Ep#104 How Running and Meditation Saved My Life – Nita Sweeney, Author and Mental Health Advocate

Ep#104 All too often in the wellness world, especially in the diet and fitness circles, our mental and emotional well being doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s a huge blindspot because how we feel and what we think is so fundamental. Mental health disorders are linked to the prevalence, progression, and outcome of some of today’s most pressing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. They increase the risk for substance abuse and addiction. Our mental health affects how we handle and respond to stress, make choices, relate to ourselves and others. Bottomline, mental health IS health. When our mind is suffering, our whole being suffers.

Today’s episode is a poignant example of how our bodies have the power to heal our minds and how our minds have the power to heal our bodies. I talk with Nita Sweeney, an award-winning wellness author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink , and her upcoming book, Make Every Move a Meditation, which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal. Nita’s personal journey of overcoming a lifetime of chronic depression and anxiety through a unique combination of running, writing and meditation is a powerful example of how it really is never too late to reclaim our health and happiness. Her story, a brave and honest account of beating the odds and cultivating inner resilience is incredible inspiration for anyone struggling with mental health or even just stuck in a rut and needing to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

Three Ways to Heal Your Mind (free ebook)

Depression Hates a Moving Target

Make Every Move a Meditation (preorder)

Couch to 5K Running Program

Morning Pages Practice (Julie Cameron)

Podcast Transcript

0 (1s):
Welcome to the Soul Science Nutrition Podcast, where you’ll discover that when it comes to your health, you’re so much more powerful than you’ve been led to believe. And now your host, she’s a Holistic Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, Chef Author, and Yogi, Christine Okezie

Christine Okezie (23s):
Hello, and welcome to the Soul science Nutrition Podcast. I’m Christine Okezie. Thanks so much for listening today. Today’s show spotlights. One of the most critical issues of our times, our mental health, even before COVID, America’s had a long standing mental health crisis with one in five Americans, that’s nearly 50 million people struggling, psychologically and or emotionally. The tragedy is that for a whole variety of social economic and political barriers, only a fraction of people who need treatment and support are able to access it. And all too often in the wellness world, especially in diet and fitness circles, our mental and emotional wellbeing doesn’t get the attention.

Christine Okezie (1m 7s):
it deserves. It’s been a huge blind spot because how we feel and what we think is so fundamental, mental health disorders are linked to the prevalence progression and outcome of some of today’s most pressing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, mental health disorders increase the risk for substance abuse, addiction and suicide. Our mental health affects how we handle and respond to stress, make choices in our lives, relate to ourselves and others as well. The bottom line is mental health is health. When our mind is suffering, our whole being suffers well today’s episode is a poignant example of how our bodies have the power to heal our minds and how our minds have the power to heal our bodies.

Christine Okezie (1m 59s):
I talked today with Nita Sweeney an award winning wellness author of the running and mental health memoir, “Depression Hates a Moving Target. How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink”, and her upcoming book, “Make Every Move a Meditation”, which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal. Nita’s personal journey of overcoming a lifetime of chronic depression and anxiety through a unique combination of running, writing, and meditation is a powerful example of how it really is never too late to reclaim our health and happiness. Her story is a brave and honest account of beating the odds, cultivating inner resilience.

Christine Okezie (2m 45s):
It’s an incredible inspiration for anyone struggling with mental health, or even if they’re just stuck in a rut and needing to make some positive lasting changes. You can learn more about her at her website, nitasweeney.com. You can find her amazing books wherever you get your books and be sure to check out, you know, her free ebook, “Three Ways To Heal Your Mind.” All that is in the show notes. So I hope you enjoy the episode. And if you do, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to visit apple podcasts and leave a rating and review and hit that subscribe button if you haven’t already. So you don’t miss an episode. They come out every Thursday. Thanks so much for listening and enjoy the episode. Nita welcome to the podcast.

Christine Okezie (3m 26s):
It’s really a pleasure to have you here.

Nita Sweeney (3m 28s):
Thank you. I’m really excited to have our chat. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Christine Okezie (3m 32s):
Thank you. So, you know, Soul Science Nutrition Ppodcast is all about kind of looking and I have wonderful guests, inspirational stories like yourself, you’re about to share when we can kind of look back on our life, look in the rear view mirror, if you will, and see our health challenges as real kind of doorways to learning and transformation. And I would love if we start there does this, how this resonates with you when it comes to your struggles with mental health.

Nita Sweeney (4m 1s):
So the place that I have to start is way back, because I think that I’ve dealt with, I know I’ve dealt with mental health challenges for most of my life and it, I had a lot of tools. I had therapy, I had medication, I had meditation. I had a lot of tools. I also use writing practice, which is it’s kinda like journaling, but not exactly. And, you know, things would go better and then they go worse and then they would go better. And then they go worse. And so the doorway for me was in 2010 when I had a few years before the loss of a whole bunch of people.

