Sophie Reilly was born in 1995, and grew up in a quiet suburb of Glasgow. A blissful infant – a happy (if volatile) child – Sophie’s earliest writings, before she had reached ten years old, nonetheless speak to a sense of estrangement, of an inability to be at home in a world which yet enthralled her.
This feeling, despite bursts of calm and optimism, would remain with her throughout her short life. Sophie’s teenage years were troubled; she suffered from severe depression and bulimia, and was under the care of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). She dreamed of acting and of writing, and began to compose some of the precocious works collected in Tigerish Waters. Writing became, at this time, both a means of trying to assert control of her mind, and a record of losing it; she noted to herself at fourteen that “I’ve got so much to say and I’m scared it’s all going to slip my mind before I can write it down. I’m scared that the act of writing takes too long and I’ll never be able to express myself because I’ll always be a couple of words behind”.
Though she excelled in her studies, Sophie left school with no major qualifications, hospitalised at the moment of her exams. She moved to Dundee at 17, to attend college and attempt to gain the qualifications she felt would enable her to achieve her potential. Despite prolonged and florid spells of psychosis and battles with alcoholism, and a diagnosis of severe bipolar disorder, Sophie at last, age 20, gained the place at the University of St Andrews she had set her heart on. She hoped to major in Drama and Philosophy (with a minor in Psychology, since, as she put it, ‘it’ll be a piece of piss – I’m an expert by experience’). However, her demons returned to thwart these ambitions. The story of her final twelve months or so is one of further psychotic episodes, accompanied by a further diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder; the experience, which she details with striking humour, optimism and humanity throughout, is collected in Tigerish Waters as ‘The Last Months’ Journal’.
On the evening of July 31st, 2016, Sophie decided to take her own life, at the top of the Dundee Law – the extinct volcano which, from below, provides the city’s focal point, while granting from its peak a panoptic view over the snaking wynds and closes of the
town, out past the Tay Bridge, and east to the North Sea. She left no note; by 21, she had said it all already.
Reflecting on Sophie’s life, her father, Tim, wrote that ‘it would be easy to think that her life was defined by her mental illness, and that the endless round of appointments with psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and therapists, who all tried hard but could not fix her, and then the accelerating cycle of highs and lows with wilder excursions at either end of the spectrum, the crises, the inpatient admissions … that all this somehow described who she was. Easy, but wrong. This bright, funny, warm, witty, beautiful, passionate, chaotic girl was so much more. If she had been able to do life, she could have done anything in the world. But the fantastic creative energies she had at her command could also become massively destructive, and her peculiar tragedy was that most of the destruction was turned inward on herself.’
Tigerish Waters is both a celebration of these creative energies, and a record of their destructive bent. We hope it reveals Sophie as she was, and in so doing, encourages her readers to reflect on the mental illnesses she suffered, and which continue to afflict so many young people today. In her last years, Sophie’s main ambition was one day to write a touching, lyrical memoir of her experiences in hospital. In its stead, we have this poignant, strangely uplifting document of her life and thought, encapsulated in her rallying cry:
‘We are people, not diagnoses’.
– Samuel Reilly
Editor, and Sophie’s brother