By Mariangela Abeo

Now just as the title states, its true, and I’m sure you are skeptical. But I have found light in ultimate darkness. In the darkness of mental illness and suicide. Let me explain.

As the creator and photographer of Faces of Fortitude – I talk to people affected in any way by suicide. They apply to be part of the project, and after my vetting process, if they are chosen, we sit and discuss our stories together. I tell them my story, as a sexual assault survivor, and a survivor of my own attempt at 17, and then about the loss of my only brother to completed suicide. I give them a safe space to share their story, and we discuss one on one, our grief. During that session I take photos, of the emotions that they cycle through. Then down the road their images and small quotes from our chat are shared with the world.

It’s all pretty magical for me. You are probably saying to yourself – WHAT is magical about hearing sad stories for hours at a time? Don’t you see it? It’s SO MAGIC. 90% of people who either know what I do or hear about it say to me  – “THIS IS SO HEAVY, How do you DO it??”. Its baffling to me that people can only see the darkness in it.

SO when I am told that my response is always the same: “What is heavy?” and they reply “Hearing those tragic stories of people who have lost loved ones to suicide, and people who have been suicidal!” Ohhhhhh that.

Do you mean the stories of people who have lost a friend or loved one, and then found light on the other side and are using their pain as a way to heal others? Or the person who wanted to end it all, but thankfully it didn’t work and have started caring for their mental health and have found a new purpose on this earth? I am sorry, but none of that is sad to me, IT’S ALL showing me and teaching me the MAGICAL CAPABILITIES OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

People ask me how I practice self care with such a weighty topic – but quite honestly it almost feels self serving. I make zero money at this point, I fund what I need from my poor husbands hard earned money, after we take care of living. I was laid off even, and am trying to get this project off the ground. And I STILL feel rich and like I am getting paid emotionally. I have the privilege of talking to INCREDIBLE people about their stories of survival and overcoming the odds. I get the honor and privilege to watch the courage and bravery it takes to utter things that some have never uttered before. I get to hear new types of healing tips and tricks, to add to my steadily growing arsenal. I get to laugh, cry and scream with people who have literally felt my same pain. I am able to watch them, take their courage in the form of MY ART, and share it with the world, voicing their stories and truths to those they love. And THEN I get to see totally strangers in the internet universe, embrace them and support their courage. I get to see a community of survivors and warriors, ORGANICALLY form a community that supports each other.

I feel like the richest woman in the world. I have found the pot of gold of healing, and it all started by creating a safe space for myself and others. AND along the way, I found this rare gem. This tangible thing called CROSS NARRATIVE. A form of healing that can ONLY be done when one person shares with another, and it builds like an avalanche. WHO have you shared with lately? And I don’t mean a hug or a comment on a post. I mean something deep. Something not everyone on the internet knows. Maybe you had a dark moment a few months ago and considered not being alive anymore. Maybe you lost a distant friend to suicide and feel badly for not staying in touch. What if you have a family member or friend that seems unstable and you are worried about their safety but don’t know who to tell. My homework for you is: TAKE that leap. Tell a friend that dark thing, that narrative that is widely unknown. Do it not just for yourself and healing that wound by bringing it to the fresh air where it can heal – but also do it for them. Because it’s at each of our deepest pains that we connect with each other, and your bravery just may give someone else the courage to do the same…and the avalanche of healing begins.

With love,

Mariangela Abeo is a photographer and producer in the Seattle creative community. She has worked for almost a decade in video and photo shoot production. Working for the likes of companies like CreativeLive, Chase Jarvis productions, and a variety of music groups in the pacific northwest, she considers photography her gift. She is a mother of a 22-year-old professional ballerina and married to her husband Ryan for over 21 years. A year ago she created the Faces of Fortitude photography project. It began as a way to heal from her brother’s suicide, and has turned into a movement, quickly taking on a life of its own and taking over as her full-time endeavor. She has taken portraits of over 100 people and counting, who have suffered from suicide touching their lives in some way, has shown in two gallery shows, spoken at numerous events and is planning to take the project on the road in 2019. In a year her social media presence has grown rapidly, proving just how much a safe space is needed for this topic.