Faith, depression and finding hope
Faith, depression and finding hope
16 October 2016
Jessica Morris was just a teenager when she was first diagnosed with depression. In her memoir, When Hope Speaks, she explores how faith, hope and love have sustained her through dark times.
When did you first get the inspiration to write "When Hope Speaks"?
I think in one sense I’ve been writing the book for quite a few years now because I regularly write just for myself and I often write for my website, so I’ve had quite a few pieces filed away. I’ve always wanted to write a book that could help and inspire others, and earlier this year I thought maybe I could make something out of what I’ve written instead of trying to start all over again.
When Hope Speaks is a compelling account of your journey with depression. Can you tell us when the symptoms first began?
I was diagnosed with severe depression when I was 13 – severe means I was suicidal – and I had completely shut down as well. I showed symptoms before that and definitely had anxiety even as a kid when I went through a bit of bullying. I couldn’t tell you what triggered it; I think everything came to a head and I stopped feeling, I stopped caring, and I felt like a living shell. My parents knew the signs of depression and realised how bad I was. My mum took me to a GP who made the diagnosis and I was referred to a psychologist named Frank, who is mentioned in the book, and who helped me to overcome a lot of my fears over the years.
What was your educational journey and what tertiary studies did you undertake?
Technically I went to high school the whole time, even though I missed so much because of my depression. I had amazing teachers who were really understanding, and a lot of them went to the church I attended. At 18 I enrolled at Deakin University, majoring in journalism, media and communications. Midway through my second year I met fellow students who were American missionaries, and that’s when I really found friends and became interested in travel.
How has your faith in God impacted your experiences with depression?
My faith gave me a reason to live. When things were really bad I could have taken my life. Though I was doing everything I could to get better – I still had a great relationship with my family, I still had good friends – the only thing that pulled me through was the comforting presence of God and his words in Isaiah 43: "When you walk through the fire I will be with you." When I thought about giving up I knew that God had a purpose for me, so I made a promise to him: "I won’t go until you’ve finished your work in me." Even though counselling was the most difficult thing I’d ever done in my life, God gave me hope to hold on and believe that there was something beyond my depression and something to fight for as well. Then I realised my journey actually had purpose and meaning.
Are there specific people in your life who have been especially inspirational to you?
I could never speak highly enough of my parents, who were so patient and never once doubted my ability to overcome this. We went to counselling as a family. My twin sister Rachel and I are very similar in many ways. Rachel is the visionary and I am a details person; she sees the person I could be and believes in that. I’ve been really blessed with an incredible family and incredible friends. I’ve also found friendship at quite a few different churches and met many inspirational people on my travels.
You have a Salvation Army background. Can you tell us about that?
My parents, Duncan and Colleen, are former Salvation Army officers, and my grandparents on both sides – Dad’s parents, Hilton and Wilga Morris, and Mum’s parents, Reg and Trish Skelton – devoted their lives to officership. What I love about my parents and grandparents is their dedication to actually helping people, their hunger for social justice and how getting their hands dirty was part and parcel of their faith.
You have made quite a few solo trips overseas. How has that travel impacted your life?
My first trip to the US, in 2011 when I was 21, was to visit friends I met at university and it was the first time I was really stepping out on my own. I went back in 2012, and my third trip was for an internship with To Write Love on Her Arms (a non-profit dedicated to helping those with depression). That was hugely formative because it taught me how to communicate with people who had different beliefs and different values from me and I learnt more about mental illness. I’ve made a couple of other trips and I feel God has called me to live and work in the US.
Journalist, social media director, graphic designer, copy editor and web designer – what is it that impels you to communicate?
I enjoy writing for Warcry and On Fire and also RELEVANT magazine, JesusWired and Forte magazine, and frequently work as a music journalist. I always loved writing, always loved words, but in terms of journalism I feel there is such huge potential to reach people with a positive view so have pursued this as a vocation.
What gives you joy?
I think because I fought so long to be happy I find joy now in little things – friends, watching my favourite TV show, sunshine on my face, hearing my favourite song on the radio and being with my family.
What are your hopes for When Hope Speaks?
I hope the book resonates with readers. Writing moves me and brings me closer to God and when I’m at my lowest it gives me a reason to stay alive. I really want my words to mean something. Whether people enjoy reading my book or whether they have been through depression like me, I would just love my story to find a home in those who read it.
When Hope Speaks is available from Salvationist Supplies.
Article first published in On Fire Magazine.