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Running Is a Kind of Dreaming: A Memoir

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A powerful, breathtaking memoir about a young man's descent into madness, and how running saved his life. “Voluntary or involuntary?” Asked the nurse who admitted Thompson to a San Francisco psychiatric hospital in January 2005. For years, Thompson had been tortured by his mind. First there was depression, then ineffective but highly addictive medication, and finally therapy A powerful, breathtaking memoir about a young man's descent into madness, and how running saved his life. “Voluntary or involuntary?” Asked the nurse who admitted Thompson to a San Francisco psychiatric hospital in January 2005. For years, Thompson had been tortured by his mind. First there was depression, then ineffective but highly addictive medication, and finally therapy, where he fell further into an inescapable darkness. After a suicide attempt, he spent weeks confined on the psych ward, feeling alone and trapped. One afternoon, during an exercise break on the hospital rooftop basketball court, he experienced a sudden urge. Run, I thought. Run before it’s too late and you’re stuck down here. Right now. Run.      The impulse that starts with sprints across a hospital rooftop turns into all-night runs in the  mountains. Through motion and immersion in the perfection of nature, Thompson finds a way out of the hell of depression and drug addiction. Step by step, mile by mile, his body and mind heal. In this lyrical, vulnerable, and breath-taking debut memoir, J.M. Thompson, now a successful psychologist, retraces the path that led him from despair to wellness, detailing the chilling childhood trauma that caused his mind to snap and sink, and the unorthodox treatment that finally saved him. Running Is A Kind Of Dreaming is a luminous literary testament to the universal human capacity to recover from our deepest wounds.


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A powerful, breathtaking memoir about a young man's descent into madness, and how running saved his life. “Voluntary or involuntary?” Asked the nurse who admitted Thompson to a San Francisco psychiatric hospital in January 2005. For years, Thompson had been tortured by his mind. First there was depression, then ineffective but highly addictive medication, and finally therapy A powerful, breathtaking memoir about a young man's descent into madness, and how running saved his life. “Voluntary or involuntary?” Asked the nurse who admitted Thompson to a San Francisco psychiatric hospital in January 2005. For years, Thompson had been tortured by his mind. First there was depression, then ineffective but highly addictive medication, and finally therapy, where he fell further into an inescapable darkness. After a suicide attempt, he spent weeks confined on the psych ward, feeling alone and trapped. One afternoon, during an exercise break on the hospital rooftop basketball court, he experienced a sudden urge. Run, I thought. Run before it’s too late and you’re stuck down here. Right now. Run.      The impulse that starts with sprints across a hospital rooftop turns into all-night runs in the  mountains. Through motion and immersion in the perfection of nature, Thompson finds a way out of the hell of depression and drug addiction. Step by step, mile by mile, his body and mind heal. In this lyrical, vulnerable, and breath-taking debut memoir, J.M. Thompson, now a successful psychologist, retraces the path that led him from despair to wellness, detailing the chilling childhood trauma that caused his mind to snap and sink, and the unorthodox treatment that finally saved him. Running Is A Kind Of Dreaming is a luminous literary testament to the universal human capacity to recover from our deepest wounds.

30 review for Running Is a Kind of Dreaming: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I received a PRC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my review. As he runs a 200+mile ultramarathon around Lake Tahoe, the author chronicles his traumatic childhood and his descent into depression, substance abuse, and psychosis. This memoir doesn't hold back and I found myself rooting for the author, both on the trail and off. He says running saved his life. I have no doubt. Beautiful writing makes this a great read for runners and non-runners. I received a PRC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my review. As he runs a 200+mile ultramarathon around Lake Tahoe, the author chronicles his traumatic childhood and his descent into depression, substance abuse, and psychosis. This memoir doesn't hold back and I found myself rooting for the author, both on the trail and off. He says running saved his life. I have no doubt. Beautiful writing makes this a great read for runners and non-runners.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Juliana Philippa

