Interview with Faces of Fortitude Founder, Mariangela Abeo

When we opened up our Instagram profileearlier this year, I hunted for other suicide prevention community members among the web of Instagram hashtags and profiles. I hoped to find promising recovery programs or inspiring stories of hope and recovery, but was somewhat disappointed in the results. Mostly what I found were many open people currently struggling, but not much on the side of recovery. Although openness in the thick of pain is important for individual recovery, I desired to find some camaraderie with other profiles who help those in pain see hope. During this searching process, I discovered Faces of Fortitude, the brainchild of CreativeLive Producer, the talented Mariangela (M) Abeo. I was immediately engulfed in the mesmerizing portraits and engaging stories. I thought, this is it, this is exactly what the world needs.

So, I reached out to M, hoping to find out more about her project and inquire about her willingness to guest post for us. What I got was much better- she interviewed and photographed our founder, April, and featured her on her Instagram and Facebook page. While April met with her, they discussed the possibility of us featuring an interview with her. I emailed M and, well, why don’t you just read the rest….

Tell us a little about yourself.

“I am a 43 year old married mother of one amazing human, who is now a grown 22 year old with an amazing career as a professional ballerina. I am a producer at CreativeLive and a photographer. I was born and raised in Seattle and currently live and work here. My partner and I have been married for 21 years, and before this I was a producer and made music videos for him when he was on the music scene here in Seattle.” 

What motivated you to start Faces Of Fortitude? (When, and where?) 

“Faces of Fortitude was created a year ago this November. I lost my only brother to suicide 11 yrs ago and had been searching for a creative outlet for my grief for years. Coupled with the process of my own attempt as a teen, I knew it was something that needed more than I was giving myself with the basics of self care. Then a photographer named Stacy Pearsall came to my work studios (CreativeLive in Seattle) and did a lecture on how to take trauma and turn it into a project to both help yourself and others. She was a wounded war vet that was now taking portraits of other wounded vets and sharing their stories. Her talk inspired me to take my trauma and make it into something that could help heal.”

How is your mission or message different than that of any large suicide prevention organization such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline?

“What a great question! I think my message and mission is different in the way that it’s one on one. It’s grass roots and personal. It’s not about the photos, it’s about the conversation between two people. Not one trying to help the other, but each person bouncing their experiences off each other and learning from the others’ healing and process. We all can learn and heal from hearing others’ stories and processes in detail. EVERY story I hear, and every person I talk to, teaches me something I didn’t know about myself and sheds light on a new side of this epidemic that I didn’t realize existed. The issue of suicide and mental illness is vast, and can be very dark, but it can also be LIGHT. It exists. You just have to keep the conversation going, and the light will appear in the cracks of the foundation that you originally thought was your base crumbling. In reality, it is your growth. But I also want to say that I LOVE hearing about what all the other photo projects and orgs are doing differently. Like I said, it’s a vast issue, and we need help from ALL SIDES!”

Since you’ve started the project, how far have you come with it?

“WOW that made me go back and tally some numbers! I have taken 97 portraits to date. Spent 175 studio hours. Curated and written 161 Instagram posts. Had my first gallery show – displaying Faces, with 200 in attendance. WOW that makes me feel super accomplished!”

What kind of unexpected, positive or negative, outcomes have you encountered with this project?

“Another great question. I don’t think there have been any negative outcomes. There have been things that some people could see as negative, but for me it’s been about growth. This project has taught me SO much about the power of the human spirit, and also how to create better boundaries for myself and my self care. It has sharped my senses with mental illness and almost given me some super powers on how to be intuitive and there for people who may be silently struggling. I think the most unexpected outcome has been how quickly the project has grown. It really has taken on a life of its own, and it’s been so incredible to watch. I feel like just a pawn now in a bigger movement. It inspires me daily to keep going.”

What are your future plans for this project?

“SO many plans. Shall I say so many DAUNTING plans lol. I have had tons of blessings. Someone I work with, who is an amazing web designer and came to me asking if he could build me a beautiful website to be part of the efforts and help the project grow. A super amazing Hollywood editor friend and a talented local videographer have offered to make a promotional video as a favor, to help me in the journey to get grants. I am HOPING to get help writing a grant or two, that can help fund traveling for the project, to take photos of people in other cities and places. I have vetted and approved Faces in over 15 cities across the US and in two different European countries, just waiting for it to be possible. I am planning my second Gallery show, in November, this time double the people and double the portraits. There is a book in the works, I am designing it. I am still trying to decide if I want to shop for a publisher, if anyone would even want to, or if I need to self publish. I have a few Suicide Prevention/Mental Health talks and events, and portrait pop ups scheduled which is a bit anxiety inducing but I am trying to push myself into that next step of advocacy.”

What do you need in order to keep growing and going with it?

“I touched on a few of them, I need help on the grant side of things for sure. I am not great at asking for help, outside of the marketing side which I am doing ok at. But grants, sponsorships, travel, studio inquiries out of state, and large scale promotion of myself, I am not great talking about myself. Because the project isn’t about me, it’s about EVERYONE that’s been part of it and will be part of it. I recently put it into the universe and in my social circles, asking people to help me bring this project to the next level, organically. That means not tagging their fav celebrity, because there is something shallow about that to me. For me, I would rather that said influencer find it organically. I want people to talk about the stories in this project because they are so touched, and for the ripples to reach people who can help lift this fledgling little project up to where it can be seen by anyone who needs it.”

There you go- the face behind the faces. Or should I say, in front of the faces, taking the pictures, asking the hard questions, crying with these individuals, and then strengthening them with her words and her project. In the world of social media, critiques say, mental illness is becoming a “fad” to post about. For M, it’s how she heals and how she provides a source of healing for others; for true healing in ourselves comes from the desire and action in serving others. She truly is becoming the change we all wish to see in the world.

Follow her journey at @facesoffortitude

Thank you, M, for taking the time to be interviewed. You are going to touch millions of hearts that are waiting to grow.

Sometimes when you are in a dark place, you tend to think you have been buried; what if you have been planted?

M.

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