Nita Sweeney (4m 47s):
And so on top of chronic depression and just the challenges that I’ve had all of my life, I had grief, overwhelming grief, seven people that we really, really cared about and a cap all died. And these included my 24 year old niece, my niece’s cat. And in December of that year, my mother and also my father-in-law was just, you know, just this huge loss. And so the, the doorway, which I just say this over and over again, it was a friend. It was someone I related to. She was a high school friend and she posted on social media, “Call me crazy. But this running is getting to be fun.”

Nita Sweeney (5m 29s):
And she was not athletic. I was not athletic. I came here for many, many years. And so that was the place where things took a different direction. And so, you know, when you’re talking about options, I had been beaten down by life enough that I was willing to consider something I thought was ridiculous. I mean, I’ll just put it that way. I really thought what the heck at her, you know, age, my age

Christine Okezie (5m 59s):
And tell is how old were you ?

Nita Sweeney (6m 1s):
I was 48 or 49. I was, I think I was just about to turn 49.

Christine Okezie (6m 6s):
Got it.

Nita Sweeney (6m 7s):
So middle life, but it, and so, so in keeping kind of with your podcast theme, we sort of never necessarily know where it’s coming from, where that opportunity is coming from. And so being open to something that seems ridiculous. I mean, I don’t know how else to say it. I really did. I wanted to laugh and yet I, you know, I gave her a comment. That sounds wonderful. I’m so glad you’re having fun. Cause the talent doesn’t come through on social media, but I kept watching her and I was not having fun, not at all. And he seemed to really be enjoying what she was doing and benefiting from it.

Nita Sweeney (6m 47s):
And so that’s what, that’s the other thing I love to say is you never know when you’re planting a seed for someone else and you also never know where the seeds might come from that you need to, because I never would have thought first off that would’ve come from social media. It might’ve come from a friend. I mean, he knew that, but usually I was dealing with professionals in the mental health of sphere or I know books, which I still is wonderful, but for it to come from someone who was so relatable.

Christine Okezie (7m 22s):

Nita Sweeney (7m 22s):
The one that felt so much like me, that really just that’s what hit it for me.

Christine Okezie (7m 30s):
Thank you. And so what were you doing like through most of your life? I mean, I, I know that, you know, your struggles with anxiety and depression or longstanding, but you had, you know, you had built a life at that point. What was your, what, what was it like for you just at that point before you became a runner and wellness author?

Nita Sweeney (7m 50s):
Well, I meditated on a regular basis. I had kind of fallen away from I’m going to retreats as much. I had spent many years working with a best-selling author, Natalie Goldberg, her most famous book is writing down the bones or wildlife. Those are the two books most people know. And I had actually my husband and I moved to towels and I was her assistant for about nine years. Okay. I’m spending a lot of time into house even after we moved back and trying to, right. My bachelor’s degree was in journalism. And then I went to law school and I actually practiced law for nine years, but that was just a horrible, horrible job fit.

Nita Sweeney (8m 36s):
It was really bad. And so I kind of, you know, they say crash and burn, but that’s really what happened. I ended up in the, in the mental hospital suicidal, and that was many, many years ago, but that’s where I first got help. Yeah. I first got therapy. I first got medication. I started, you know, being in that mental health community and having other people in my life that were in that community. I was also in recovery. I have acute issues. And so I had the recovery community too, but I couldn’t work. I couldn’t hold any kind of a day job and I really wanted to write. And so I just kept trying to write, and I actually have tons of drafts of books that I have not published, which someday we may publish some of those.

Nita Sweeney (9m 23s):
So I’ve been essentially trying to write, trying to be a writer, figure out what a writer did, do the things that I thought a writer did. And that’s, that’s kind of where that, that social media post found me was sitting on the sofa, horrible grief. I had a book project that wasn’t going anywhere. I was really struggling with. I tried to sell it to an agent and I didn’t have the stamina to do what it takes to get a book published. I know that now at that time, I didn’t realize that was part of the part of the deal. If there’s a tenacity or a, just a, you know, kind of an old that you need to keep going to keep pitching, to keep showing up.

Nita Sweeney (10m 8s):
And, you know, I could show up in small ways, but I couldn’t show up in any of the big ways that I needed to. So that’s, that was sort of my life I cannot feel to mention, but I was married to an amaz. I still am married to an amazing man who our first wedding anniversary. I think the weekend afterwards I checked myself in, I was, it was highly recommended that I checked myself into the mental hospital. So that was in the 1990s, mid 1990s. And I think that another guy might’ve said, you know, this is not what I signed up for. I married a partner in a law firm. I married a high powered, you know, a woman who could take care of herself and boom, all of a sudden there I am in a basket with him kind of carrying me around as what it felt like.