    There is a path ahead of me. Nothing is ever altogether lost. There is a ground beneath us that never goes away. HarperCollins sure got their targeting right when they emailed me the promo for this book two days ago. It was like HC knew that I've been in the midst of a dark depressive episode for over a year (my 13th and longest by far) and had just a few days before started contemplating running in order to try to lose some of the weight I've put on from psychiatric medications. And tada! He There is a path ahead of me. Nothing is ever altogether lost. There is a ground beneath us that never goes away. HarperCollins sure got their targeting right when they emailed me the promo for this book two days ago. It was like HC knew that I've been in the midst of a dark depressive episode for over a year (my 13th and longest by far) and had just a few days before started contemplating running in order to try to lose some of the weight I've put on from psychiatric medications. And tada! Here it was: a book about mental illness and running! And a memoir to boot!! I was ready to be inspired. I didn't even finish reading the entire email—I automatically went to the Kindle page, hovered for about a second, and then purchased it (and I normally don't purchase Kindle books unless they're in the $0.99-$2.99 sale range ... as in I have maybe purchased 5-10 regularly-priced Kindle books ever, this one included. I may own thousands of Kindle books, but I'm a print book girl at heart and that's where I like to spend my book money). The book is eminently readable (if my finishing it in 3 days didn't clue you in), though certainly difficult at times and full of triggers for a variety of people (drugs, mental illness, abusive/neglectful parents, trauma). The backdrop is a 205-mile run around Lake Tahoe that Thompson is completing in 4 days, and interspersed with the tale of that run is his childhood, his descent into depression, his drug abuse, and his ultimate triumph over his demons—and the long and slow slog it took to get there. I couldn't help smiling when I would read the parts of his mindset while he was running, looking forward to seeing his wife and children at different aid stations, knowing that he was in such a different place from the setting we kept going back to. What do you call the place where the sun feels really hot and the creek feels really cold and food tastes really good and your loved ones feel so precious you want to weep with joy? Reality. And that's it for now, I've run out of steam, no pun intended. There's so much more I wanted to write, but depression is a bitch—as this book so successfully shows—I'll try to finish up another day.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Long

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. Nature, ultra running, mental illness, healing from trauma. This book has it all. Nature is always good therapy and Thompson got the urge to start running and realized it was very good for not only his physical health but his mental health too. Enjoyable book that takes the reader on quite a journey.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dillon Allen-Perez

