Lesley

lesley.web

“When I met Carrie and thought about doing this project, I wasn’t sure what source of strength to focus on. I can certainly say that the strongest I ever felt was giving birth to my daughter four years ago. But if I had to talk about a longstanding source of strength for me, I would want to talk about my mother. I lost her to cancer when I was 22. That kind of loss shapes your whole life. There are so many things I don’t know because I was too young to even know to ask. Women carry a family’s memory with them, especially mothers. Things get lost when they pass.

Today, though, I live knowing that my mother would be so proud of my accomplishments and I try to build on the love she provided. I don’t think I even understood a single ounce of what she must have felt for me until having my own daughter. Loving a child is transformative. It’s everything. It shapes your whole existence and puts everything into perspective. And now that I get that love in a personal way, I feel closer to my mom. I think of her when making decisions about my future. I know that I must follow what makes me happy, what gives me joy–for me, for my daughter, and to honor my mother.

Today, I own my own company. I have a doctorate, am bilingual, and have traveled the world. I have also begun working as a photographer, a passion that I love. And I have a dear family in the city of Philadelphia, a place that I love.

One of the last things my mother ever said to me was, “I don’t regret anything.” At 22, it was incomprehensible for me to hear that. She died young, at 56, and I felt like so much was still left undone. But those words were a gift. I find strength in them. They live in my memory. And I hope that one day, when the time comes, I can say the same—that I did the best with the time I had. That is my source of strength.”

You can follow Lesley at @phillyblooms and find out more about her company at http://sagelycreative.com.

Samaya

samaya.web

“One thing I’ve done in my life that has made me feel strong was make mistakes. No matter how hard I fell I never stayed on the ground. I always looked at my failure as motivation because I am determined to succeed

I have been through many hardships in life most of them stemming from really bad decisions. For example, in 2010 I was 19 years old doing pretty good for myself. I had my own apartment with a program called ValleyYouth whom helped with a portion of my rent. I was working and going to school to obtain my high school diploma. I ended up dropping out of school because it was conflicting with my work schedule. Also, I let a couple of people live with me I thought were my friend’s, though it was against the programs policy. The program found out and I was forced to make a choice; kick all my so-called friends out or opt out of the program. I decided to opt out. Not too long after that people started trashing my apartment. Breaking everything from my microwave and furniture to my bathroom, bedroom, and front door. There was also a time when people started inviting people to my home without even asking permission. There was little to no food and rent was due and I didn’t have all the money to pay it. One person gave me $200 and ending up asking for it back. Enough was enough and I put everyone out. By this time my lease was almost up. My job didn’t pay me enough to keep my apartment without the assistance of the program. So I decided to move to Colorado with my sister. Moving to Colorado was an eye opener for me. Colorado Springs was completely different from Philadelphia. Every thing was so beautiful. It was as if I stepped off the bus directly into a painting. The streets are so clean that they didn’t even have so much as a spot on gum on them. The people were friendly and the cost of living was way less expensive then it was in Philly. Colorado made me look at life from a different view point. Opening my mind to so many different possibilities. Colorado was big on education and keeping their environment clean. For the most part things were quiet. You rarely heard of any violent or drug-related crimes. 

Where I’m from not too many people cared about their environment. As a result the city was more than likely decorated with trash. For the most part a public school education was very poor. It seemed as if there was more people dropping out of school than graduating. Drugs and violence was the norm. Most of the kids I grew up with ended up being either the dealer or the user, sooner or later becoming a product of their environment. So If you live past the age of 18 you were blessed because the Streets of Philadelphia is not an easy place to survive. Most of the mother’s were single parents. Most of the fathers were either dead or in jail. Sons and daughters normally end up walking the in the same foot steps as the parents. Most of my family members was In the streets and my dad was on and off drugs. With that being said, I’ve seen the outcome of that lifestyle first hand. So I knew that life wasn’t for me. I wanted to make a better life for myself. So while in Colorado I went to PPCC. I managed to get into college without a high-school diploma. By taking a test call the ATB (Ability To Benefit). I was an art major. The plan way to get my GED while obtaining my associate’s degree. Then I was going to transfer to a better art school. Unfortunately that didn’t work out as planned. In school I was dealing with a number of things. Such as maintain a long-distance relationship, homelessness and grieving. I had lost both of my grandparents in 2010. A couple months after that my dad passed away in the beginning of 2011. So It was extremely stressful for me. It was very difficult for me to pay attention in class because my brain was scattered. So I ended up making a mistake that cost me my financial aid. Although I was homeless out of school and with out a job, I managed the best way I could – sometimes hopping from home to home. Other times I had my own place. I had help along the way. The Most High was on my side. I know for a fact that I couldn’t have made it though without God. So I never lost faith because he was always on time. At one point I was doing real good. I sent for my partner and our baby girl to come up to Colorado. We were both working hard. We had a car and managed to pay our rent on time every month. Plus we had another baby on the way. We were engaged and were about to get married. We were building a life in Colorado. It wasn’t until we start inviting family to visit that we start having problems. We start recognizing how people started to get jealous and envied what we had. So they tried to do whatever they could to destroy what we worked so hard to build. They used the fact that they were family to their advantage, asking to stay with us and bring it inviting uninvited people. They did not contribute to bills or replace broken items. I was a mess that was all starting to sound way too familiar. Family or no family, it was time to let go. So we did and everything went pretty much back to normal. Until we got a call from Philadelphia. We were already supposed to be coming to visit but somehow it became an emergency situation. At the time we didn’t have enough saved to get us up and back and pay the rent. So I told my partner that we should wait until we saved up enough money. The person who called was another family member. They claimed that their life was in danger. They also said that they would pay our tickets up and back. My gut was telling me it was a bad idea. I knew I would regret getting on that bus but I couldn’t let my family go it alone. When we got to Philadelphia there was no real emergency situation. Also to put the icing on the cake, they never paid our way back. Our vacation instantly turned into a staycation. We lost everything except for the bags we brought with us.