Nita Sweeney (10m 59s):
And he has been just a steadfast supporter. We of course have our issues from time to time. We were just negotiating over a door that needs to be put in the back of our house. You’re human too. And he’s human I him, but when times get tough, he has been there. He has always choke up a little bit. So, so that was also a big part of my life. He had, you know, pretty big jobs. And so he was at work all day and I would be at home writing, trying to write, being depressed. And then I would do, let’s see, there was the mini trampoline, there were the dance classes.

Nita Sweeney (11m 44s):
There were all the different this time. It’s gonna be like here, try this, try that. And they would work for a while. I’d feel better. I’d lose some, I maybe have a tiny bit of community, but they were never quite the right fit. And yeah. So yeah, but that,

Christine Okezie (12m 4s):
Thank you. Yeah. That’s awesome. Thank you so much. How beautiful and what a key role to have a partner to support you and saw through all of the circumstances that were simply that right. It’s like he just saw you and connected, you know, I think, you know, through all of that situational circumstantial stuff, I think maybe that’s what I’m hearing or that’s what’s coming through for me is that he saw who you really are, you know?

Nita Sweeney (12m 32s):
Yes he did. And he felt no, no, not, I don’t want to say it sense of responsibility, but he just is the kind of person who steps up to whatever is before him, we’ve moved a number of times or he’s actually moved a lot more times than me and people always ask him, well, what did you like best? Cause he’s from California. He lived in New Jersey. We live in Ohio. Now we lived in New Mexico or back and I’ll have, and people, he always says, I, I like it where I am. I just do what’s in front of me. And so Ohio is what’s in front of me and you know, he has preferences too, but that’s what it felt like with me. It’s like Nita is my love.

Nita Sweeney (13m 12s):
Nita is what we do. This is just what we do. And of course he, we do his things too. He’s very active in a lot of different areas and I participate in that as well. It’s very active politically and civically in the community. He’s very active in our suburb here in central Ohio. Burlington. So yeah, we’re, we’re a good opposites attract team because he’s very analytical, very logical, very a, B, C, D, get this done. Also an idea pops into his head and he’s got to take action. Whereas I’m pretty much the opposite. I spin in circles. I’m not terribly logical.

Nita Sweeney (13m 56s):
I, you know, it takes me a long time to take action. I have to think about things, let them percolate. And so, so we, I kind of pull him back and he pushes me forward and I pull him back and that’s, that has made us a really good team to

Christine Okezie (14m 11s):
Thank you. That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. What is it that you started to get from running that really helped you with your mental health?

Nita Sweeney (14m 21s):
I would say first off was just the happy brain chemicals. It’s actually endocannabinoid. So it’s funny, people thought you’re an endorphin, which is there.

Christine Okezie (14m 30s):
We have a built in pharmacy that we have, right?

Nita Sweeney (14m 34s):
We do. The pharmacy is in our bodies, but I don’t tap into them with whether it’s with nutrition or with exercise or meditation also has a biochemical neuro-transmitter effect too. So, but with running, it was very much like rocket fuel. It just supercharged the things. It actually supercharged the things that the actual pharmaceuticals I was taking it supercharged then so much that I started having side effects from them. I hadn’t had before, which were the side effects of being on too much Medication.

Christine Okezie (15m 14s):
Amazing. Isn’t that just profound?

Nita Sweeney (15m 16s):
It was crazy. And eventually it took a couple years. I had enough of an episode that they took me off some of the meds. So I was on a lot of meds and now I’m only on one and I still take it. We try to take me off it and it doesn’t work. I have to cut that one for the baseline. So that’s mood lifting and physical energy. Those were probably the two biggest things. And then the thing that I realized later that really related to the writing was the thinking, the clarity, the ability to think clearly and sustain thought. So my, my mind didn’t need as much rest.

Nita Sweeney (15m 55s):
I could read a book, whereas I couldn’t read, I could listen to audio books, but I had trouble actually reading texts because my mind would almost like something would flip. And so I ended up having to read the same page over and over again because my, it would glitch or something. And, and there was also a brain fog, which this does not happen to everybody there. Yes, this is not happened to everybody. There are plenty of people who take mental health, medications, and other medications, and don’t have those kinds of side effects, but I had a brain fog that just made it hard to concentrate. And so over time I realized I could write for longer stretches.

Nita Sweeney (16m 39s):
And, you know, my mood was such that I can endure rejection a little bit more, which I couldn’t at all. That was a big part of not being able to get that there’s

Christine Okezie (16m 48s):
That inner stamina, right?

Nita Sweeney (16m 51s):
Yes. So I had external stamina and inner standing. So the mood, the energy, and then kind of a sense of belonging because I joined an online community pretty quickly. I think about the runners. They’re just so much fun. I don’t know how else to say it. That’s incredible For a group of people. And so that sense of fellowship and community gave me some like heart, heart stuff that I was missing, some of that inside. And then I became, as I watched other people, I became more compassionate toward myself because I watched these other runners trying really hard, sometimes failing sometimes achieving, but always being kind, especially to each other and then to themselves too.

Nita Sweeney (17m 41s):
So with such good examples.