    8/10 Reading about J.M. Thompson’s accomplishments and present life, you’d think he has plenty to brag about. He’s a well-educated psychologist, a physically fit ultramarathon runner, an ordained Zen practitioner, he’s married and has two children. He doesn’t do any bragging in this book, though. Running is a Kind of Dreaming explores the cosmic range of human emotion. Mostly, Thompson drags the reader through the depths of trauma, depression, addiction, and suicidal thought. He tells us the reali 8/10 Reading about J.M. Thompson’s accomplishments and present life, you’d think he has plenty to brag about. He’s a well-educated psychologist, a physically fit ultramarathon runner, an ordained Zen practitioner, he’s married and has two children. He doesn’t do any bragging in this book, though. Running is a Kind of Dreaming explores the cosmic range of human emotion. Mostly, Thompson drags the reader through the depths of trauma, depression, addiction, and suicidal thought. He tells us the reality that prefaced his return to the lighter side of life, with his own happily ever after. This memoir is well written. It’s so well written that it’s hard to read through the long passages of hard drug use. It’s vivid in each moment. Thompson refuses to hold back. He paints an intricate image of the highs and lows of human experience—the mundane, cosmic joys felt after emerging from the unbearable, imploding depressions. Distance running is both a refuge from and a metaphor for this human struggle: “The trick is to abandon any attachment to getting anywhere and just put your head down and march up the mountain, grunting.” Albert Camus (translated here by Justin O’Brien) once wrote that “[t]here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards.” I could use this quote in the context of analyzing J.M. Thomspon’s memoir to say that he is a philosopher to the most fundamental degree, or that he is even more so a philosopher than a psychologist, runner, or Zen master. However, I don’t believe philosophical questions are only faced by formal philosophers who have earned some kind of name for themselves by writing down their thoughts. Every single human being has their own philosophy, as every single human faces at least one philosophical problem, and it is life and death. By the end of his memoir, Thompson illustrates how he just may be a revolutionary force in helping the field of clinical psychology with its approach to treating patients dealing with their mental health. Here’s a passage that should be read by psychology students and experienced clinical practitioners alike: “The conventional wisdom used to be that in order for therapy to work, therapists needed to function as ‘blank slates’ upon which patients could project their longings, needs, and fantasies without the interference of knowing their therapists’ actual biographies. But the blank slate is a myth: therapists can’t avoid disclosing aspects of their identities automatically, for no other reason than their existence is embodied in directly observable features like ethnicity and age. Yet the de facto prohibition against therapist self-disclosure persists, in large part I believe because of stigma, and perhaps an overidentification by therapists in a ‘helper’ role and corresponding anxieties around any concessions to their own experiences of human vulnerability. I believe it’s time as a society that we move forward to a more honest and open dialogue about the reality of mental health. Removing stigma won’t eliminate mental illness, but it will make it easier to talk about it without adding an extra dose of shame to an already painful experience. Nobody wants the therapist who responds to the patient’s story by saying, ‘Well, you think you’ve got problems . . .’ The point of therapy is to heal the patient, not the doctor. But I don’t believe that any harm can come from greater clinician self-disclosure within appropriate circumstances. To the contrary, perhaps clinicians could model a compassionate and nonjudgmental attitude about mental illness by giving voice to their own experiences.”

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    When we first meet Mr. Thompson he is happily preparing to run 200 miles around Lake Tahoe with the support of his loving wife and daughter. As he runs he takes us back in time and tells us how he got here to this punishing and exhilarating 200 mile run, one of many 200 miles runs. The severe depression that brought him here is shattering. I’ve been depressed. We all have. For many of us it, fortunately comes and goes. To picture a Thompson curled into his wife’s lap in a fetal position crying hi When we first meet Mr. Thompson he is happily preparing to run 200 miles around Lake Tahoe with the support of his loving wife and daughter. As he runs he takes us back in time and tells us how he got here to this punishing and exhilarating 200 mile run, one of many 200 miles runs. The severe depression that brought him here is shattering. I’ve been depressed. We all have. For many of us it, fortunately comes and goes. To picture a Thompson curled into his wife’s lap in a fetal position crying his eyes out repeating, “I can’t, I can’t” is heartbreaking. At her insistence he finally gets serious help and admits himself into hospital, where he has the epiphany one night. “RUN” said his inner survival voice. So run he does. From running laps around the hospital roof to running 200 mile ultramarathons Thompson regains his spirit, mind and a full life through movement. It is during this long runs that he enters a dreamlike state that allows him to process his past, childhood to present and become at peace. Thompson reminds us that only we can save ourselves. Yes, sometimes that includes medication and therapy, sometimes it means divorcing, cutting ties with toxic people, leaving a job or place too…but it always involves tuning in to our inner voice that wants to save us. Survival the natural instinct of all animals, humans included. Listen to that survival voice for guidance. Thank you #netgalley for allowing me to read and review #RunningIsAKindOfDreaming