Sometimes we don’t realize how much impact our decisions have on our life. 

I have to be honest I was tempted to give up. I felt the spirit of defeat pressing down on my shoulders. Suddenly I found myself finding more and more excuses as to why I couldn’t, instead of figuring out how I could. I was negativity into my life. I was entertaining distractions. Wasting time reacting instead of taking action. It was like I had forgotten my own ingredients for success. I was drowning in anger, bitterness, resentment and in self-pity. I felt like I was being consumed by my own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Eventually it got so bad that I start trying to put the blame on others as if they were the reason why I’m not where I want to be in life. Then I finally realized that ultimately I am the only one to blame for my downfalls. At that very moment I turned my back on everything that kept me stuck on “how come, what if, and why me”. I stopped focusing on everything in my life that went wrong. I stopped making excuses for myself. I stopped blaming everybody else for the problems I created for myself and I took responsibility for my own actions. This experience changed my life. As a kid I always knew I wanted to change the world but first I had to change myself. I came back to Philly with open eyes and they were only getting wider. I wanted to bring some of the things I’ve learned in Colorado to my home town. I had a message that I felt people needed to hear. I was looking for a way to express what I was feeling to the world. At the time t-shirts were beginning to be very popular in my city. My childhood friend had told me he wanted to start a t-shirt line and told me I should start one. At first I wasn’t really too interested. Then miraculously I came up with the idea of putting positive messages on the t-shirts. Suddenly I feel like there was a purpose for the tribulation in my life.”

Meghan

meghansmile

When I am seeking strength in my life, I tend to do a few things.  First, I try to put things in perspective and think about how I can get through a situation.  Most times, I find myself making more of something than it needs to be.  Second, I practice daily gratitude rituals with my family.  We discuss all that we are thankful for and how fortunate we are to have each other.  Third, I seek strength through family and friends.  Between my mom and my husband, I have an amazing support system.  My mom has been a shining example of what it means to be a strong woman and how to provide balance in life.  My husband, Jeff, pushes me to take risks, supports my goals, and is a sounding board for all the decisions I need to make.  I also have an incredible network of smart, successful females that I turn to for strength.  And finally, my children…they are my inspiration to provide for our family, work hard, have fun, and have balance.  Using these resources and methods provides me with strength and peace as well as helps me have the most balanced life I can.” 

Mie

mia2.web

“My daughter Emma got sick in early 2017. At first, we thought it was the stomach flu but within a week other symptoms appeared; separation anxiety, stomachaches, leg pain, headaches. From one day to the next, she refused to take the school bus. She would no longer eat full meals and constantly complained of bellyaches.

By April her personality had completely changed. She went from being a sweet, outgoing, happy and energetic 6 year old to being angry, depressed, full of rage and anxiety. She would obsess over things and watch the same show over and over. She would often talk about wanting to die. Getting her to school was next to impossible; she’d refuse to get out of the car, she’d cry and cling to me, beg me not to leave her. Every day was a nightmare that just wouldn’t end. It felt like my daughter had been kidnapped without ever leaving the house.

It prompted me to start doing a lot of research and someone suggested that her symptoms were similar to Lyme and Bartonella infections. At first I dismissed it, since she had already been tested for Lyme early on and the results were negative. But the more research I did, the more it made sense. She was finally tested at a specialty lab and we took her to see a Lyme doctor. It turned out she had Borrelia, Babesia and Bartonella infections. At this point, the Lyme was chronic as it had been in her system for over a year. It was devastating news, but I also felt relief knowing that this was the root cause, and that my kid wasn’t just crazy or bratty or overly anxious.

