I hadn’t planned to become a mental health advocate. For two decades, while I struggled with my own writing, I taught writing to adults. I also published a monthly email newsletter for writers in central Ohio, USA, and blogged about the writing process. People reached out for writing advice and I coached those who asked. The work brought some joy, but never felt completely “me.” I continued, knowing it helped others and because my clients praised my work.
Things shifted with the release of my award-winning running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink (Mango, 2019). After I wrote openly about my struggle with anxiety and depression from bipolar disorder, and how running helped me find more stability, most of the people who contacted me weren’t interested in writing. Instead, they wanted to hear more about how I hauled myself off the sofa, took up running, and saved my life. They were trying to save their own lives, or the lives of their friends and family. Their questions launched my next adventure: wellness author.
But the work I’d done in the years leading up to this wasn’t lost. During the decades I blogged about “writing” I was actually chronicling my emotional struggles. Distorted thinking, self-doubt, and recurring nightmares brought on by bipolar disorder often made it hard for me to publish even one post a month. Other times, in a manic spree, I would post every day. My struggle with consistency felt like failure and I was often ashamed. So, I wrote about it. As I grow into this new role as an advocate for emotional wellness, I see that I was always writing from a mental health perspective. I had simply miscategorized my work.
When my editor at Mango Publishing Group invited me to co-create the writing journal, You Should Be Writing (Mango, 2020), offering quotes from our favorite authors as prompts, we included chapters on self-care (Writing as Medicine) and on helping others (The Role and Responsibility of the Writer). Given the emotional struggles of many writers, the quotes in these “wellness” chapters are just as important as those that address the sound of language or the craft of writing. Writers need them all.
When I think too long about moving from writing teacher to wellness author, the anxiety resurfaces. When it does, I think back to a day years ago when depression, once again, had me paralyzed on the sofa. A high school friend’s social media post inspired me to pick up a kitchen timer, leash up our dog, and jog for sixty seconds. The journey that culminated in my first book being published began when I thought “If she can do it, why can’t I?” So now, when I feel afraid about the shift in my writing focus, I search for others who have made similar transformations. Stories of people who change directions mid-career give me the same courage I felt that first day I leashed up the dog to run.
These days, when people reach out for writing advice, I’m more likely to ask about their mental health than their writing. I talk and write about the need for a strong support system, meditative practices, and joyful movement to feed heart and mind. Each of us, writer or not, needs these to fully pursue our passions.
What emotional stability tools do you have in place? Do you move every day, even a little? Do you write as a practice, recording the wild patterns of your mind? And do you sit or walk in meditation to feed the deepest part of you?
Every tiny tool counts. If you need to build a kit, reach out. I’m happy to help you begin.
Today we’re traveling to Ohio in the USA to chat with Nita Sweeney. She and I discuss how coaching, sloppy handwriting, law school, the number three, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, onions, and stubbornness come together as part of Nita’s past and present. Get your running shoes on, this one’s about movement …
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I write, coach writers, and teach classes. In May 2019, Mango Publishing released my first book, the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink. Tantor Media released the audiobook in September 2019. When I’m not writing or promoting the book, I run with my dog, and meditate.
Ohio, USA is home. I was born in Sandusky, raised in Licking County, and attended college in Athens and Columbus. I worked in central Ohio, and, except for three years in Taos, New Mexico, have lived in Ohio my entire life. I’m a third-generation Ohio State Buckeye.
My husband, Ed, and I currently live in Upper Arlington, a suburban neighborhood of Columbus, with Scarlet, our yellow Labrador retriever. She’s a two-year-old, adorable scamp, stealing whatever she can, then dashing away to shred it. This morning she got the newspaper . . . again.
In which genre do you write?
My magazine articles, news stories, poetry, and essays have been published in online and print outlets including Dog World, Dog Fancy, Buddhist America, and Country Living. One poem won the Dublin (Ohio) Arts Council Poet’s Choice Award. Three novels, four other memoirs, a book of daily meditations, more poetry, and several short stories sit in computer folders waiting for me to return to them.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
As a child, I adored books so much that I wanted to write my own. I loved reading aloud and relished any chance to escape into a book. After a teacher gave me a failing grade on a paper because she couldn’t read my sloppy handwriting, my mother hauled her manual typewriter and typing lesson book into my bedroom where I typed and bound my first “published” book, Sheshak the Wild Stallion. I was 10 years old. I still have that first book.
But self-doubt is strong. Despite a degree in magazine journalism and a history of good marks on my paper, I feared I couldn’t make it as a writer. I went to law school. Ten years and a depressive episode later, I left the law firm and returned to writing. What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I’m obsessed with the number three. I won’t set my alarm for 5AM, I’ll set it for 5:01AM or 4:59AM. The time must be divisible by three. The same is true of foods. If I can count them, I will take an amount of a snack that is divisible by three. Three pretzels. Three brazil nuts. Three chocolate squares. I’m currently in love with bacon and gruyere egg bites. I cut each egg bite in 12 “bites” before I eat it. Twelve, after all, is divisible by three.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
A unicorn, a sloth or Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh come to mind, but I would choose Frederick the Mouse, from the children’s book by Leo Lionni. In the story, during autumn, while other mice gather food and build shelters, Frederick sits in the sunshine. He appears lazy and unmotivated. Then winter comes and food supplies dwindle. That’s when Frederick shines. He recites the poems he was “writing” and reminds the others of the sun’s warmth. He sustains them with his words. I have a small statue of Frederick in my office.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
Our spare bedroom is the ideal office with two large windows and enough room for my giant desk. And, I can’t write there. I hear Scarlet shredding (and eating) something she shouldn’t. I want to know what Ed is reading or who he is speaking with on the phone. Shouldn’t I unload the dishwasher, pay the bills, or take out the trash? Surely those things must be done before I can write.