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sara Broad

    "Running is a Kind of Dreaming" by J.M. Thompson is a memoir of the author's life, specifically how running saved his life. The book opens with the beginning stage of a 200 mile run that Thompson is doing around Lake Tahoe, and the ensuing chapters go back and forth between different stages in the run and other parts of Thompson's life. I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy reading about Thompson's participation in the race, but it fits in really well with the rest of the book, and by the "Running is a Kind of Dreaming" by J.M. Thompson is a memoir of the author's life, specifically how running saved his life. The book opens with the beginning stage of a 200 mile run that Thompson is doing around Lake Tahoe, and the ensuing chapters go back and forth between different stages in the run and other parts of Thompson's life. I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy reading about Thompson's participation in the race, but it fits in really well with the rest of the book, and by the end, I am rooting for him to finish when he doesn't want to go on anymore! Thompson is born and raised in the U.K., and on a whim, he decides to attend the Burning Man Festival where he meets his wife and ultimately becomes a California transplant. His childhood is scarred by the mental and emotional unraveling of his parents, and the trauma he experiences as a result of this is a catalyst for his own unraveling as a husband and a father. Thompson spends years being incapacitated by severe depression coupled with drug and alcohol addiction. Through it all, though, he finds solace and strength in running, and eventually establishes a career for himself as a psychologist. I couldn't put this book down!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Running Is a Kind of Dreaming is the author's memoir of his experiences of life with severe depression. Thompson chronicles the childhood trauma that led to his depression and the struggle to find treatment that actually worked for him. After hitting the lowest of lows, he finds a path to healing, most importantly with ultrarunning. Running Is a Kind of Dreaming is a powerful and intense book. The author is brutally honest in all of his experiences, and I really want to applaud the voice he brin Running Is a Kind of Dreaming is the author's memoir of his experiences of life with severe depression. Thompson chronicles the childhood trauma that led to his depression and the struggle to find treatment that actually worked for him. After hitting the lowest of lows, he finds a path to healing, most importantly with ultrarunning. Running Is a Kind of Dreaming is a powerful and intense book. The author is brutally honest in all of his experiences, and I really want to applaud the voice he brings to mental health struggles. I found the format of the book to be interesting, with the author running an ultrarun as a continuous backdrop throughout the book. All aspects of the author's life are covered in this book with seemingly little held back, which adds to the authenticity of his story. And I appreciate the hope offered in this book, namely how running has helped him heal. While the summary of the book does a good job point this out, please note that there are trigger warnings for the topics of mental health issues discussed in great detail and suicidal thoughts/attempts. Thanks to Netgalley and HarperOne for this ARC; this is my honest and voluntary review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chad Guarino

    A harrowing tale of madness, addiction, and eventual solace and recovery through (ultra)running. JM Thompson juxtaposes scenes from a 200 mile ultramarathon he is participating in with flashbacks of his traumatic childhood, wayward young adulthood, and eventual descent into the abyss of depression as he attempts suicide and is admitted to a psych ward. It's a brutally honest memoir: Thompson pulls no punches in his depictions of his family, his own poor decision making, and drug usage. The reade A harrowing tale of madness, addiction, and eventual solace and recovery through (ultra)running. JM Thompson juxtaposes scenes from a 200 mile ultramarathon he is participating in with flashbacks of his traumatic childhood, wayward young adulthood, and eventual descent into the abyss of depression as he attempts suicide and is admitted to a psych ward. It's a brutally honest memoir: Thompson pulls no punches in his depictions of his family, his own poor decision making, and drug usage. The reader is dragged into the darkness with the author as he stuggles to find hope while his mind actively rebels against life. It all seems overwhelming until Thompson finds himself born anew on the trail, concentrating only on the next step forward, and the next, and the next. **I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and HarperOne**