Christine Okezie (17m 43s):
Thank you. Yeah. I mean, and, and you got started. I think it’s important that since you said, you know, you were not the typical, you know, athletic type, you know, exercise was not like, you know, you weren’t already physically in a routine with anything. How did you even start?

Nita Sweeney (18m 3s):
The woman that had posted on social media was doing an interval training plan called Couch To 5K, which many people have heard of, but it doesn’t have to be that one. And I, it took a few months of me watching her before I got brave enough to even open the website and see what it said. And I don’t know if they did this on purpose, but if they did, it was brilliant. It says, the first line you read is 60 seconds of jogging. Okay. And so my mind went 60 seconds. I think I can do that.

Nita Sweeney (18m 44s):
And where she was doing. And I was watching her do that. Now the training plan said a lot of other things too, but my mind latched on to that very simple concrete thing, ma mild is the right word, but it didn’t say running

Christine Okezie (19m 1s):
Right. Didn’t scare you like the mind. It wasn’t like a big, a big, no, or big red flag. Yeah.

Nita Sweeney (19m 8s):
Right. And I think, I, I swear if it had said 61 seconds of

Christine Okezie (19m 13s):
Sure. Or right, right. Or I didn’t say anything. It didn’t give you that bite-size, you know, bit to get started, right? Yeah.

Nita Sweeney (19m 22s):
Genius. 60 seconds of jogging. And then two minutes of walking, which I was already walking some, although I even had told him that. And, and so we, I live in central Ohio and we have really harsh winters. My friend lived in Florida, so I’m pretty sure she had started the plan because their, their winter is, it’s not quite like our summer, but they’re, they’re, they’re, you know, it’s, it’s warm there when it’s really cold here and horribly warm there when it’s like, your summer is winter. So, so she had probably started because she lived in Florida. She had probably started it during our coal to season. So I watched her for a while, cause I just was not ready to go outside and ice in the snow.

Nita Sweeney (20m 4s):
But when spring came, when the Crocus’s started popping up through the snow and you know, all the little flowers and the, I could hear bird song once in a while, you’d have something inside me, cracked, open. And also I had had it, I had gotten to a point it’s, it’s weird because, well, that was happening in a growth phase. Another part of me felt a bit like it was dying. And so I got to a place of desperation where I thought I have to try something. I, I really do because this is just, I cannot endure this any longer. Yes. Yeah. I was talking to my therapist. I talked to my husband, but it was just, it was just beyond anything in person, you know, I can get these rejections.

Nita Sweeney (20m 50s):
And so one day I just looked out the window and it was maybe 40 degrees instead of 29 or maybe it was 50 degrees. I don’t know. But it was warm enough that I thought, all right, with a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie and mittens and all that. So I leased up the dog drug. My, they may have actually been Belker sneakers. I think I said they weren’t, but they might’ve been Definitely not running shoes and put those on and leased up the dog and picked up a digital kitchen time or one of those little white square and set it for 60 seconds. And then I took the dog down into this ravine area, near our house where they’re long, lots on a flood plan.

Nita Sweeney (21m 35s):
So the houses are high up and they could probably see me, but it didn’t feel, it felt very secluded, private. Nobody could see me now, mind you, I have to explain the paranoia. It’s probably Wednesday or Tuesday at two in the afternoon, there is no one home.

Christine Okezie (21m 53s):
Not a high traffic situation,

Nita Sweeney (21m 56s):
But still I was. So that was part of it. That’s still is something that I, I deal with. And so I walked the dog down thinking, oh, gonna they’ll think she’s just walking the dog. They’re not going to think she’s, you know, this large old woman is trying to run, which who cares what they think now. But I do, I do. I still care

Christine Okezie (22m 16s):
Experience, right. Another barrier to overcoming, what if, you know, what will people think? What would people say? This is not, you know, this is, this might not be the right thing to do because that be judged. You know? So yeah,

Nita Sweeney (22m 26s):
I was very afraid of that. And so we went down to that ravine and I stood there long enough that the dog wandered off. I mean, I had was on leash, but he wandered off a little bit. Eventually he looked at me and kind of said, what, what, what are we doing? Are we doing this or not? And so I hit the, hit the timer and I jogged for success. And it’s such a tiny thing, but I was just talking to my husband, wrote the book Atomic Habits because

Christine Okezie (22m 51s):
Great book.

Nita Sweeney (22m 53s):
Yeah. Oh great, great book. And I had actually, I’m not ready yet, but that’s what he’s saying are universal truths. And that’s somehow I knew the Couch to 5K people knew that we needed these tiny things. And so that very small action of jogging for 60 seconds and then walking for two minutes and then jogging another near that little tiny set of steps. It just gave me this confidence. And it’s not like it changed everything that day, but I was able to go home and make a little check mark next to the training plan. I had to

Christine Okezie (23m 31s):

Nita Sweeney (23m 31s):
Print it off and take my hand. And then I didn’t tell anybody for awhile.

