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8 Questions With Mariangela Abeo – a Mighty Mental Health Hero

Meet Mariangela Abeo. She’s a Seattle-based photographer, creator of the mental health photography project Faces of Fortitude and was named one of The Mighty’s mental health heroes of 2018. To learn more about our hero, we asked Mariangela a few questions about her background, the best mental health advice she’s ever received and her hopes for the future of mental health advocacy.

Here’s what she shared with us:

The Mighty: Tell us a little bit about your background. Who are you and what kind of work do you do now? 

Mariangela: I am a 44-year-old mother of an adult professional ballet dancer, and married to my husband, former Seattle hiphop artist, for almost 22 years. I spent most my adult life as a music video and photoshoot producer, taking photos on the side just for fun. Last year I was laid off while Faces of Fortitude was exploding — and I saw that as the universe telling me it was time to take this project full-time. So I am now the creator and photographer for the Faces of Fortitude movement. 

The Mighty: People typically end up in the mental health space for a reason. If you’re comfortable, tell us a little more about what inspired you to get into mental health.

Mariangela: I attempted to take my own life at 17 after a sexual assault. Then 11 years ago, my only brother died by suicide after struggling with mental illness. I have since then been passionate and fascinated by the grief and healing process. Not one person grieves the same, however we all can learn something very important about each person’s process. 

The Mighty: You’re a Mighty Mental Health Hero! (Yay!) Tell us: Who is your personal mental health hero? 

Mariangela: Oh, that’s so hard! I would have to say these power humans whose words, activism and art I look up to: Oprah, Ijeoma Oluo, Ava DuVernay, Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Alexandra Billings.

We are so focused on what is going wrong in our lives, we rarely celebrate what we have moved through.

The Mighty: What’s one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?

Mariangela: Oh sweet girl. These people, the ones tearing you down, throwing hate and making you feel small, they are just a blip in this life map. They are so insignificant. The word family doesn’t mean you have to tolerate abuse. You can make your own family, and you can love yourself fiercely until you are able to surround yourself with self-appointed family and friends who love you with the same fire that you love yourself deep inside. Hold hands with yourself and remember you deserve that amazing love you so fiercely give others. You deserve your friendship just as much as others do. Reunite with yourself, it will get better. 

The Mighty: Share the best mental health-related advice you’ve ever received.

Mariangela: My therapist told me when I first met her to celebrate my wins. We are so focused on what is going wrong in our lives, we rarely celebrate what we have moved through. Whether it’s big, like abuse, addiction or mental illness — or smaller wins (that are just as important!) like making the bed, going for a walk, reading a book, staying in bed all day because you need it, etc. We need to celebrate our wins.

The Mighty: What’s something you did last year that you’re proud of?

Mariangela: Last year I hit 100 Faces in my project. It’s still so weird to say out loud. One hundred. What? I am so proud because for so long it was so hard to even call myself a photographer. I felt like an imposter in this industry. On hard days I still do, but then I look back at the 100+ Faces who have now organically created a community of people who have all been affected by suicide, and I am so, so proud of what I have created, with the help of all of those brave souls, willing to share their truths. So proud. 

I posted my self-portrait online, thinking I would get a few people who saw it… but the ripple went so much further. Create your ripple. 

The Mighty: What topics/issues are missing from the mainstream mental health conversation? What’s something you want to see people talking about in 2019?

Mariangela: I am very serious about wanting to open the discussion and theory around the way cross-narration can help people heal. The idea is that people on all sides of a mental health issue can actually help each other more. Currently in the suicide arena, we stick all people who have lost someone to suicide in the same room and all people who have attempted in another. All suicide first-responders take a class together, etc. I think there is something very important and tangible for the healing process by getting them all together. I am creating a blueprint for a new type of support group that can be downloaded and used as a guide all over the country. Hopefully, this will intersect people on all sides of the issue so they can learn from each other’s pain, hope and healing processes, and ideally get views on other parts that maybe they had not thought about.

The Mighty: Are there any organizations/causes you think everything should know about?

Mariangela: Most of the orgs I am a fan of are widely known, the top for me being The Trevor Project — because so many of the people who come to my project are from the queer and trans community. I love finding small random mental health blogs and podcasts because it’s so important for people to make ripples in this epidemic. As much as I love orgs like AFSP [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] getting shine, I think the change needs to start at the ground level — grassroots, small blogs, podcasts, e-zines, even Facebook posts. Create a ripple. That’s what I did with Faces of Fortitude. I posted my self-portrait online, thinking I would get a few people who saw it and my project would be just a few portraits of family and friends — but the ripple went so much futher. Create your ripple.