Jo McFarlane, Survivor!

One woman's remarkable journey from misery to hope

Posted Jan 06, 2016

Photo by Tony Marsh, used with permission from Jo McFarlane
Source: Photo by Tony Marsh, used with permission from Jo McFarlane

On the eve of the millennium Jo McFarlane leapt off a 100 foot cliff to almost certain death. She survived this and numerous other serious attempts on her own life, her misery and despair occasioned by extreme childhood deprivation and trauma, dyslexia, and devastating prolonged episodes of mental ill-health.

Transformed (but still on medication for a form of bipolar schizo-affective disorder), through public speaking, committee work and especially through her poetry, Jo now embodies a beacon of hope, spiritual wisdom and love.

Jo’s inspiring journey of recovery and hope can be found in her 2014 autobiography, Skydiving For Beginners. Reviewing this extraordinary and wonderful memoir for Psychiatric Bulletin in 2015, Femi Oyebode (a Professor of Psychiatry in Birmingham) wrote, “This book will surprise you, shock you, and intrigue you but ultimately it will fill you with admiration and respect for the author”. I completely agree.

When she jumped off Salisbury Craggs, high cliffs in Edinburgh, Jo was experiencing “Whispering voices in my head, malevolent and growing in intensity (which) finally drove me to the edge”. After several such determined attempts at self-destruction, she wrote, “The natural impulse is to feel relieved and thankful”.

Scottish Recovery Network, used with permission from Jo McFarlane
Source: Scottish Recovery Network, used with permission from Jo McFarlane

Late in her book, she describes a turning point, a kind of epiphany that occurred when she was encouraged to set down her own spiritual "mission statement." Jo wrote, “When I picked up the pen, the most miraculous thing happened. I was suddenly filled with the most complete feeling of harmony and joy. My eyes flooded with grateful tears and I started writing as though the pen were moving of its own accord: My mission, the purpose of my life, is to know You in all things, to love and worship You with every fibre of my being, and to radiate Your love to the world.”

I count myself fortunate to be in contact with Jo, a very remarkably generous and positive person. In one of her messages recently she told me she was "a lapsed Catholic," but that nevertheless, Spiritual themes are a central concern for me in my life and writing.” I replied that, rather than lapsed, she seemed to me to be a mature religious and spiritual person, having gone forward like many others who feel restricted by the strict nature, the lack of spontaneity and the joylessness of many prescribed forms of religion. Another collection of her poetry is called, "God in All Her Colours," and who else but a spiritual genius could have written beautiful compassionate poems like "First Aid" and "Deep Breathing"?

First Aid

On a day when death’s preferable

To breathing in and out,

I’ll look back on this reminder,

Try to think of all that’s good….

The pastel sunset in the sky,

The chatter of the rain

The resurrection of each day

Again, again, again….

The comfort of a friendly voice,

The smile that fills my heart

The beauty of sweet poetry,

The miracle of art….

A flower rejoicing in its prime,

A bumblebee in flight

The curling up of purring cats

Into the breast of night….

The healing hand of strangers

When I cannot feel my pulse

The bandage in a silent prayer,

The grace to simply trust.

Deep Breathing

We dream or dread the future,

Regret or rejoice in the past.

But only in the present

Do we breathe this breath,

Only in the present do we live.

Her life bears out my conviction about a spiritual dimension at the core of health and mental health, and we are wise to acknowledge and discover it in our own lives, as well as those we care for and care about. Thank you, Jo… And God bless you always!

Copyright Larry Culliford, except:

Poems copyright Jo McFarlane, taken from ‘Coming Up for Air’ – A collection of poems inspired by the theme of recovery: produced for the Scottish Recovery Network Gathering 2011.

‘Skydiving For Beginners’, is now available to purchase via the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance for a mere £7 per copy!   To obtain a copy simply email:  

See also Jo’s website:

Larry’s latest book is ‘Much Ado about Something: a vision of Christian maturity’. Earlier books include ‘The Psychology of Spirituality’, and ‘Love, Healing & Happiness’.

Listen to Larry interviewed live on ‘The Coaching Show’ on 4th February, 2015.

Listen to Larry’s Keynote Address to the British Psychological Society’s Transpersonal Section via You Tube (1 hr 12 min).

See Larry interviewing JC Mac about ‘spiritual emergence’ on You Tube (5 min).