And so, I flee the house. My two current haunts are Colin’s Coffee, a locally-owned shop where I can hog a table for hours. Colin’s founding of the decades-old band Watershed and his musician’s mindset floods the place with creative energy. It’s a true artist’s coffeeshop. My other “office” is a grocery story. The upstairs community room in Kingsdale Market District is a bit like study hall except no one will yell at you if you talk. Plus, there’s food. Retired women play gin rummy or Mahjong while head-phoned college students crouch over laptops. I’m there so often the staff knows me by name.
What are you currently reading?
I just picked up Mag Dimond’s Bowing to Elephants, a travel memoir written from a Buddhist perspective. I’ve followed her blog for several years and find her writing fluid, deep, and insightful.
Where did the title of your most recent book come from?
The phrase “depression hates a moving target” popped into my head while I was talking on the phone to a depressed friend. She was stuck in bed. I said, “You’re fighting inertia. Depression hates a moving target. Just sit up. Sit on the edge of the bed. Stand up. Anything. You just need to get moving.” We both laughed and she did get out of bed and it helped.
“Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two” was the working title, but few people outside of the running community know that a marathon is 26.2 miles long. Brenda Knight, my editor at Mango, wanted something with more universal appeal. “Depression hates a moving target” worked beautifully. What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
Ed, Scarlet, and I enjoy sitting down to a meal nearly every night at 5PM. Scarlet snarfs the kibble from her dish, Ed plates whatever amazing dish he’s whipped up, and I pick the onions out of whatever he cooked. Ed and I share observations and insights from our day and, once Scarlet has finished her food, she sniffs the table until I correct her then settles at our feet. It’s my favorite time of day.
When I’m not with them, I run! Running has proven to be as good as many of the mental health medicines I was on. At one time it took six mental health medications to keep me alive. Today I am on one. Now that Scarlet is two and her growth plates have closed, she joins me on the roads for a few miles. It only took one or two runs for her to recognize my running shoes. All I have to do is walk over to the show rack and she’s glued to my side.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Cantering around the front yard, pretending I was a horse. You can’t do that in the suburbs. What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
Brittany Runs a Marathon. Brittany’s story of overcoming a personal crisis through exercise is familiar and inspiring. It’s not a mental health story, and she doesn’t run with a dog, but the movie will appeal to many viewers whether they’re interested in running or not. We all need an uplifting story and that movie delivers.
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
1)Which tasted best? The washcloth, the seats of my mother’s chairs, or the four, twenty-dollar bills?
2)Is it necessary to stick your wet nose everywhere?
3)Will you outgrow this phase?
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I’m not sure if it is stubbornness or compulsion, or maybe passion, but whatever you call the part of me that refused to give up until I found a publisher for one of my books has served me well.
What are you currently working on?
In between podcast pitches, guest blog submissions, and phone calls to set up speaking gigs, I work on a proposal for that book of daily meditations I mentioned above. This surprises people. “You already have a publisher. Why do you need to write another proposal?” While I have a shoe firmly wedged in Mango’s door, each book is its own thing. I need to describe the book, explain the market and competition, and set out what I will do to help the book sell. Mango loves books and is happy with how hard I work, but publishing is a business. The proposal helps them decide if my next book will provide a good return on their investment.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
Depression Hates a Moving Target is a couch to marathon story with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit memoir, some self-help, and, from what reviewers say, highly inspiring.
Readers can find Depression Hates a Moving Target wherever fine books are sold! I say this in jest, but folks can order it anywhere, worldwide, in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. My website, https://nitasweeney.com/about-the-book/, has a list of buy links.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
You’ve asked great questions. I appreciate every chance to share with readers. Thank you for so much including me in your interviews and for the work you do for authors.
It was wonderful to “meet” you, Nita. I also have a thing for the number three. How synchronous! Thanks for being a part of MTA. All the best to you! –Camilla
Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink
Can running save your life?
Nita Sweeney thinks so.
After decades of chronic depression from bipolar disorder, and a single year during which seven loved ones and a cat died, an overweight, sedentary, grief-stricken 49-year old Sweeney was willing to try anything. She picked up a digital kitchen timer, leashed up her yellow Labrador retriever, and walked to a secluded ravine near her central Ohio home to jog for 60 seconds.
She didn’t want to die.
In her running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, Sweeney recounts how, in the face of a debilitating mood disorder, and with a trusty canine companion by her side, she not only went from couch to marathon, but from a woman near suicide to one eager to thrive.