She’s run 3 full marathons, 28 half-marathons in 18 states, and 100 shorter races—surprising even herself. Nearly 50 years old and dealing with bipolar II’s chronic and crippling depression, Nita Sweeney could barely jog for 60 seconds. With one determined step at a time and the help of her canine companion, she found her inner strength and persevered, improving her self-confidence and symptoms. Sweeney chronicles her transformation through the power of running in her memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target.
You’ve come a long way since being afraid of your neighbors seeing you lacing up your running shoes. Does running itself help you conquer your fears?
I wouldn’t say “conquer,” but I use the word “manage.” At the beginning of my book, I talk about once being afraid to go outside with the dog, to be seen running in public. I’m afraid to go over bridges, but you have to in some races, so I do.
What does this sport do for you?
Running releases neurotransmitters that flood the brain with positive chemistry. It lifts me up, like magic, and gives me a sense of accomplishment, of achievement. I’m out in nature, and I love that—and sometimes with other people for a sense of social camaraderie. Then, I get to come home and brag about it all to my husband, Ed!
That’s quite a list, but we’re guessing there’s more…
Well, yes. Running also helps with anxiety—I get physical tremors in my hands when I’m anxious. When I run, it’s like I’m burning off rocket fuel. Running quiets the mental chatter, too, and helps me channel the “wound-up” part of mania. I can hyper-focus on running and sign up for another race instead of spending money on something I don’t need.
Where’d you get this catchy book title?
It starts with getting out of bed. I have many friends who have mental health conditions. We call each other if it’s 3 p.m. and we can’t get out of bed, because, “Depression hates a moving target.” I tell them, “Just sit up on the edge of the bed and call me back.” That may take a half hour, then it’s, “Let’s think about getting dressed. Stand up and call me back when you’re done.”
You said 2007 was a very bad year and by 2010 you needed to reset—to change it up, and for the better.
I was almost 49, stuck, overweight, and glued to my sofa, trying to get a book published after seven people, including my mother, and a cat I loved died. By 2010, I still wasn’t good, and then I saw a social media post from a high school friend who said, “Running is getting to be fun,” and I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She wasn’t.
What happened next?
I thought about it, then started adding 60 seconds of jogging intermittently when I walked the dog. I took the dog, Morgan—my “coach”—outside to keep me company, so the neighbors would think I was just exercising him and wouldn’t laugh at me. I was a private runner. Soon, I started to track how far I’d run with an app and later became part of a “running fellowship.”
You’re also a leader in the mental health community.
Before this book, I was just a writer who had mental health issues, and I didn’t think I could give back to the community. Then I realized that I needed to become the best person I could be to help others, which wasn’t always my first instinct.
How do you suggest we better manage our minds?
When someone says they can’t, I say “Try something.” … Any small action—breaking a sweat, writing a paragraph, sitting for five minutes—makes a huge difference.
People think their mind is trying to do them in, that they’re going to fail, and they think, “So why should I try?” I say, make that goal so small and specific you can’t fail. Put on your running shoes and run around your living room. That’s a WIN! You ran today!
Reflecting back on your journey, what does it all mean, in a nutshell?
This is about seeing what inner strength is and getting it. What helped me was seeing someone I perceived to be just like me doing something I thought was impossible. It’s not impossible—especially when you feel like you’re dying and you want to live.
How’d this writing thing happen?
I wrote a book in fifth grade, then later wrote articles for dog and Buddhist magazines and drafts of many books, then this book. I was a lawyer, and when I worked for myself, I wasn’t used to not having the structure of a full-time job. Now, it’s fine and I feel like I’m always writing.
What else are you up to professionally?
I’m developing a book of daily meditations to live in the moment, along with a very simple writing journal.
And for fun?
I read a lot, and my husband and I love to travel.
Printed as “Back Chat: Nita Sweeney Outruns Depression”, Spring 2020
Whether you live with bipolar or love someone who does, you can find comfort, wisdom, and strategies (maybe even a good laugh!) in these inspirational books. We can lose ourselves in the power of the written word, compelled by the raw emotions, deep insights, and humorous takes offered by others like us—people who share our...
Enhanced primary care helps reduce ER visits October 1, 2020, CHAPEL HILL, NC—Integrating primary care services and behavioral health services appears to reduce emergency room visits among people with severe psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, a new study suggests. American researchers, using the customary term “serious mental illness,” noted that individuals with such conditions...
Mood symptoms such as overspending, hypersexuality, anger attacks, and self-isolation hurt those around us. A simple apology is just the starting point of making things right. When Our Actions during Bipolar Mood Episodes Harm Others Olivia S. of Colorado got up one morning to unexpectedly find two of her four grown children in her living...
With bipolar disorder, we’re more likely to become overdependent on our digital devices. Here’s how personal tech can affect our moods—plus tips for self-protection. Are we too attached to our digital devices? That question has been debated for almost as long as the iPhone has been around, giving rise to the first National Day of...