For so long I had to explain her, apologize for her; the behavior, her temper, the constant clinginess. One day a woman reached out to me on Facebook and told me that she had been through the same with her son. She suggested we do homeopathy as opposed to antibiotics. I was very skeptical at first and did not know anything about homeopathy. We started treatment around Christmas and within four weeks, 90% of her symptoms had disappeared. I began to see my child returning. She would again tell me that she loved me. I’d catch her dancing around the house again, and hear her sing along to songs on the radio and she would play with her twin brother. It’s impossible to describe the relief and happiness those moments brought me. It has made me forever grateful for the little, ordinary moments in our lives.

Honestly, there were a couple of times over the past year that I felt like I couldn’t go on. Seeing my daughter suffer and struggle every single day was soul crushing. It literately brought me to my knees, but every time, I would somehow come away with a renewed sense of commitment to educating myself, to finding the right information, to not give up and not allow this illness to ‘win’.

Everything I have learned about functional medicine, about treating Lyme disease, and about the connection between the brain and the gut, is impacting our lives now and our future health. Once I understood the direct connection between our diet and our health, there was no going back to old habits. Now, we are constantly cleaning up her diet and I feel confident, knowing which foods can trigger her immune system, but also which foods benefit her. Before she got sick, I had not ever given any thought to the toxins in our environment; our food, water, even beauty supplies.

I realize that I play an instrumental role in my daughter’s health and I feel a very strong sense of responsibility in educating her about the importance of diet. Despite all the challenges, this experience has brought us even closer.

These days, I feel empowered by all the knowledge I have accumulated over the past year and a half, and while it was a scary and overwhelming journey, I now know that am resilient, stronger than ever and very committed to mastering our health.”

Ashleigh

Ashleigh.web

“Everyday I fight.

Once upon a time I was a confident, secure, self assured, growing young woman. Many people will tell you life has a way of knocking you down. For me it came from the areas & people I loved the most, which in turn HURT the most. Where I went wrong is when other people’s opinions of me and actions towards me change the way I viewed myself. I felt like nothing, and that had to change. So everyday I fight.

One day I ended up in front of a camera. Regardless of what the pictures looked like I remember the feeling I got while in front of the camera: that raw passion I was so familiar with & more than that it made me feel beautiful again. I remember viewing pictures and magnified in front of me was everything that made me insecure put on display for the world to see. Ironically, not despite them but because of them, through them I could still see beauty. I did not want to run from or hide my flaws from view. I wanted to accept them & love them. I wanted to accept me & love me. I don’t want the world to look at a picture & think I’m perfect, because I’m not. & I don’t have to be to be good enough. For me this is a work in progress, a process. I’m not where I want to be but I am so much further than when I started. So everyday, I fight.

I fight the negativity outside of me, I fight the negativity in my mind. I fight to be the best mom to an amazing little boy I still can’t believe is mine. I fight to be a better Christian, a better daughter, a better model, a better entrepreneur, a better friend. I will never stop fighting, I will never stop pushing myself to be better, I will never give in or up. One day if I’m blessed enough, I’ll be 80 years old, married with kids and grandkids. And everyday I will still fight. To be the best version of myself in every area and aspect possible. Until my last breath I will fight.” 

ashleighblwhite.web

Kristen

kristen_

“I’ve had my fair share of trauma. I experienced a lot of neglect and essentially raised myself. I learned to have my own back very early. In the family, there was divorce, infidelity, suicide attempts. There was addiction, overdoses, and homelessness. I was, more or less, placed in charge of keeping everyone alive. I remember saying to someone as I left for my junior year of college “I’m just waiting for the phone call that someone’s dead.” That was my daily experience for 10 years. I turned to men for attention, which led to a host of perverse experiences and sexual abuse. I had to deal, all the while pretending like none of this was happening, because we didn’t talk about things in the family. It was a dark time. But I’m so removed from it now; it feels like a different life. Everyone is alive. Everyone is happy and thriving. It’s an underdog story for a whole family.

After the life I have lived, it would’ve been easy for me to become jaded to the world. It would’ve been easy to become bitter. And I was, for a bit. But I got my ass into therapy. I confronted the things that hurt me most. Through this, I learned forgiveness and my heart was strengthened. My compassion is what makes me feel strong. I can’t be the trauma therapist that I want to be if I don’t KNOW the process of healing. If I can show someone that there is life after trauma, I’m doing my life’s work. If I can help someone feel better, the hurt I experienced would not be in vain. That’s what makes me feel strong; getting up every day to show people that the world is still good.

