Today we’d like to introduce you to Mariangela Abeo.
Mariangela, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a photographer, producer, speaker and mental health advocate. I had worked for almost a decade in video and photo shoot production. I struggled mentally as a teen and survived a suicide attempt at 17, then 11 years ago lost my only brother to suicide. About 18 months ago, I took out an old camera from the closet, and took my self portrait, and shared it on Instagram, with words about suicide, loss and my grief. And the internet exploded lol. People started to come out of the woodwork wanting to share their loss and stories with me. I was an amateur photographer at best.
So I taught myself to take better photos and to edit. And began taking photos of people connected to suicide in any way, be it loss, attempt, first responders, mental illness. It was clear a safe space was needed. A huge community has now been built organically, people supporting each other and sharing their stories. I have had two gallery exhibits, am dipping my toes into trying to travel and take portraits of Faces in other states, and have my first TEDx talk scheduled for September. I am now in the process of trying to grow the project to a sustainable place – in order to be able to travel to all of the 40+ US cities where people have reached out, gone through my vetting process and are approved to be Faces, I just have to get to them. In addition to those, I have people in Australia, South America, Canada, Europe, India – all asking me to come. At times I feel like its growing faster than I can keep up or make things happen, but its inspiring to know that something that was born from such a painful moment of my life, can now not only heal myself, but also heal others. Its what keeps me going.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Nothing close. But with chaos and bumps, is growth. My first struggle early on were boundaries. Suicide and mental illness are toxic to society. Its why we have stigmas. So, of course, people see an anonymous inbox where this topic is welcome and it was like opening flood gates. AND because I am empathetic and have been in these painful places, I immediately wanted to help everyone. Started to spiral and worry and not sleep. Thankfully I have a wonderful therapist who helped me set some into place really quickly. Once they were in place, I was truly able to focus on the content, helping people as a whole, and in turn, also helping myself. I also have struggled with how to keep my movement/project organic and authentic. In an age where its “all for the gram” and so staged and vapid, I truly work daily to make sure I do everything. YES, it’s exhausting, but it’s essential for me in this arena. If people are unzipping their hearts for me and bleeding onto the floor with their pain, I need to have their messages all answered with my heart. No matter how long it take. I need heartfelt comments to be appreciated and I need to make sure everyone feels welcome to the community. At the end of the day, its not about the photos, the followers, the likes, its about the humans who need to feel seen and heard.
Please tell us about Faces of Fortitude.
Faces of Fortitude started as a photography project and has grown into an online movement. This movement lays a foundation for healing through portraits of those personally affected by attempted or completed suicide. It strives to provide a safe, stigma-free space, virtually, through social media, and in person with gallery events, for mental health to be discussed, and stories of loss and survival to be shared.
As a movement, I am the most proud of my organic growth and the authenticity of our community. They are people who have felt pain, who know trauma, and who are daily finding the courage to share their truths in order to help others. This project is different from others because of the ability it has to make people feel seen, heard and validated. It is not about their stories; it is about their Faces and their truths.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Oh, what a hard question lol. I had so many hard memories during that time. I think the most touching and favorite thing for me, still affects me to this day. After my sexual assault when I was 17, the song Stand By Me, by BB King came on the radio. I remember crying but also feeling less alone when listening to the lyrics. As my life went on, when things horrible would happen, SOMEHOW – that song would be on the radio within the next few hours of whatever was going on – and would provide me comfort. I began to see it as a beacon of hope. My reminder that no matter how dark it got, that I was not alone. To this day, the song comes one and I will smile to myself, and remind myself that I am here still, and still alive because of those moments.
- Website: www.facesoffortitude.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/facesoffortitude
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/facesoffortitudeportraits
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/mariangelaabeo
All photos by – Mariangela Abeo creator and photographer for Faces of Fortitude 🙂