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Thank you so much for taking the time respond to my questions!
I’ve met you through CreativeLive but for the readers who don’t know you yet, can you tell us more about yourself?
My name Mariangela but people call me M 🙂 or Momma Bear 😉
I am a 43-year-old producer and photographer and have been married to my husband Ryan for 21 years and we have a 21-year-old daughter who is a professional ballerina.
I am a curvy feminist who will most likely try to feed you pasta more than a few times, and I consider myself a foodie with a side of trashy food cravings 😉
Can you tell us more about your project Faces of Fortitude?
Faces of Fortitude is a portrait project that gives a safe space to people’s life stories of how suicide and mental illness has affected their lives. Whether it be loss, attempt, a first responder or support, there are tons of ways it can touch someone’s life.
This project explores that and gives a space to those people and their pain.
What is the story behind Faces of Fortitude? Why did you start this project?
The project was born out of my own trauma. I tried to take my own life at 17 after a sexual assault. Then 10 years ago my brother took his own life.
I have searched for years for a creative outlet to both help myself heal and help others access their healing needs.
I heard a photographer named Stacy Pearsall talk about starting a personal project and taking trauma and turning it into something good, and I realized I had to do this.
When it started and I thought I would just take a few photos of family and friends affected, and that would be it. But it snowballed quickly into something bigger than I imagined.
Now I get 5-10 messages a day from people wanting to share their story. Some just want to be seen and heard and some just thanking me for creating the series so they don’t feel alone.
It’s been overwhelmingly wonderful.
It must have been difficult to share your story. What gave you the strength to do it?
I will be 100% transparent here, it wasn’t difficult for me. I am the type of person that wears ALL of my feelings and pain on my sleeve. I am absolutely candid about things as I feel like it’s so hard on our souls to keep that stuff inside.
My grief process the first year after my brother’s death, was to tell the story of how he died, every day for a year.
It was so good for me on a few levels:
- it removed trigger phrases and words
- also, it made clear to those around me not sure how to talk about it, that it was ok
The tendency to a suicide death is to whisper or have awk silences, and I made it clear that wasn’t how I wanted my process to be.
What did you learn from interviewing so many people affected by suicide?
The biggest thing I have learned is how amazingly powerful the human spirit is. Both my own and the people who I have photographed or talked to.
The stories. It’s all so much trauma and sadness, but the upswings are just mind-blowing.
The way these people have been able to take their pain and turn it into a fuel for their own life – it’s nothing short of inspiring.
You’ve talked to a lot of people, are there any stories that particularly touched you?
I was recently asked this and my answer has not changed and will not change; HOW on earth do I compare?
Is it the mother who lost her 15-year-old son and has now created an incredible blog for her loss journey and carrying his last words and name on to help other teens?
Is it the young aspiring illustrator that has to walk by the bridge where her close friend jumped and ended her life, daily on her way to school?
Is it the grandmother of 3 who lost a son to suicide and then another son 3 weeks later in a snowmobile accident?
Is it the young man who is constantly compared to his late uncle who had a psychotic break and jumped out of a building and now he worries people see him as the same kind of unstable?
Or how about the young woman who has struggled with her mental health and dark thoughts her whole life and finally found the medication that has helped her feel the sun on her face again?
Pain and sadness are relative.
I think society trying to categorize people’s stories and judging them is why we have a stigma today. They have ALL touched me. I am like a neutral momma bear LOL I refuse to choose!
You attempted suicide when you were 17 years old, what would you tell your younger self, today?
Wow, I have never been asked this before but I knew it was coming.
I would tell myself that high school is a BLIP in your life. A small fraction of your lifespan and none of those people who are hurting you will matter in 20 years, in fact, most will be stuck in the same town and not doing much with their lives.
You will be great, and this pain will make you fierce. It will get better, and so will you.
When you are dealing with depression and anxiety it’s not easy to ask for help. Do you have any tips for someone struggling with life so they can get help?
My tips: Find an outlet. Find a hobby.
Practice creativity every day in some way.
Depression and anxiety can be felt down to your fingertips. So use those fingers and do something.
If you can’t get out of bed, try to just sit up, and grab a book. Read a poem, OUT LOUD.
Hold a cold drink out of the fridge, close your eyes and feel the temperature change in your body and know that your feelings will also change.
Look out the window and find something beautiful and let it make you smile.
Know that talking about feelings, no matter how wild they may be, will get those feelings outside of your body, and that in itself is healing. Hold on for 5 min, 30 min, and know that it will change.
What can people do to support friends and family members struggling with life?
Listen. LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN.
I used to be known as a chronic “fixer”. It’s an innate quality in most mothers. If you come to us with a problem, we will drop everything and FIX it for you.
But what I have learned is, sometimes those we love come to us to be heard. They don’t want to be fixed, they want to be understood and validated.
So if someone comes to me now, with an issue, I will usually say “I am here to listen” and then say how it makes me feel and how badly I feel for them or their situation and THEN I say: “I am here for you always – and this sucks what is happening. If and when you are in a place that you want help finding outlets or answers, let me know – I am here. But until then, I will gladly sit next to you during this. As support.”
What do you wish people knew about mental illness?
That there is no reason. There is no cause.
If people could make themselves feel happy or positive don’t you think they would do it?
People need to know that the majority of humans that suffer from mental illness are JUST as frustrated as you that they don’t know what’s wrong or what can help it!
Your diagnosis and remedies don’t help them, they really end up being self-serving.
I want people to know its ok to NOT be ok and to sit and process that a while.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to these questions. Where can the readers of Hello Peaceful Mind follow you?
Thank YOU for bringing this topic into the light! It’s so so important!
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Over to you
If you could start a project like Stacy Pearsall and Mariangela, what would it be about?
I think I would talk about the different faces of depression because people have a hard time to believe that I am struggling with mental health since I am a very social person, and laugh all the time.
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