Instagram: Traumaqueentherapy 

Kristen’s website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/kristen-hammond-philadelphia-pa/398805

Michelle

Michelle.web

“Type 1 diabetes is hard! Hard on my feet, eyes, skin, stomach, wallet, and mind. I’m often exhausted before the work day begins, perhaps from a low sugar that took an hour to improve, which then of course spikes and turns to nausea. On no sleep and feeling beat, I often wake up my beautiful son to go to school and work and start the day.

This cycle is common. Sometimes it’s worse. Ive been much sicker and I’m grateful for my life today. Years ago, I struggled to keep down food because of terrible complications. 

I am proud that after having type 1 diabetes for 26 years, that I have been able to work at amazing places and hold interesting and fulfilling jobs, graduate from the Fels School at University of Pennsylvania and meet wonderful friends, travel, and build a family. This 24/7 disease never stopped me, although it might have slowed me down at times, and that is ok. 

I do think that I am strong now. I have embraced this strength, and it is exciting!”

Merium

merium.web

“Being Honest and Being True

To be honest is uncomfortable; it hurts. Honesty reveals truths and truths don’t go away, but truths can and do lead to a path of healing and a peaceful state of mind. Recently, I was asked, what I have I done or doing now that has made me feel strong inside.  The answer is I surrendered – I surrendered to God and I am being honest with myself. I deserve to walk in truth-suited, laced in authenticity. I surrendered – disassociated myself from a state of learned behaviors that were destroying my inner peace and over shadowing my greatness. I didn’t always protect myself from self-inflicted wounds, nor the pain others caused that tunneled holes through my heart, crippled my mind, and tarnished my soul. 

I began to rely on my faith. If you understand anything from me at all, understand that my faith is just as important as the blood running warm in my veins.  I began praying to God. So on my knees, at my weakest hour, I decided it was time to be free.  It was time to be happy.  It was time for peace. I offered up all pains, fears, anxieties, depressions, worries, toxic relationships all in exchange for his healing of my mind, body, and soul. My faith did not increase overnight, strength did not come easy, and my peace did not transpire right away, but I persevered and I celebrated my accomplishments along the way.  

There is Strength in Surrendering. December 2015, I was diagnosed with an aggressive, invasive, Stage III Triple Negative Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  All that I surrendered came back throughout various stages of my cancer journey, but it was my strength in surrendering to God and his will for me that I am cancer free today. Today, I declare even more faith, greater peace, and an authentic truth I can boldly proclaim unto the world.”

Medford Mermaids

mermaids.web

dian.web

“I met with the Medford Mermaids, who are a water aerobics group that meets three times weekly in Medford, NJ. They range in age from 63 to 89. They find strength in remaining active but they also gather it from other sources – one of those sources would be the connection that they have to one another. Joan said that she finds her fellow mermaids to be “inspirational” and Marnie calls her lady friends the “goddesses”. Several of the women I met expressed how they find strength through their faith and Lyla finds it through accepting changes and prioritizing, tackling challenges one at a time.

Dian said that her strength comes from a “continuum through generations towards empowerment”. She states that independent women taught her which gave her a foundation that helped her develop confidence and resiliency. Now retired, she continues to “encourage young women to take ownership of their rights and responsibilities”. She is involved with mentoring programs like Alice Paul and Running and Winning, which introduce girls to resources which instill confidence and promote leadership.”

Emily

emily1.web

I’ve always felt very strong being in opposition; my strength derived from fighting – for, or against. But strength in opposition requires linearity and measurement of progress; you have to know where the ground is, and if you’re gaining it or losing it. Both adulthood and the work I do (10 years of humanitarian aid, I’m an epidemiologist – I deal with the prevention and control of infectious diseases-  and work with Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres) have really been eroding any sense of clarity I used to have about winning or losing.

I’m not sure we can judge for ourselves what strength looks like. My friends and family see the work that I do as taking enormous strength. But mostly what has driven me to act has been emotional chaos – passion, anger, fear, ambition, righteous fury at injustice. I used to think these qualities were synonymous with strength, and that doing this work would give me more certainty about truths of life, and hence more strength. Instead, this work has evaporated much of my certainty. Yet somehow in that vacuum, strength has come to light. What does this mean? Is strength not certainty?

 Advanced meditation practitioners refer repeatedly to this experience that the ‘further’ you go in meditation practice, the more un-grounded the world seems. You lose all boundaries, the ground slips away, there are no clear parameters of Right and Wrong. It is a nightmare of dis-embodiment. Yet, lost in that miasma, one finds the body. Bizarrely, supported by nothing, it is still strong.

 I don’t yet know how to live fully in that kind of satisfied uncertainty. And I don’t know how to get to that place of strength because the route seems to be a map-less land. All that I find I have left to do is what I’ve done to get me here: to continue to show up – to play, to fight, to watch, to resist – whatever. To have faith that the answers are emerging. To not go away quite yet.”