Christine Okezie (23m 38s):
Okay. Interesting.

Nita Sweeney (23m 38s):
I was afraid it would just be the mini trampoline again.

Christine Okezie (23m 41s):
That’s right. Everybody’s going to say, okay.

Nita Sweeney (23m 46s):
Nothing against the mini trampoline community. I mean, I know people that have had them for years is whereby just didn’t work for me. So

Christine Okezie (23m 54s):
I love it. Thank you. You know, what else have you checked off your list? Well, how many places have you run? Where are you now with that?

Nita Sweeney (24m 3s):
Yeah. So where I am now, my sister talked me into doing a 5k, which I was going to be a private runner. And so I had to get over myself because it was, it was her daughter that died of cancer and her only child actually. So I did that and that just blew everything open because suddenly I understood what the running community really was. People of all ages, all sizes across, you know, every economic class, race class. There’s now this great group called Black Girls Run Black Men, you know, there’s native runners, Asian Men, there’s all kinds of.

Nita Sweeney (24m 42s):
And so since then I have run, I’ll start with the, the fancy one for a set run, one ultra marathon, which is, it was a 50K. So 31 miles,

Christine Okezie (24m 53s):

Nita Sweeney (24m 53s):
Saving and running a three, three full marathons, 31 half marathons in 19 states and a bunch of, you know, a hundred or more shorter races. I kind of stopped

Christine Okezie (25m 6s):
Losing count here. Yes.

Nita Sweeney (25m 8s):
Yeah. Well, it’s been 10 years now or 12 actually. So the book, it took me a long time to write.

Christine Okezie (25m 15s):
So what made you say, I’m going to write about this?

Nita Sweeney (25m 18s):
When I ran my first half marathon, I felt pretty proud of myself. I think I was 50 or 51. I’d have to go back and look. And I thought, oh my goodness, middle-aged woman runs half marathon. That’s kind of an interesting story. And I had a lot of training information that I gathered from a bunch of places. And so I thought to provide that to other middle-aged people who want to pick up running later in life, I could show them my tips about,

Christine Okezie (25m 47s):

Nita Sweeney (25m 47s):
No, it’s not good for your knees, things like that. Right.

Christine Okezie (25m 50s):
Right. Okay. So it was going to be a how to, or running.

Nita Sweeney (25m 53s):
Yeah. Kind of was a really, really, and it sort of still is around book, but that was the basis. And the longer I revised it and the more people I talked to, I realized it wasn’t a book about a middle-aged woman running eventually a marathon. It was about a woman trying to save her life. And that that’s the through the through line is couched marathon. But the underlying story is dealing with mental illness, the challenges that come up, the recurring challenges that still come up, you know, Nita is still afrai she’s going to get lost even though she knows exactly where she’s going.

Nita Sweeney (26m 34s):
I mean, that’s just what, that’s the way I live. That’s who I am. And so it’s not, I mean, it is happily ever after in the sense that I no longer want to die, I want to live, you know, I really do. And, but it’s, it’s more about, this is how I did it this step, this step, this step. And so it is kind of a how to, but that’s not the way it’s written. It’s written very much like a memoir. So

Christine Okezie (26m 59s):
It is it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a beautiful, very vulnerable, you know, a way to look at, again, your struggle with mental health and to say it gives, it gives such incredible inspiration to people to know that, you know, again, not one size fits all, this was your path. You know, there’s lots of different ways to come through this. But I think what it says is you, you broke the odds, you know, you, you, you, you, you stepped into completely unfamiliar territory for yourself. Right. And, and how actually the process, the, the run or running was the medicine.

Christine Okezie (27m 40s):
Was it, wasn’t it, wasn’t it wasn’t, it’s never about the finish line is, is the, is what’s coming through with me. It’s never about, you know, checking off the list. It’s the, it’s the, it’s the path and the journey and all the learnings along the way that you don’t even know, you know, or anticipate that come. Right?

Nita Sweeney (27m 58s):
Yeah. Yeah. If somebody had told me I would run an ultra marathon, I really did want that 26.2 sticker. I wanted that before I’d even run the 5k, which is weird, but that’s me, I’m kind of a high achiever type person, even with mental health. But I think that’s one of the challenges is having mental health has kept me from doing some of the achievements that I might’ve wanted to do, but I wanted that sticker. But the ultra what? Yeah. And the saying that it’s, you know, it’s kind of overused, but if you hang around in a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut. So if you hang around with people who run long, you know, 26.4 Miles for fun, you’re going to,

Christine Okezie (28m 40s):
And the power of community. Yeah. Yeah.

Nita Sweeney (28m 44s):
And, and it’s the particular race that we chose. It’s not your typical ultra in the mountains of Colorado. It’s in Northeastern, Ohio. It’s completely flat. It’s a five mile loop. It’s, you know, there’s a lot of things that make it accessible for a person like me bathrooms every five miles.