  9. 4 out of 5

    CatReader

    Mixed feelings on this memoir. I applaud the author for sharing his personal and familial history with mental illness despite his work and reputation as a psychologist -- he is (unfortunately) correct that disclosing any history of mental illness when you work in healthcare can be stigmatizing and potentially career-threatning. He's certainly overcome a lot in his life and writes with a lot of humility despite his many accomplishments. On the other hand, I found the narrative style of the work p Mixed feelings on this memoir. I applaud the author for sharing his personal and familial history with mental illness despite his work and reputation as a psychologist -- he is (unfortunately) correct that disclosing any history of mental illness when you work in healthcare can be stigmatizing and potentially career-threatning. He's certainly overcome a lot in his life and writes with a lot of humility despite his many accomplishments. On the other hand, I found the narrative style of the work perplexing -- all the flipping back and forth in time, and all the suspenseful buildup of what trauma he had incurred during childhood that he spent decades suppressing and running away from, only to be let down with the eventual "reveal." While the author and his story certainly don't come across as pretentious, the narrative style flirts with pretention quite a bit.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeni

    The way this book was written was so very interesting. The focus is on one of the ultra-marathons Thompson has run, but his mental health experiences and history of trauma are interwoven throughout the run. The way this is done is almost stream of consciousness. The result is a feeling of working through something physically demanding, feeling at the end of your ability, and having memories and thoughts randomly pop into one's head. Thompson's descriptions of suicidal ideation and the state of m The way this book was written was so very interesting. The focus is on one of the ultra-marathons Thompson has run, but his mental health experiences and history of trauma are interwoven throughout the run. The way this is done is almost stream of consciousness. The result is a feeling of working through something physically demanding, feeling at the end of your ability, and having memories and thoughts randomly pop into one's head. Thompson's descriptions of suicidal ideation and the state of mind someone is in when suicidal was spot on. A very difficult read that took me a while to work through, but also very deep and thought provoking.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    *Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!!* As a ultra runner, I was estatic to get my hands on this book! Just like an ultra marathon itself, this book takes you on a journey. There's ups and there's downs but this memoir never bored me. His writing was absolutely beautiful and I loved the focus on mental health and how running helped saved him. Even if you are not a runner, I think this is such a beautiful story and great writi *Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!!* As a ultra runner, I was estatic to get my hands on this book! Just like an ultra marathon itself, this book takes you on a journey. There's ups and there's downs but this memoir never bored me. His writing was absolutely beautiful and I loved the focus on mental health and how running helped saved him. Even if you are not a runner, I think this is such a beautiful story and great writing, that I would highly recommend it!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eileen Burke

    I really enjoyed this book. Excellent writing. There were times when I found it would jump around a bit but honestly, it added to the story as I felt it gave perspective on the author’s frame of mind. This was definitely a book I looked forward to picking up each night. Will be handing it to my husband to read next. Will recommend to friends.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    This isn't the point of the book, but I couldn't shake feeling sad for his wife. Reading between the lines, it seems like a lonely marriage. He is first consumed by substances/depression/psychosis, then working long hours in graduate school and spending all of free time running or meditating. This isn't the point of the book, but I couldn't shake feeling sad for his wife. Reading between the lines, it seems like a lonely marriage. He is first consumed by substances/depression/psychosis, then working long hours in graduate school and spending all of free time running or meditating.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very brave of Jason to write this book. I’m sure he’d rather be known as the husband and father and friend he is now than the man he once was. But if baring you’re soul can help one person hang in there it’s worth it. Worth reading. Glad he made it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pavel

    Such an enjoyable read! This work is really well written. The author's story - is the perfect representation of our human experience full of good and bad moments. Thompson never emphasis that running could be a therapy for everyone but sure enough, everyone can find something useful in his story Such an enjoyable read! This work is really well written. The author's story - is the perfect representation of our human experience full of good and bad moments. Thompson never emphasis that running could be a therapy for everyone but sure enough, everyone can find something useful in his story

  16. 4 out of 5

    Trisha

    I am so excited to read this! A huge thank you to the author and publisher for providing an e-ARC via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lemair

  20. 4 out of 5

    Strad

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jimi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rene

  23. 4 out of 5

    Darshan M

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karthik

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ron S

  26. 4 out of 5

    Constance Clifton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  28. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Farley

  29. 5 out of 5

    Haryadi

  30. 5 out of 5

    James

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