Marjory

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“I’m Marjory and I am 89 years old. I enjoy life very much and I think it is all because I have a positive attitude. I get great pleasure out of just about everything. It is important to keep active and to continue with exercise of all different types. I do swim aerobics which is great – and my doctor and my chiropractor tell me that swim aerobics is good for me. Life is good!”

* I want to mention that in addition to swim aerobics, Marjory rides her bike to and from the gym where she works out. She also told me that she plays tennis, but has eased up on it lately.  Marjory told me that she sees no reason why she should stop doing all of the things that she’s always done. She said being 89 does not change anything – so she keeps on moving, happily.

Kate

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“I know myself to be stronger at this point in my life than ever before. Almost three years ago a toxic cocktail of postpartum hormones, unhappy home, and  medication mismanagement made my brain start telling me that I desperately needed to die. I believed my brain and tried to commit suicide. Pulling myself back from that brink was the single most painful thing I have ever done but I learned exactly how strong I am: strong enough to rescue myself and to align my home and professional lives with what my true needs and joys require. Strong enough to love myself so that I can then love others: something that I think a lot of women struggle to do.”

Cherise

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“While attending elementary school, I had to repeat the second grade, and that setback ultimately made me the person I am today. I remember my second grade teacher Ms. Derr suggesting to my mother that I should repeat the same year of schooling, and to my surprise, my mother asked me if I thought it was a good idea. Having to make such a big decision at seven years old was terrifying, and although it made me upset enough to start crying, I agreed since the idea was recommended by an adult I respected. 

Even after I agreed with the decision, it still did not feel good to know this was my reality. I not only felt stupid, but had to watch all of my classmates move on to the next grade without me. Having that anger and frustration fuel my desire to never be setback again, I studied harder than ever before, and believed that even sick days could not make me miss a day of school. 

 Fast forward, and I ended up graduating college with a challenging Bio-Chemistry degree. I worked in the bio-chemistry space for seven years, and then ultimately followed my passion to become a real estate agent where I’m seeing great success. By not letting that early setback keep me from living up to my full potential, I was able to thrive and become the best version of myself.

 

Cherise’s realty website is: www.AgentLady.com

 

Abby

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“I was a really feisty kid. I had almost zero fear. I loved to sing and perform, and was certain I was going to be a singer when I grew up. But something changed as I got older.  I began to compare myself to others, and listen to negative messages from people I met along the way:

“Don’t gain any weight.”

“Yeah, well, a lot of people want to be singers…”

“You aren’t perfect looking, you know.”

“You aren’t funny…I don’t know why you think you are funny.” 

I became debilitatingly self-conscious and started to doubt my ability to do the things I wanted to do. It was like I could only hear the bad things that a small group of very toxic people told me. Everything began to overwhelm me—even simple tasks like finding the sheet music I needed for an audition. My anxiety rose so high that I quit singing altogether. I was in my early 20s and knew I had to pick a career, so I went into advertising. It was worse than settling, it was soul-crushing. About 8 years later I found myself walking to work wondering what the point of life was. I was having such bad panic attacks that in the moment I’d be convinced I was going to die. 

I finally left advertising last year. It’s amazing how many people will try to convince you to stay in a job that makes you miserable. I felt like a broken record, defending my choices. It’s funny—I used to scan my LinkedIn newsfeed and get overwhelmed by the flood of articles by industry “thought-leaders” about how to achieve success and become more and more productive. I read those articles for years and the panic attacks came fiercely and frequently. It took a long time before I realized they were just articles. Opinions. I could ignore them. I could go my own way. I finally got that I had to stop listening to everyone around me—that no one knows what’s right for you, but you. And that world, that path, the type of success…it wasn’t right for me.

Last month I put on my first solo cabaret in NYC to a full house. No one cared what I weighed, I didn’t look perfect, and I was quite funny (my mom said so…so if that doesn’t settle it, I just don’t know what will). I wrote and produced the entire thing myself—it was both terrifying and the best time I’ve ever had. I am still scared with every new thing I take on, but I trust myself now. Every time someone gives me their unsolicited opinion (which is guaranteed to happen when you perform) or tells me what they think I “should do,” I smile politely and then carry on doing what I know is right for me. I feel strong for the first time in a very long time.”

