Last month I sat in the studio to take an updated self portrait and reflected on the past 5 years since starting this project in 2017. This project began with a wave of emotion and excitement then quickly started to pick up momentum – so many people resonating with the discussions happening around mental illness and suicide. People needed a safer space to talk about difficult & uncomfortable things. Then COVID came and the project came to a halt, and looking back now, I realize I was unable to sit in that still space, it felt painful and uncomfortable, so I did what felt cozier – just talking about my work and the project, going through the movements. 

One of the many things I learned during this pandemic, is that COVID was able to slow me down to a place of stillness, silence and space – that TERRIFIED me – and I learned quickly how important that feeling of fear was. A feeling of intensity and discomfort that had so much depth, I knew it was connected to very old wounds, old trauma and the growth pains of unlearning old ways of thinking and feeling that was so rooted in racist, binary and capitalist culture.

I had so much coming up for me emotionally and I ignored it, so naturally things started to bleed onto other parts of my life. My kettle of capacity was boiling over. There were many uncomfortable and difficult conversations bubbling up surrounding the gender binary and how or if I fit, my sexuality and internalized white problematic behaviors – it became a lot at once, and super overwhelming. It was so much easier to work more, grind harder, make more and more content, and TALK the most about all the healing things – and if I stayed busy – I didn’t have to do the really painful and difficult work – that needed to be done within myself.

I could go on and on about what I’ve learned over these 5 years, where I am now, and how I’m moving forward in the world with my work, but I’m not going to. Partially because I am no longer doing things for the algorithm or for the optics of people online – but also because the work I’m doing isn’t for anyone but myself. In addition to that – there is no END date or completion of work. I am not gonna pop back online with that whole; “Hi everyone! Did you miss me? I’m all healed! Look at all the work I’ve been doing!” mentality – when we ALL know the work is nowhere CLOSE to being done, we are constantly working on ourselves.

I am dedicated to doing my best to keep my focus on real life things, doing the real life work and making real life growth and progress. It’s important to me to be conscious of the legacy I leave in this world. I truly hope to see some of you out “in the arena” sometime – as Brené Brown coined, or at a Faces of Fortitude event. I hope to see you out living your life, doing the work, IN REAL TIME – and we can share a safe space, a smile or a moment of joy.

As I set up to take my new updated portrait last month – I revisited my previous 3 self portrait sessions.

First Faces of Fortitude Self Portrait – October 2017

My first self portrait ever – I took in October of 2017 , when the project was still being birthed. I hated photos of myself. I really had never liked them since about age 12.

– M Abeo

The second was taken 9 months into 2018. The project had momentum. I was planning my second gallery exhibit. I was starting to feel like someone who could stand up taller within myself. Over the years of this project I have learned to read body language and its so wild to see my own physical space open in these moments frozen in time.

My last portrait was taken mid 2019, when COVID was a slowly building convo about a virus happening overseas. I was exploring my gender as new education and words started circulating. More than that, because I was older – I started seeing others my age, feeling ok to explore their gender. I felt so much validation from that. I had blown my voice chakra wide open with a neck tattoo in preparation for my first global public speaking event.

For the first time as an adult I could be in front of a camera without self hate or anxiety, but everything aesthetically about myself had to be a certain way for that to be – again just a fancier mask.

Sitting down for this new photo last month felt like a new chapter. I didn’t change my clothes, adjust my hair or makeup, blot or powder. I didn’t change my face or how I felt. I didn’t fret about how I would be perceived. I didn’t rip apart the images of myself as I adjusted my light and continued to shoot. The only other way I keep describing the feeling is that I felt very PRESENT within myself.

“Mom, you look so comfortable behind the camera now!”

When I showed these new portraits to my daughter Madison she said to me: “Mom you look so comfortable behind the camera now!”

She was right, thats what it was. It’s so easy for us – while we’re in the mess of things, to focus on the struggle and intensity of healing. To equate how we look or feel we look – to how strong or resilient we are. We beat ourselves up for mistakes, missteps and bad choices, and let it define our whole lives worth – because of how those uncomfortable and difficult moments make us feel. Being off of social media, has allowed me to spend time in that discomfort and realizing that spending more time within and clearing out THOSE spaces are what is now making room for me to come back home to myself within my own body and mind. 

Summer 2022

I feel more present in my body and mind than I ever have, because I’ve started to prioritize my health, both mentally and physically, it was past time. Life needed to slow down for me to realize it. 

To those of you reading this, thank you for being part of the Faces of Fortitude family. It’s so inspiring to see a community of people growing and doing the hard shit towards healing on their own life paths.

Welcome to the Faces of Fortitude blog. I will be sharing stories, updates, photographers notes and other Faces will share as well on this blog.

If you would like to submit to writing for the blog around the topic of healing, mental health or suicide prevention – please contact me and let’s chat!

Stay tuned and thank you as always – for being part of this journey.