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Depression Hates a Moving Target

Written by: Nita Sweeney
Published: May 15, 2020


"Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink" by Nita Sweeney is a memoir that illustrates the author's personal battle with depression and how adopting a running regimen, initially with her dog, helped her manage her mental health.

In her candid and emotionally resonant memoir, Nita Sweeney shares her transformative journey from struggling with chronic depression and grief to finding solace and strength in running. At the age of 49, facing the loss of several loved ones and grappling with a lifetime of depression and anxiety, Sweeney is at a crossroads. It's at this point that she decides to make a change, starting with lacing up a pair of old sneakers and going for a run with her dog.

Sweeney’s narrative begins by exploring her initial hesitation and self-doubt about running. She is not a natural athlete, and the idea of running seems daunting. Nevertheless, driven by desperation and the desire for a change, she takes tentative steps that lead her on a path to becoming a marathon runner. The memoir emphasizes the small victories and significant challenges of this journey, reflecting a raw and honest account of what it means to push one's limits.

Throughout the book, Sweeney describes how the rhythmic act of running becomes a form of meditation and a reprieve from her depressive episodes. She delves into the mind of someone living with depression, offering insight into how the endorphins from physical exercise begin to alter her mood and outlook on life.

Sweeney doesn't shy away from discussing the setbacks she faces, including injuries, doubts, and the occasional regression into depressive states. However, these are juxtaposed with her triumphs: the first mile she runs without stopping, the friendships she forms with fellow runners, and the growing bond with her faithful canine companion.

She also touches on the importance of community and support in managing mental health. Her involvement in running groups and the encouragement she receives play a crucial role in her continued commitment to running and her mental well-being. Sweeney’s story is as much about the power of a supportive community as it is about individual perseverance.

As she prepares for her first marathon, Sweeney discusses the physical and mental preparation required, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the dedication and strategy involved in long-distance running. Her description of completing the marathon is a powerful testament to the human spirit's ability to overcome obstacles.

Importantly, "Depression Hates a Moving Target" does not present running as a cure-all for mental health issues. Sweeney is careful to note the value of therapy, medication, and other forms of treatment throughout her narrative. Instead, running is portrayed as a complementary practice that has given her tools to manage her symptoms more effectively.

In her reflections, Sweeney acknowledges that depression is an ongoing battle. However, she has discovered a potent weapon in running, which has provided her with a newfound sense of control and agency. Her story is an inspiration for anyone who feels trapped by their mental health struggles, suggesting that taking that first step, no matter how small, can lead to significant changes.

Final Thoughts

"Depression Hates a Moving Target" is more than a memoir about running; it's a story about finding hope and resilience in unexpected places. Sweeney's journey is a poignant reminder that while the road to managing mental health is not linear, movement—both physical and metaphorical—can be a powerful force for healing and growth.

10 Big Ideas

1. Start Where You Are

Sweeney's journey begins with her acceptance of her current state and the decision to take action despite it. This teaches the importance of starting your journey to improvement from wherever you currently stand, without waiting for a 'perfect' moment.

2. Incremental Progress

The memoir emphasizes that progress does not have to be monumental to be meaningful. Sweeney's transformation occurs through consistent, incremental steps, highlighting that small, daily efforts can accumulate into significant change.

3. Physical Activity as a Mental Health Tool

Running serves as a powerful therapeutic tool for Sweeney, illustrating the strong link between physical activity and mental health. It supports the idea that exercise can be an effective adjunct therapy for depression.

4. The Power of Routine

Establishing a running routine provides structure and a sense of accomplishment. Sweeney's adherence to her routine, even when difficult, underscores the stabilizing effect that a consistent practice can have.

5. The Value of Support Systems

Community support emerges as a key element in Sweeney's story. Her involvement in running groups and the support from friends and family demonstrate the importance of a supportive network when tackling mental health challenges.

6. Overcoming Internal Resistance

Sweeney faces and overcomes significant internal resistance throughout her journey. The memoir shows that confronting and pushing past one's mental barriers is essential for growth and recovery.

7. Mental Resilience Through Physical Challenges

By enduring the physical challenges of running, Sweeney builds mental resilience. This takeaway suggests that pushing our physical limits can lead to mental and emotional strength.

8. Celebrating Milestones

Recognizing and celebrating milestones, as Sweeney does with each new running achievement, is vital for maintaining motivation and a positive outlook. It's a reminder to acknowledge and take pride in one's achievements, no matter the size.

9. The Importance of Self-Care

Running becomes a form of self-care for Sweeney. The narrative promotes the idea that actively prioritizing one's well-being can be a decisive factor in managing depression.

10. Lifelong Journey

Lastly, Sweeney acknowledges that managing depression is a lifelong journey. There is no final cure, but there are ways to cope and live well despite the condition. Her memoir inspires continued effort and vigilance in personal mental health care.

5 Exercises

1. Take the First Step

Objective: To begin incorporating physical activity into your routine as a tool for managing mental health.

  • Identify a physical activity you enjoy or are curious to try, whether it's running, like Sweeney, or something else entirely.
  • Set a goal to engage in this activity for just a few minutes each day, focusing on the act of starting rather than the duration or intensity.
  • Keep a journal of how you feel before and after the activity to track the impact on your mood and mental state.
2. Build Incrementally

Objective: To gradually increase the duration and intensity of your chosen activity.

  • Start with the smallest possible commitment that feels almost too easy to achieve.
  • Each week, slightly increase the duration or intensity in small, manageable increments.
  • Reflect on the cumulative progress made over time and how the increasing challenge affects your mental resilience.
3. Create a Support Network

Objective: To establish a support system that encourages and sustains your physical and mental health efforts.

  • Reach out to friends or family members who may want to join you in your activity, or find a local or online community with similar interests.
  • Share your goals and progress with your support network and engage with their experiences.
  • Use this network for motivation during difficult times, and offer your support to others when they face their challenges.
4. Overcoming Barriers

Objective: To identify and plan for potential barriers to your physical activity routine.

  • List the internal and external barriers that could interrupt your routine, such as lack of time, bad weather, or waning motivation.
  • Develop a strategy for each barrier, such as scheduling fixed times for activity, planning indoor alternatives, or creating a motivation board.
  • Implement these strategies as needed and adjust them based on their effectiveness in helping you maintain your routine.
5. Celebrate Your Successes

Objective: To recognize and celebrate each success to maintain motivation and a positive outlook.

  • Set milestones within your activity routine, such as the first time you complete the activity without stopping, reach a certain distance, or achieve a new personal best.
  • When you reach a milestone, celebrate in a way that is meaningful and rewarding to you.
  • Share your successes with your support network and reflect on the journey that led you to each achievement.

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