Jessica

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“I have overcome so many obstacles starting from birth. I died during childbirth and was brought back to life. I endured weeks of grand mal seizures one after the other (status epilepticus) My mother was told I would be brain damaged and not be able to walk. At the age of seven I was planning the life I am living now under a roof I shared with my abusive caretakers. These were the people who should have understood how lucky they were to have a daughter who survived her first year and only had severe asthma and coke bottle glasses. I grew up with my ear to the door of my bedroom waiting for the moment when I could safely tiptoe to the kitchen to put bread under my shirt and tiptoe to the bathroom to stuff it in my mouth before my father found me. I starved, I was taught my multiplication tables by my father while holding a belt in his hands. I dreamed and planned my way through it all, and you know what made me strong? My creative powers! Did you know that when somebody is abused it actually shuts down the broca’s area of the brain and leaves you unable to talk about the situation? I can say with almost 100% certainty that creating art helped me find my voice. I drew and my imagination grew and I imagined that I would marry a doctor one day since my mom told me I could never be one myself. I opened my mouth and told my aunt what was happening to me. She was a pediatrician. She told me that if it was still happening when it was 16, I could come live with her family. Every summer my sister and I visited for two weeks and got to see what a normal family is. After I told her, every summer she would say something like, “when you live here you can share a room with your cousin and have a winter and a summer wardrobe!” When I was 16, all the memories of childhood came flooding back into my hormone-laden teenage brain. My parents still mentally abused me, but no longer physically abused me since the last time when they caused me to have an asthma attack that put me in the hospital. I was hospitalized over 50 times and developed a somatoform disorder that lasted me well into adulthood. I finally said something to my mom about going to live with my aunt now that I was 16. She got on the phone immediately and came back and told me I wasn’t wanted there. When I spoke to my aunt about it she told me the schools were too hard for me up in Long Island. She basically implanted in me the idea that I was too stupid to save myself and that I wasn’t worth saving.

Fast forward to now after 17 years of therapy under my belt, a BFA with distinction, an MFA from the University of Michigan, 5 years of marriage to my doctor husband and pages of art exhibitions on my CV that my family has never attended…and  I can tell you that I owe my strength to the hours I spent engaging in the creative process. Now that I am out of survival mode I am dedicating my life to giving creative power to all those that don’t believe they are capable. I tell them your ability to draw a straight line or a recognizable object does not indicate your capacity to create beauty. I mentor artists in exchange for help in my studio just like I planned I would be doing 15 years ago before I ever knew how I would be able to afford one. I just started teaching color flow workshops and have already seen the positive effects of the ‘you can do no wrong’ techniques I have developed. Now, the thing that makes me feel the strongest is being able to help others! I am at a point where I have to use my strength to push through all the doubt that was implanted into my head about my intelligence and capabilities and go from being a survivor to a leader. I just officially formed an LLC and founded Project Joy. My mission is to help as many people as possible experience the benefits of creating beauty by engaging in the creative process. Art saved my life and I know it can save others too!”

Jessica’s website is:  https://www.jjlstudios.com/

And you can find Project Joy here: https://www.jjlstudios.com/pages/project_joy

Julie and Raven

 

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  • Julie’s story is the first one that I posted, on August 13th, 2017. She is the first person, aside from my own daughter and my aunt, who agreed to let me photograph her and to share a strength story. I really enjoyed meeting with Julie, and she was enthusiastic about my idea for the Strength Source Project. She believed in me and gave me a chance, which set me on a course for meeting with many other women – and now I have met with over 100! I wanted to circle back and photograph Julie again to celebrate meeting with 100 women, and THIS time I made sure I included her amazing daughter Raven, since Raven is a critical part of Julie’s story.

“I think I realized I was starting to feel really strong after I had a child – and I had a baby and I knew that I was going to be raising her somewhat on my own – and it made me, for the first time in my life, put aside all of the fears that I had growing up. Once you have a child and you are the one responsible for the child you don’t have time for all these idiosyncrasies anymore, you have to focus on how to raise a strong girl in our city. So I realized once I had Raven and I was sort of on my own (I was not in the best relationship of my life and felt that it would end soon, which it did)… I knew that I had to step it up and be a role model for my daughter. I didn’t want her to have the weakness I was feeling inside of me and that’s when I decided I needed to be really strong.”

