Still in her early 30s, author Jo Swinney has had enough real life experience to rival someone twice her age.
Honest and open about her struggle with depression, the author of Through The Dark Woods : A Young Woman’s Journey Out of Depression, radiates a sense of hope despite the stigma often attached to those who suffer with it.
When I was low, that was the time I really hung onto God."
Bringing hope and faith to sufferers from depression
For most people, depression is something that happens to someone else, and in later life. For Jo Swinney, and thousands like her, the invisible, debilitating illness struck in her vulnerable school-age years.
Life as a lonely Christian
The only English kid in her Algarve school, and bullied for her Christian faith, she says that by the age of 10 or 11 it wasn’t worth the hassle of being a Christian.
Then, out on a beach and out of the blue, she had an experience of the Holy Spirit that literally knocked her flat.
“I had no clue what was going on,” she says, “but that was the beginning of knowing God was real and cared about me and loved me.
Faith and facing depression
Jo’s is no simplistic ‘faith cures depression’ story. The illness affected her faith in deep ways. “When I was low, that was the time I really hung onto God. I felt I was crying to God with the same intensity as some of the psalmists.”
She describes her illness as feeling like there were two versions of her; the depressed one having the ability to “pop up and ruin the fun of the other one” at any time.
I have been told to repent and find the sin that’s causing my depression. That makes me spitting mad.”
The start of a long road
Studying for her Masters in Christian Studies at Regents College, Vancouver, someone put her in touch with a Christian physiatrist. Initially dismissive, she soon realised she was unwell and didn’t need to be.
“There were things I could do to get better,” she recalls. "I ended up seeing her every week for three years. She got me on medication that years later I’m still on.”
Spitting mad and speaking out
Now a mother of two, writer, speaker, keen cook and gardener, Jo is passionate about educating the Church on the issue of depression and visibly frustrated by negative Christian attitudes.
“I have been told to repent and find the sin that’s causing my depression. That makes me spitting mad,” says Jo. But ever positive, she believes that progress is being made. “More and more people will confess to it without shame,” she says.
Helping others find their help
Jo wrote up her story, Through The Dark Woods : A Young Woman’s Journey Out of Depression as an inspiration to other sufferers, and continues to write and speak on depression and attitudes towards those who suffer with it.
Her latest book, God Hunting: A Journey of Spiritual Discovery, relates her experiences with the six spiritual disciplines.
“People have been really encouraged by it,” she explains, “because I’m quite honest about how rubbish I am!”
Keeping faith and keeping family
In her latest book, Keeping Faith: Being Family When Belief is in Question, released in September 2012, Jo attempts to build bridges between Christians and their grown-up children who have turned away from faith. “Parents feel desperately responsible,” she says, “so they carry that burden of failure into their relationship with their kids.”
From the children’s point of view, Jo explains, “A lot felt like they hadn’t the ability to ask questions. Parents seemed incredibly defensive and fearful and would just shut them down and give them pat answers.”
It's been a difficult road for Jo. But with a quiet confidence in God, and thanks to her honesty, it looks like there's plenty more to come from this talented author.
Quick Guide to God Hunting by Jo Swinney
What is it?
- Jo Swinney's month by month diary of discovery as she hunts for God through the six spiritual disciplines of Prayer, Fasting, Bible study, Worship, Solitude and Simplicity.
- "An exciting adventure - and terrifying at the same time, because if we search for God, he will be found - then there's no knowing what might happen," says Jo Swinney.
March 14th, 2013 - Posted & Written by The Editor