‘OUTRUNNING THE DEMONS – lives transformed through running’, by PHIL HEWITT: A ‘MUST-READ’ BOOK!

Phil Hewitt’s book, ‘OUTRUNNING THE DEMONS: lives transformed through running’, I have never connected with a book quite like I have done with this one, never has a book so resonated with me, never have I been so energised in the reading of a book, never has “I just couldn’t put the book down” so applied to a book I’ve been reading as it has applied to this one.

I ‘get’ running, running has changed my life, just as it has changed the lives of Phil, the author, just as it has changed the lives of everyone Phil interviewed for his book, a book of, for me, biblical proportions in its revelations, insight and truth! To read the stories of those Phil interviewed, to read their take on running, their words, and Phil’s empathetic, insightful, beautiful paraphrasing, it, at times, took my breath away. Quite often, tears well up in my eyes!

Hanny Allston:

“Running along a trail becomes my sanctuary, a place where I find my mind will slowly quiet over the duration of the run…”

Phil, in his Lisa Taylor interview chapter:

“The real pleasure is to run in the cold beside a misty river, the kind of run where you shiver as you step outside, where you relish the haze over the water as you pound out the distance and return home sweaty but reinvigorated – a chance to think about everything and about nothing.”

The sense of camaraderie that I now share with Phil and with those whom he has interviewed, it is palpable. I so ‘get’ what many of the interviewees say about depression:

Jason Nelson:

“Depression has a dark vice-like grip that doesn’t want to let go or let up. It is a darkened cell, from which it is very hard to escape”,

 – ain’t that the truth, Jason?!

Never have I so wanted to meet the author of a book I have read.  How Phil writes about running, how he expresses what running is to him, it is awesome writing:

“Running is fun but hard work; it is draining yet enriching; depleting and yet deeply restorative; sobering and yet intoxicating. It is individual and yet collective; it is sweaty and yet beautiful; it is art and, yes, it is science too. Running is accessible and yet so often remarkable; it is prosaic and yet poetic, a challenge and yet a delight; and perhaps above all it manages somehow to be both freedom and connection…. Running sets our spirits soaring. No wonder we feel better when we run.” What glorious, beautifully expressive language!

And the science isn’t ignored:

Dr. Ross Dunne, ‘consultant psychiatrist for later life with the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust’:

“Running enhances the birth rate of new neurons in the central nervous system. In several types of experiments, running in animals has been found to increase the rate at which new nerve cells are created in an area called the dentate gyrus, which is embedded in an area of the brain known to be important in mood and memory – the hippocampus…. People who don’t understand depression infer that depression itself is sort of a ‘lack of willpower’ (they do, doc, they do!). It isn’t, any more than allowing your cancer to spread is a lack of ‘self-control’ (well said, doc!), an idea you hopefully find idiotic. Nonetheless, small steps towards ‘behavioural activation’ can be achieved, and with every step, the person with  depression re-learns that they have control of at least a corner of their illness, at least a portion of their life… After some time, there is a greater sense of an ‘internal locus of control’ – the idea that at least some of my stressors can be managed by me, that I am not merely a pinball in  a machine”

The joy I felt in reading that!!

This book resonates with me on a number of levels – as someone who suffers from and with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and OCD, as someone for whom running has been a saviour, as a running evangelist, as someone who spends a lot of time raising awareness of depression and associated mental illnesses and I am also training, with my son, to run 100 miles to raise awareness of addiction and the work of ICA, the Israel Centre on Addiction, and to raise money for the organization.

Linda Quirk (interviewed by Phi):

“Why we run and why we become addicted to drugs have something in common: dopamine. Dopamine is one of about a half dozen neurotransmitters in the brain (out of about 50 discovered to date) that play a key role in addiction. Dopamine is responsible for pleasure and is released in the brain when we do things like eat chocolate, have sex, do drugs or run. Research ha shown that exercising animals are less inclines to tap a lever for morphine and it’s likely that humans experience similar effects, which is why exercise often plays a key role in recovery at treatment centres. Running and other exercise release dopamine and can provide a natural high that has the potential to help addicts overcome drug and alcohol cravings”.

This book is going to prove life-changing for me. I’m currently writing a book, my journey into the depths of depression, my insights, the realisations which have dawned on my throughout the journey or, rather, since I’ve been able to come up for air, and how I manage my depression, anxiety, panic attacks and OCD. Running has a starring role in the book: as I say, “my meds allow me to function, running allows me to live” and “my meds don’t live my life for me, they merely allow ME to live MY life, MYSELF”. I have to get out more, keep writing, keep spreading the messages via social media but I have to get into schools, talk to teachers and children about depression, mental illness generally, about the importance of stress-management techniques, about running, and exercise generally, I have to get into workplaces, talk to employers and employees, just as I have to talk to teachers and pupils, I have to shout the messages from the rooftops!

I cannot recommend this book enough – everyone should read it, everyone has something to gain by reading this book!! Thank you, Phil, for writing it and I wish you well on the road of your own recovery!

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