Christian author tells of depression experience
Speaker, author and blogger, Jo Swinney, is a woman with a mammoth crusade birthed on the inside of her heart having survived depression. Today she is an ardent messenger of hope and encouragement for others especially during Mental Health Awareness Week (16 – 22 May).
Sandie Shirley reports
Jo was due to share her story at the Norwich Christian resource centre, Revelation lastmonth. Although the event was cancelled, manager, Steve Foyster, who is also a trained mental health tutor, is hoping that Jo will be able to make the Norwich venue in the autumn with renewed attendance support.
“If 30 or 40 people would be interested in pre-buying tickets to hear Jo’s story – or any other author concerning mental health issues - we are running a new series of events later in the year,” says Steve.
Despite Jo’s missed appearance, Network Norfolk website was able to speak to Jo prior to Mental Health Awareness Week.
The mother of two, who is married to a church leader, has endured dark days and desperate nights that have sapped her strength and muddled her mind. But Jo is a survivor who has also thrived despite some of the most testing times of her life that began at 13. As a result she has an overflowing bank of resources and learning that she is keen to share, despite recurring battles with depression that can come with heightened stress.
Jo has a tender heart although it has been wrenched and seemingly taken apart, during pain and isolation. “I know that God has held onto me,” says the fresh-faced young woman who has a keen, hard-won, wisdom and sensitivity.
“Part of the suffering of depression is the sense of isolation and being alone but telling your story builds solidarity which is validating and comforting for others,” she says.
Her knowledge and prolific writing – author, editor, journalist and devotional writer – has highlighted that “you don’t have to lie down under depression.” And as a speaker at churches, schools and conferences, she appreciates the personal interactive times afterwards.
In essence, Jo has pressed through the breaking and re-making times, seeking the hand of God to lead her on.
“Depression is mystifying for those who have never experienced it. The more we explain from the inside, the more compassionate others become. It is hard to talk about but it is helping to break down the stigma.
“Church leaders have a responsibility to have a good robust theology of suffering; there should be room for lament and the acceptance of people’s pain because life is not always rosy and happy. Churches work their best when they function as a family and often in a small group setting, looking out for others. It helps to have a growing awareness and knowledge of depression – providing a list of counsellors, websites and staging seminars at times,” says Jo.
“Depression can be intimidating but it is important to remain engaged in little ways – texting, giving lifts, offering invitations – even if they are declined - so sufferers know they are still wanted.”
Jo’s depression began when she was sent away from a secure, close-knit Portuguese family community to an English boarding school at 13.
“I did not know anyone and the winters were dark and rainy,” says Jo who grappled with homesickness, culture shock and was bullied. “I was eating and sleeping among people who were out to crush me and I did not have the resources to cope. My identity and security were almost erased. I was exhausted, panic-stricken and there was a sense of darkness and hopelessness. I became a shadowy, pale wispy person. I felt unnoticed and when I did not show up one afternoon everyone thought I was a suicide risk.
“From then, until my mid-twenties, depression was an Achilles’ heel that could be triggered by boyfriend problems and exam stress. In the meantime I bumped along at low-par for a long time which was not normal. I should have been happy and confident, with no sense of dread, but I did not live like that until I met a wonderful psychiatrist when I lived in Canada.
“Now I don’t think you have to lie down under depression. Medication, CBT and exercise can help although some sufferers are chronically depressed.
“Last year was the first time that I went properly under after a long time,” admits Jo who was coping with stress. “I am better equipped to recognise it now so I saw my doctor more regularly and increased my medication. I went on overdrive with sensible self-care with bedtimes, healthy food (alcohol and cake are unhelpful) and spending time with people who were good for me.”
Jo Swinney (www.joswinney.com ) has authored four books. Her best-selling title, Through the Dark Woods, can be ordered through Revelation and includes correct diagnosis, impact on relationships/career and practical strategies. Contact Steve Foyster to hear her speak: firstname.lastname@example.org