A poem about her 90-year-old grandmother. That’s what launched Sophie L Meredith into the slam poetry scene and into the finalists of the 2017 state slam championship where she was beaten by the tiny margin of 0.1. By a 12-year-old boy.
"But he went on to win the national comp,” says Sophie. “He was talking about the environment, a really great cause. So it made it a lot easier to miss out by that margin. He's a very deserving winner."
Sophie says, "Being authentic is important. I write slam poems to suit me. I like to be on the front foot, too. Like during the marriage equality campaign, I felt quite indignant that much of the LGBTQI community felt like it had to defend itself. But instead of being frustrated, I channelled that in a constructive and, I hope, funny way in the poem We’re going ahead without you to remind people that tolerance was the mood of the majority of Australians.
“If you take a subject that you feel quite passionate about, then I think it's fairly easy."
For Sophie, that includes ageing, marriage equality and Indigenous rights, to name a few.
But you'd be mistaken to think Sophie's PhD is related to the worldwide phenomenon of slam poetry. In fact, she has many passions: activism, her children, women's health, yoga, history, politics, and the occasional four-hour train trip to UTS from Bathurst by herself, because "when you're a parent with young kids, you can do a lot with four hours when you’re on your own".
So what is she researching? Sophie says her Australian Research Council-funded project through the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine in the Faculty of Health is "trying to find out, which hasn't fully been explored before, what Australian women are actually doing to treat their sleeping problems, much of which appears to be beyond the purview of conventional medicine.
Her research shows sleep problems affect up to 48 per cent of women. She says, "Much of the literature suggests that women don't want to tell their doctors about sleeping problems for fear their doctors may prescribe something that may impede their cognitive abilities and increase their risk of falls or dependency on drugs. They don’t necessarily feel confident discussing alternative approaches to the treatment of sleeping problems.”
She hopes that this research will contribute to flipping that on its head.
"A lot of people are seeking a patient-centred approach, where the GP will actually work with you to say 'what are your treatment preferences, what do you think you respond to?'."
But if not drugs, what?
Through analysis of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health it appears women with sleeping problems are more likely to be using herbal medicine than women without sleeping problems.
Sophie says, "It's self-care. In lieu of a clear or trusted solution to sleeping problems, our research supports international literature and suggests Australian women are using their agency to seek their own solutions, even without evidence for efficacy, to treat or improve their sleeping problems."
And it’s something Sophie knows all about. After becoming ill working in Cambodia in 2007, and medical professionals having no answer for her five-year battle with post-viral fatigue, she turned to yoga.
"It's not that yoga itself fixed it, it was through that I got to know my own body better rather than looking exclusively externally for pharmaceutical medicines.
“I still wanted to discuss treatment options with medical professionals and was guided by their expertise, even if they didn’t have all the answers. At that time, there didn’t seem to be much space for that but things seem to be changing."
There may be no magic pill, but with Sophie’s research bringing light to an area that has not yet been explored, there’s an opportunity for doctors and patients to work together to prove the benefit of a patient-centred approach.