Every woman has a story in her heart. She deserves a voice to share that story. As a young child, I was silenced by sexual abuse. It took me 54 years to find my voice. Today, my mission is to use my voice to inspire those who don’t have one, and to create confidence and strength in women of all ages to stand in their power and believe in themselves.
As a young girl growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, I knew I was different. I had this constant feeling there was something wrong with me. My path seemed to be more of a solo one with few others on it. I’ve always been empathic and seeing someone in need breaks my heart. As a young girl, I remember volunteering at the nursing home and seeing the impact I could have on someone’s life. The men and women there had so little to look forward to and would light up through something as a simple connection. I was always the one with my hand up…the first to volunteer.
I went from being a candy striper at the hospital in high school to taking the bus to the women’s prison at Vanderbilt to tutor the prisoners. My heart ached for these women. I volunteered for just about everything I could. When I joined a sorority, I became a rush counselor to help guide young women through the process of rush, a process which could be devastating to their self-esteem. I knew a thing or two about a low sense of self-worth.
Loneliness, Heartache and Despair
Raised in a home with 4 brothers, I had an alcoholic father who, as a child, had been abused. My grandmother abandoned my father in an orphanage in Chicago and he was raised by Catholic priests. He rarely spoke of his childhood but carried an anger and rage that terrified me. His alcoholism had an enormous impact on me as a young child as I lived in fear of his outbursts that could be set off at any moment. I don’t recall ever feeling safe and secure. There was a lot of yelling and screaming that led me to retreat inwardly.
Painfully shy, I spent a lot of time alone and in nature. I was taught to keep everything in, to be invisible, and not to express emotion. My nights were filled with nightmares, bed-wetting, sleep paralysis, and sleepwalking. Later, I learned these were all classic signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. A formal diagnosis wasn’t made until my mid 40’s when I made the decision to leave a 20-year marriage that was literally killing me.
My childhood lessons of silence and low self-esteem were harshly reinforced in my adult life. Following my divorce, I made the decision to move to Los Angeles to begin my life over and to earn my Masters in Spiritual Psychology. I had been on a deeply spiritual and holistic healing path for over 25 years and wanted to delve as deeply as I could into my inner world … and to heal the pain once and for all. Serious health issues challenged me throughout my marriage and continued after my move to LA.
By spring of 2014, I was diagnosed with Late Stage Lyme Disease after a decade of misdiagnosis. I had been told over and over that there was nothing wrong with me. The illness had made its way into my brain and within a month of treatment, I became bedridden with seizures. Within a few months, my weight dropped to under 100 lbs, my organs began shutting down. I would survive only to question why I lived. I had no fear of dying. What I had was a fear of living.
Flipping the Switch
By spring of 2015, and despite a great deal of inner work, I was still very weak and debilitated. I would make some progress and then slip back into old patterns and ways of thinking. My belief system was still on shaky ground. One day, my daughter, Maddie, came over to visit. Barely able to walk around the block, I was falling back into depression. She took my hand, looked at me and said, “Mom, what would you do if you were well?” In an instant, I told her that I would travel…travel the world. Honestly, I was shocked by the positivity. Then, In that moment, everything changed…at least from within. I remember grabbing my computer and I began dreaming and scheming; creating bucket lists and hiring a travel agent to make my dream come true.
Once I had made a decision to flip the switch from illness to wellness, I began to change my focus and began to heal. I’ve never looked back. Healing Lyme didn’t happen in an instant. The decision to heal did. My inner beliefs began to change, and my outer life began to change with them. In the end, I wasn’t able to travel around the world, but it didn’t matter. What mattered? I believed that I could!
Now, I see my illness as a great blessing. It was as though the universe yelled “STOP! You mustn’t continue to run away from the pain and the trauma. You must feel it to heal it. It’s time to experience all that you’ve repressed. I thought I’d done a lot of inner work but as I began to peel the layers, there was so much more hidden beneath that needed my attention. In my experience, emotional pain is far worse than physical pain. What I’ve realized is that when we heal the emotional pain, the physical healing is exponential. Four years later, Lyme Disease is gone, and I’ve never looked back.
Finding My Voice
The key to saving my life was finding my voice. In July of 2016, I launched my blog, CatherineGraceO. I spent the prior year building a social media presence on Instagram by connecting to one person at a time. Hundreds of people reached out to me for help and I sent my cell phone number to every single person. My intention was simply to share my story, to listen, offer support and to help them through personal connection. I didn’t have a grand vision to save the world, rather, I wanted to help one person at a time. Since I launched my blog two years ago, I have also founded an international community called The Forever Fierce Revolution. When I entered the blogging world, I could see that older women didn’t have a united voice, a presence, or a connection to one another. They were seen as no longer relevant. It was my intention to change that.
What began as a grassroots initiative has taken on a life of its own. A small social service campaign called The Fierce 50 became the Forever Fierce Revolution, a global movement with thousands of members to celebrate and support women at midlife and beyond. We are a silent demographic no longer! We possess health and vitality, wisdom and life experience, and are in the prime of our creative lives! Our motto is to “Rewire, Reinvent, and BE RELEVANT!” The Forever Fierce Revolution is dedicated to inspiring and empowering older women. We are dedicated to connection, collaboration and kindness. Our mission is to unite women and to shift the perception of older women to one that is vibrant and empowered
The beauty of this mission is that it’s led to action and creation! The original campaign created so much buzz and interest that we formed a production company called Forever Fierce Media to create message-based content for national brands. We have done 4 major campaigns in the last year. We have also completed 3 social service campaigns, including one last fall called Bridging the Gap, which united 100 Midlife and 100 Millennial Influencers to unite these demographics and to end divisions by showing that #WeAreStrongerTogether!
Perhaps the most amazing part is how far finding my voice has taken me. Silent no longer, I now have my own all video talk show on LA TalkRadio, Apple iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher. It’s Forever Fierce with Catherine Grace O’Connell and our group’s support and inspiration is making it the definitive show for women at Midlife and Beyond! My interviews have included Hannah Storm, Cheryl Richardson, Alexandra Paul, Laird Hamilton, Kelly Emberg, Loreen Arbus, Christie Heffner, Davidji, and Oprah favorites Dr. Shefali, and Dr. Nandi. You can also find all the episodes on the Forever Fierce Revolution YouTube Channel.
We are ecstatic about hosting our next amazing event in LA in October called FierceCon LA 2018: It’s Not a Conference. It’s a Connection. It’s open to women of any age that are interested in connecting to a community of kindness and support. We have women flying in from Europe, New Zealand, and all over the country to celebrate together. The weekend will be centered around sisterhood and bonding while also hosting intimate “Beachside Chats” with inspirational women centering around reinvention at any age. We invite every single woman to join us as we have women from 20 to 80 in our community. Midlife isn’t an age, but rather an experience when a woman begins to feel differently about herself or the world begins treating her differently.
I don’t call myself an “Influencer“ and have no intention of influencing anyone. My mission is to be a catalyst who inspires women to create the internal change that enables them to stand in their truth and be the women they desire to be. Although I began as a Fashion Blogger, I quickly realized, “I’m not changing clothes, I’m changing lives! What started as a revolution from within to heal from Lyme Disease became a global revolution. My message is a simple one. What began as feeling different from others as a young child ultimately became my greatest strength. The truth is that I’m not special. I’m not different. I’m the same as you. If I can do this, anyone can. Believe that you can, and you will. Fierce Belief. That’s all you need.