burning out I had zero energy and wanted the world to go away because I just had nothing more to give. I had intrusive thoughts about harming myself so that I could escape the treadmill of responsibility and stress, take a rest from everything for a while.

It can be so difficult to set and maintain healthy boundaries around your time and energy, and to whom you give it. Who you let in and who you don’t. Whose opinions matter to you and what to do when people abuse you. We’re often not taught this stuff effectively.

For many of us, our mobile phones have become like another limb. Constantly to hand, we’re constantly interrupted. Our attention is pulled around and it can make you feel out of control and overwhelmed, especially when you’re struggling with anxiety or depression. We can derive support and solace from using social media and connecting with friends and family, but the flip-side is that sometimes it can make us feel worse.

Anne Katherine’s Where to Draw The Line is a book I’ve found very helpful this last year or so, to start understanding this stuff more. A more recently-published book on this topic is by Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert.

Make depression and anxiety the enemy – not each other

Nobody will ever know what went through Sophie’s mind in the moments leading up to her death. I can’t even begin to contemplate it to be honest – it’s just too upsetting.

In the aftermath this week, I’ve read a few truths, but mostly untruths and assumptions. At times very ignorant opinions posted by people who didn’t know Sophie at all and yet feel it is appropriate for them to pass judgement on her. I’ve been angry as I’ve seen her boyfriend receive vicious remarks on Instagram for sharing his grief. I’ve seen everything including Love Island, social media, fame, lack of NHS funding and even (sickeningly by a troll) her boyfriend blamed for her death. I’ve seen people state that the world let Sophie down.

Please – for the love of all that’s good in this world – can we treat those who cared for her and are now grieving and heartbroken with kindness and respect?

While the shock and anger that come with grief is totally understandable, there’s no point blaming anybody for Sophie’s death. Blame is toxic. Hatred is toxic. They are entirely worthless wastes of energy and they will not bring Sophie back.

If you need to blame something, then the enemy we must all fight is mental ill-health.

Sophie’s legacy

Sophie Gradon's tweet 6 June 2018

Sophie was very open lately about her battles with mental ill-health. She spoke of the guilt she felt when she found it necessary to withdraw for a while. She let people know when she was feeling stronger. She was publicly sharing her grief over the death of her close friend Paul Burns when she posted the above tweet.  And I’d agree – ain’t that heart-breakingly the truth, Sophs.

The tragedy of losing someone so young and seemingly with the world at their feet throws everything into sharp relief.

Mental ill-health doesn’t always look like you think it does. It affects males and females, young, old, rich, poor. Everyone in-between. With 1 in 4 UK people experiencing a mental health problem each year we must continue to drive awareness. So-called ‘smiling depression’ is particularly hard to spot, explained well by Rachael’s case study. People can be highly functional and some might not even realise the depth of their illness themselves.

Sophie’s star has gone out far too early and it’s tragic that she’s no longer with us. All we can do is try to honour her life by working to prevent this awful, insidious illness from claiming more lives. Sophie was supportive of raising awareness of mental health issues and I’m as determined as ever to continue my work over here in my little corner of the world.

Sending love and sympathies to her family, boyfriend and other friends. I can only imagine your pain.

Rest In Peace beautiful Sophie. 

Please, be aware of these organisations if you’re ever concerned for someone or for yourself:

https://www.crisis.org.uk
https://www.samaritans.org