Christine Okezie (29m 2s):
Awesome. Yeah. That’s key. Oh, that’s key. Yeah. Wow.

Nita Sweeney (29m 5s):
And you have 24 hours to do it, but still, I don’t mean to, I don’t mean to diminish what I did, but what I’m trying to say is that what I thought of as an ultra, again, a stereotype of, oh my gosh, you have to be this tiny and you have to run up the mountains and you have to run all of it and you no, no, no. None of that is true.

Christine Okezie (29m 27s):
So more options on the menu.

Nita Sweeney (29m 29s):
Exactly. I love that phrase, more options on the menu. People love it.

Christine Okezie (29m 33s):
So speaking of titles, depression hates a moving target. I just, it’s such a intriguing title, you know, and tell us about the significance of it. And, and it must be just a mantra that really, I think it’s really useful. Depression hates a moving target. You know,

Nita Sweeney (29m 51s):
I must’ve heard it somewhere or maybe I made it up. I’m not sure I did Google it. When we were looking for titles, the original title book was 26 point freaking two, and which is not a bad title, but it’s not quite it doesn’t, it doesn’t have the motion. Didn’t have the action. And so when the editor asks me, that phrase popped in my head, the way it came up is I have a lot of friends who we support each other. We both have, you know, we all have mental health challenges and we call each other when things are tough. And I remember a friend called me, it was in the afternoon. She could not get out of bed. She just felt like she was glued to the mattress.

Nita Sweeney (30m 30s):
And she just called me and said, I I’m just stuck. I’m just stuck. And it popped in my head, which I’m sure somebody else has said it to me. She’d said it before I’d set up work. I just said, remember, depression hates a moving target, just get out of bed. I’m going to hang up. And when you get out of bed, call me back, just sit on the edge of the bed and call

Christine Okezie (30m 51s):
Me back. There’s that bite-size piece.

Nita Sweeney (30m 54s):
Right. Exactly. I know it’s not, you know, it, when I think we do it so naturally, especially those of us who are struggling because we know it works, but that’s exactly it. That was Atomic Habit. And so she did, and then it was, what do you need to do next? And she said, I really should just brush my teeth. And I said, okay, I’m going to hang up, brush your teeth coming back. And we kind of did that until she was dressed and then was able to get on with their day a little bit for people like us, sometimes getting on with your day is just being able to get out of the bedroom into the rest of the house. When you, you know, especially when you’re really in the throws of a mental health challenge, we have to give ourselves credit for the tiniest little things.

Nita Sweeney (31m 38s):
So when the editor asked for different title options, that immediately popped in my head because I thought that’s what this book is about. I, it was funny. I was thinking the other day that I need, I need to, you know, that mean about the solution to everything is either WD 40 or duct tape. And it’s going to talk about the next book because yes, please It’s sorta, but, but so the running is WT 40 and the meditation is duct tape because we, there need to be still called that you still or speed up.

Christine Okezie (32m 18s):
Yeah. Well, you need to manage your energy, essentially. We know what’s going to kind of create a more positive momentum in, in your, you know, in, in the thought patterns in, in, in the mental space. Right. So that’s beautiful. And so to that point, so you’ve been a long-term meditator and I gather that comes from your husband who is also meditator, right? Yeah. And now meditation and mindfulness and you dibble dabbled and it worked, but it’s really come to the forefront now. Right. And so what’s the relationship between your running and the insight and growth and then meditation, mindfulness, and then where are you going with this amazing book now? You know, make every movement and meditation, which I can’t wait.

Christine Okezie (33m 3s):

Nita Sweeney (33m 3s):
So yeah, I started meditating in shortly before I left the practice a lot, actually, when I was, I was actually dating my husband and he had been meditating. And so he set the microwave timer for five minutes. So my very first meditation instruction was try not to fidget.

Christine Okezie (33m 21s):
Ooh, that’s a, that’s a hard place to start. That’s not an atomic habit

Nita Sweeney (33m 26s):
To start at five minutes, five

Christine Okezie (33m 28s):
Minutes. Oh, that’s very long.

Nita Sweeney (33m 29s):
Yeah. A micro timer for five minutes and try not to fidget. So that was our first step. And I liked him. I thought it was weird, but he dies. So it’s been, you know, 29 years now, whatever. And so we actually, once I, once I kind of took to it, we actually had a group here in Columbus before you moved to it’s called mindfulness meditation, Columbus, which unfortunately is now defunct. But, but we were very active. We brought, we had retreats and brought people like Vonte Gunaratna to Columbus.

