Battling Depression by Running Through It

April 18, 2019 Updated: April 19, 2019

Clinical depression, also know as major depressive disorder, can make even the most routine aspects of daily life unbearably difficult. In addition to a chemical imbalance in the brain, environmental factors such as the loss of a loved one can either cause or exacerbate the condition. One woman has contended with both, but has found an outlet through running.

Nita Sweeney suffered not one, but multiple tragic losses all within the span of a single year. She had already been struggling with depression since 1994, but 2007 was a hellacious year.

First, her niece had been ill with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and passed away in February 2007.

“It really threw me for a loop just because it felt so wrong,” Sweeney told The Epoch Times.

A Tragic Series of Events

The second blow came when Sweeney’s husband’s friend passed away from pancreatic cancer in May 2007. In August, the third wave came when Sweeney’s father-in-law passed away. Then in September, her niece’s father passed away as well. To make matters worse, her niece’s cat Theo also died.

October was a rough month as well, after her mother’s ex-boyfriend passed away from lung cancer. Not long after, her mother’s best friend died in November after sustaining a head injury. To end the year, Sweeney’s mother passed away from surgical complications on December 30, 2007.

Sweeney and Nivam
Nita Sweeney (R) with friend Sue Nivam. (Courtesy of Sue Nivam)

Sweeney’s depression quickly spiraled downward during and after 2007. She found herself having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and showering. She also found herself overeating, irritable, and struggling to focus. Everyday tasks became unbearable.

For instance, Sweeney had been attending graduate school to get her master’s degree in creative writing and she noticed the depression affecting her work. She was trying to bind her thesis together, and became overwhelmed trying to put the pages in the binder.

“I just remember that moment of feeling everything is so hard. I just don’t know if I can do this anymore,” Sweeney recalled.

Running Therapy

In late 2009, Sweeney saw a friend’s social media post about a program called “Couch to 5K” and how running had become fun for her. She saw the post, and realized that she was the same age as her friend and about the same size.

“It planted a seed in the back of my mind,” Sweeney explained.

Once spring came around and the days became warmer, Sweeney committed herself to start running. She put on old hiking shoes, cotton sweat pants, and a cotton sweatshirt. She thought that she couldn’t do it by herself, so she decided to take her Labrador with her.

Sweeney with DeBord
Nita Sweeney (L) running with her friend Julie DeBord during the 2012 Columbus Marathon. (Courtesy of MarathonFoto)

Sweeney walked out her front door, and realized she didn’t want anyone to see her. She went down into a ravine, and ran 60 second sets with five minute intervals. She would run three times a week, and would increase the intensity of her workout over time.

Within a few weeks, she was running faster and faster. After about six months, she was running 5K races.

“I could sort of see my progress, and that, for me, helped. That was a little bit of a sense of achievement,” Sweeney explained.

Runner’s High

Now when Sweeney is running, she feels like she’s flying. The first mile is always the hardest, but after the first leg, the running takes over.

Furthermore, running gives Sweeney a sense of accomplishment and self worth. Physically, she experiences what is called “runner’s high” where everything feels a bit lighter for her.

By Oct. 12, 2012 Sweeney was running her first marathon in Columbus, Ohio. At first, she was fearful that she wouldn’t finish. However, by the time she turned the last corner and saw the finish line, she took off.

“We turned that corner and it was just like somebody shot me full of adrenaline, and I started sprinting,” Sweeney remembered.

Crossing the finish line
Nita Sweeney (L) with her friend Julie DeBord as they cross the finish line of the 2012 Columbus Marathon. (Courtesy of Sue Nivam)

In fact, she crossed the finish line and completely passed her friends who were holding a “Go Nita” sign.

To date, Sweeney has run three full marathons, 26 half marathons, and 60 shorter races. While Sweeney continues to battle depression, running has helped her contend with it immensely.

She will publish a book on May 15, 2019 entitled “Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink,” which recounts her experience battling depression, and how running has become an effective tool to contend with the condition.

Sweeney isn’t stopping anytime soon, and will be running another half marathon in Cleveland, Ohio on May 19, 2019.

“I always like to be training for a race. I like to have that thing in the future to work for,” Sweeney said.