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Alfeia

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“What I’ve done in the past and continue to do presently is encourage myself with prayers and/or affirmations. For example my morning prayer is “ask and it will be given”. I believe in my heart that if I ask, if I put my best self forward, if I show-up, then I am making myself available to receive. I follow my prayer with an affirmation of “I am so happy and grateful that I will have a wonderful day”. My affirmation confirms my prayer, then I move into my yoga stretches to support a physical assertion into the day’s journey. Now, things are not always peachy and they often become tangled, and weary with a feeling of ‘what now’. When that happens my affirmation changes her course and becomes more aggressive, I simply tell myself “I take what I want”. May seem a bit outlandish, but boldness does it, and allows me to not care about what others think and focus on the most important person in this scene, and that’s me. My life won’t work without me, so I pull my strength from a place deep inside, waiting to come forward.”

  • I first saw Alfeia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she was performing with others from the “I Am a Living Statue” company. She was, as the name a suggests, a living statue. Even though Alfeia was completely silent and motionless, her presence was commanding. I later asked her to participate in the project. I have since found out that she also works in law enforcement and is a part time military chaplain. Curious about her living statue work, I wanted to know why she engages in this performance art – and she said:

    “It gives me the opportunity to observe people. To look and listen and watch the imagination move. One of the things I’ve learned is we are all the same. We love, we dislike, we crave fairness, and the need to be special in someone’s eyes. The Living Statue is a watcher and learner of people.”

  • You can find her on Instagram at #followyourbliss #iamalivingstatue #statuehero #sugarhoney #livingstatue

Shannon

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“A pulmonary embolism almost killed me. Scratch that, it did actually kill me. I’m told doctors brought me back to life 3 times. I was on life support. My family and closest friends were told I would either die or spend the rest of my life braindead. My EEG results were initially devastating. Spoiler alert, I did not die. To the surprise of every doctor in the hospital I went from having no brain function to opening my eyes and trying to communicate. They have no idea how that happened. I like to think that it’s due to my extreme stubbornness and inability to know when to cash in my chips. My recovery was endless. I have something called Anti-Phospholipid Antibody Syndrome. It’s an autoimmune disease wherein my body creates antibodies that attack the phospholipids in all of my cells. It causes pain and blood clots (among other things). The PE caused a serious traumatic brain injury that I still suffer side effects from. I had to re learn everything from walking to feeding myself.

I’m still paralyzed in my right arm. My hands are numb most of the time and I deal with aphasia, that means I have a lessened ability to understand and express speech, which can be really frustrating when I’m trying to process really complicated thoughts and emotions. Auditions, meetings, disagreements with friends, and (everyone’s favorite) BREAKUPS are hard enough!!! Adding aphasia into the mix is like running a marathon with weasels in your pants and weights attached to your legs. It takes strength to do normal things with a neuro divergent brain.

I’m also a survivor of sexual assault. One of those assaults took place while I was hospitalized. I didn’t really understand what was happening in the moment. I got the scumbag fired…but I never told anyone else at the time. 

I think it’s really important for people to be aware that sexual assault occurs on a spectrum and that people can be multiple survivors. It doesn’t mean they are “stupid” or “asking for it” or lying. Women who are assaulted once are 35 times more likely to be assaulted in the future. 

I love singing. It gives me strength. I love connecting with an audience. It’s a specific sort of intimacy. I’m a cabaret singer. I feel strongest when I’m on stage in my truth, entertaining other people. My goal is to get them out of their heads and into their own feelings. I like when an audience can achieve catharsis together.      I have a cabaret show called ‘Glitter and Garbage’ in residency at L’Etage in Philadelphia. I sing for events held at Eastern State Penitentiary. I’m a proud Queer lady so it’s likely you’ll  find me singing somewhere in the gayborhood at least once a week. I’ve been singing professionally on and off for 11 years. 

I suppose the fact that I’ve survived these things and still manage to make a living doing what I love makes me strong. I fought my way back on stage from rock bottom. I still have a long way to go in my career and also in my  healing and recovery but I think I can do it. I’m strong because I get up everyday and keep going. Kindness also gives me strength. I have wonderful supportive friends in my life who remind me how strong I am when I forget. Love and kindness are two very important values of mine. I don’t always succeed in being kind to myself…that may take me the rest of my life to figure out. 

On days when I’m not feeling strong… I look back on everything I’ve overcome and I try to be kind to myself. I hope if someone is reading this and is maybe going through something similar that they don’t doubt themselves. It’s so super hard but you are already so much stronger than you can fathom. “

shannonsingstage

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The Strength Source Project is in Real Woman magazine!

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The Strength Source Project can be found in the Spring edition of Real Woman magazine on pages 41-47! In the article you can read a bit about how the project began and my motivation for doing this work. You can also read the stories of some of the women who have participated. Many thanks to Jess Downey, the editor, for featuring the project.