Christine Okezie (34m 0s):
We kept

Nita Sweeney (34m 1s):
Trying to bring Shinzen young, but he, Yeah. So, and so I would continue. And then when I worked with Natalie Goldberger where she’s a Zen practitioner chain, and so we did meditation as part of that. And then I taught meditation in classes and they were writing classes, but they were writing practice classes. So I taught that for many years. So I sort of had that as a foundation. When I started running, I quickly realized within, I don’t even know my might’ve been right away, that I could meditate while I was running, that all I needed was to choose an object of meditation, to choose a focus. And then whenever my mind wandered, I could very gently bring it back to whatever my focus was, whatever my chosen focus.

Nita Sweeney (34m 45s):
And so it was a way of training my mind, a way of opening to mindfulness. And then of course that the other piece that’s very important with meditation or especially mindfulness is equanimity. So a calm mind, sort of an openness to experience. And when you start running in middle age where things are gonna happen for me, it was, I have a wonky, I call it my wonky ankle. So I have a congenital defect in my left ankle. My bones are too close together and it’s not something that can be repaired. Now. It would’ve had to been done when I was a kid. So I have sensations in my left foot. Often they’re sometimes pleasant, unpleasant, but they’re mostly just present often neutral.

Nita Sweeney (35m 27s):
And so it’s handy whenever I’m running, if my mind wanders. And I feel like doing a little meditation, I just bring my attention to the ankle and I don’t try to change it. I just notice, is it hot? Is it cold? Is it tingling? Is it spiky? Does it hurt? Does it not as a pleasant? And I just asked myself questions and get curious about that. And that is, I felt my left foot meditation, but I do, I do meditation with a lot of other objects also in the spring, we have amazing lilacs here. And so when they bloom, oh my gosh, running through a neighborhood with those, I’ll use that as, since you know, centered meditation, just the smell.

Nita Sweeney (36m 8s):
Anytime I catch a whiff of lilacs, notice that where I feel that my body, I can use a color. The color green is most, probably the in the summer, especially here is probably the loudest color, if you will. And so I’ll notice all the different shades of green, all the different shapes of green and just try to let them come in my vision without any preference, to what you know, whether they’re bare or not, or whether they’re things I like or not. And it’s just a way to meditate while I’m moving. I also choose a particular time period. So maybe just mild too, or just, I do one long sometimes when, so maybe just during the walk interval.

Nita Sweeney (36m 48s):
So it’s a very contained, it feels manageable cause it’s just a specific interval and that’s how I do it. And this next book that’s coming out in August is called, make every move a meditation. And while I use running as the movement form, I have used examples in the book. I have friends who meditate while playing disc golf, laser tag, ice, skating, dancing, tennis, all that kind of stuff. I know, I know many professional athletes meditate maybe before and after. And many of them are actually meditate meditating when they’re playing or when they’re in their athletic in that, because he can’t tell me that Simone Biles, when she’s up in the air, right.

Nita Sweeney (37m 32s):
She doesn’t know exactly where she is. That’s when she got the twisties. And that’s why she’s

Christine Okezie (37m 36s):
Right. That’s right. Yeah.

Nita Sweeney (37m 37s):
That’s a natural. It may not be doing it on purpose, but that’s a natural, natural mind state that we often fall into. So my goal is to help people learn how to do it on purpose. I love. And that’s where that book came from. Now. That’s not necessarily the duct tape, but I’m hoping that there’ll be another book someday just meditation practices that are much more, much more static, but it’s still, it’s still the same thing. Because even in movement, there is a stillness inside. And when you develop the calm concentration, you’re the focus. The mind can still, you don’t make your mind still, but you create conditions for it to quiet down for those thoughts to calm.

Nita Sweeney (38m 22s):
They won’t go away easily, but they can calm. And so maybe that’s the duct tape

Christine Okezie (38m 28s):
Beautifully said, yeah, well it’s the fluctuations of the mind, right? Yes. And, and I love the way that you reframe that is actually our natural state is to be in a space of spaciousness and neutrality and equanimity. Right. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we have to put up with that, you know, that that’s just our way that we’re supposed to just push through. Right. And think our way ProCon positive, negative, uptown, good, bad, you know, all or nothing duality. Right. And so it’s, and it’s a very grounding practice, I think. Right. So again, that that’s, if you want to, you know, your analogy with the duct tape, it’s stills, you know, but it also creates a strength and a stability.

Nita Sweeney (39m 16s):
Yes. I hadn’t thought about that. Thank you for carrying my little metaphor. I just, that popped in my head. I have use

Christine Okezie (39m 21s):

Nita Sweeney (39m 22s):
But yes, this stability, the other piece that is interesting too, some of my friends are really kind of high performance. I mean, they qualify for Boston. They do a Boston marathon, which is a big deal, and this can benefit them this idea of meditating while you move, because you’re only using the effort necessary for the action you’re taking. We spend all this excess mental energy trying to push and pull on our experience. I want to feel different than what I feel. I want to feel better. This feels bad. So there’s a, there’s an inner pushing and pulling.

Nita Sweeney (40m 2s):
And the equanimity part of it helps to, it’s very efficient actually, because when your economist, your dealing with whatever comes, it’s not denial at all. Right. But you’re dealing with what comes and only extending the amount of energy necessary to be with whatever is happening. And so it actually can, can boost performance. There’s a lot of, a lot of science behind that. I I’ve read a ton of books. I’m writing this book and a lot of them were performance books and every single book had at least one mention of either meditation or mindfulness.

Nita Sweeney (40m 45s):
And it was always about how that is the most efficient way to perform and to train. And I really loved that because that’s true with wife to be the most efficient, even just dealing with your day to day stuff. Right.

Christine Okezie (41m 2s):

Nita Sweeney (41m 2s):
So if you’re, you know, if you have to have that kind of goal thing, there you go, performance

Christine Okezie (41m 8s):
That’s right. No, I mean, it’s just, life works better. You know, I think we’re all, you know, we all want to have less struggle and you know, and more and more joy, right. So many ways.

Nita Sweeney (41m 23s):
So I’ll go one more place with it really quickly. There is a chapter in the book called who’s meditating, where we talk about the question of the self, who is the self. And so I won’t go too much into that, but it’s always interesting to examine who we are, who we think we are, and what’s actually how that relates to what’s actually happening and the way we interact with the world. And so that was, that was actually a really difficult and also fun chapter to write because I was trying to explain something that is very difficult to explain, and I would joke about it, no big deal.

Nita Sweeney (42m 2s):
And just, just describing the nature of reality, not a problem, but, But I encourage people to look at that chapter because it’s, it is one of the later ones in the book because it’s sort of hard to grapple with. It’s the kind of thing you have to experience. I can tell you about it, but until you’ve actually had the sense of kind of time stopping and you being just completely inexperienced and action, and the, the too long didn’t read version of the TL, semi-colon D R version of that is that we are more wave than particle

Christine Okezie (42m 46s):
Thank you. So, yes, it’s often that, you know how we’re relating to ourselves that can either be empowering or, or disempowering a source of our pain or a source of our bliss, really that intimacy with, you know, that perspective essentially. Right. And that’s all mental training.

Nita Sweeney (43m 6s):
Yes, yes, it is. Has been for me it’s it’s and when I used to hear mental training and I thought that was just too hard, too much work, but it’s actually so worth it and you can start tiny.

Christine Okezie (43m 17s):
Thank you. Thank you. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So I would love, if, you know, you could go back maybe to that version of yourself when you were really in that dark place, what message would you have for that younger, more tender part of yourself that would really help knowing all that you know now?

Nita Sweeney (43m 40s):
Oh man, the first thing that comes to mind is just hanging in there, hanging in there. It is changing right now. Not just this too will pass, but that my meditation teacher says, this is passing. It’s already passing as we’re here, but just hang in there because it will change. It will change. I promise. I promise. I promise. And I’m not sure this would have been effective, but just to remember that when I’m in that darkest place, I am not thinking clearly I am not my best self. I am not it’s. There is a layer of veil, something that is keeping me from seeing truth from seeing how important I am to other people, the change, the difference I can make, the impact that can have on other people’s lives, the way people would miss me all of that.

Nita Sweeney (44m 32s):
But I think just in that hardest moment, it would just be, just give it to give it 60 seconds. Just give it five minutes. Just hang in there just a little bit longer.

Christine Okezie (44m 46s):
Thank you. That is very powerful. And Nita. If I could ask you, you know, what’s the number one thing that, you know, you want people to take away from your book, your work from your journey,

Nita Sweeney (44m 58s):
You are worth it are. I want, I want to meet you on the trail and I want to meet you. So hang in there because I want to meet you.

Christine Okezie (45m 9s):
Thank you so much. This is so beautiful. I’m so inspired by your life, by your work and by your ongoing journey. And thank you for your vulnerability today. And, but at least tell us, you know, where can our listeners get your, your book and your book that’s coming out with? What’s the timing of that?

Nita Sweeney (45m 28s):
So the best place to find anything about me, including pictures of all the dogs.

Christine Okezie (45m 37s):

Nita Sweeney (45m 38s):
Yes. It’s just my website. It’s Nita sweeney.com. . The next book is coming out in August of 22. The first book Depression Hates a Moving Target is available. wherever fine books are sold. I love that, But, but the, the new book “Make Every Move a Meditatio”n is available in ebook and paperback for pre-order right now. And the pre-orders are so important. Yeah. And then I actually have a third book, a writing journal called you should be writing, which is also available and all that information. So on my website too, and sign up for my newsletter. I love to talk to people. So I send that out about once a month, I send out a little newsletter to just sort of give a tip and let you know what’s going on with me and hope people interact.

Nita Sweeney (46m 29s):
So much power in community, but thank You for the work you’re doing too. There’s some great stuff here and I appreciate the effort, these podcasters, they really work hard. Yeah.

Christine Okezie (46m 42s):
Yeah. It’s passion. All right. Thank you. Nita and take good care.

Nita Sweeney (46m 50s):

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