Celebrating the strength of a woman

strength of a woman

I have always known that the strength of a woman is a force to be reckoned with, but some women have been through more than you can ever imagine yet still, against all odds, have used their inner strength to pull themselves up out of disaster and despair. It is this idea of the inner strength of a woman which led me to interview author and photographer Susan Mackie who  has written and published her inaugural book, an anthology of women’s diverse journeys, which captures their inspirational stories in the face of adversity – Women of Spirit. 

Let’s celebrate these 20 women featured in the book Women of Spirit and showcase their journeys to self-empowerment in this interview:

Can you talk about some of the ways these women have shown courage and bravery in this book?

Without exception the women in the book have reached deep down to share their life stories in selfless detail. They have beaten illness, disempowerment, racism, bereavement and lack of acceptance.

Here are a few examples:

Years of systematic psychological and emotional abuse from her husband, with his multiple affairs almost destroyed Helen’s self-worth. Her public brave face was convincing, but the internal wounds and invisible scars manifested into ill health until one day her young son gave her the reason – and the strength – to leave. With support from family and friends, Helen rebuilt her confidence and her life, eventually becoming an award winning author and healer.

Pictured above: Helen

Finding a way through the darkness of losing her mother in such a shocking and unexpected way was crushing for Rachel. At times only the thought of her younger sister kept her going. Finding the right kind of counselling with a special support group brought deeper understanding and ultimately, healing. This lovely young woman is now passionate about helping as many as possible through the stigma surrounding mental health.

Like so many young, naïve women, Sam wanted to be loved, to feel whole – yet lust brought her to a place of passion, terror, self-hatred and ‘un-living’. Planning her escape took a year. Depression set in, in spite of her children and loving new husband. Writing about her life one day was powerful, she felt completely renewed, and now her mission is to show others how they can see the magic in everyday life.

strength of a woman

Pictured above: Sam 

At 21, the loss of her femininity and identity – in an age where we are bombarded in the media with ‘flawless perfection’ – was devastating to Victoria’s emotional wellbeing. Choosing to take ownership, not to be defined by her alopecia, and in spite of some harrowing times, she now campaigns to improve body-confidence and self-worth.

A premature baby and a husband with severe sleep apnoea was exhausting for Kate, who was eventually sent for blood tests and an MRI scan. A pituitary tumour was diagnosed, thankfully not cancerous, but too much growth hormone had caused a rare condition called acromegaly. Photographing Kate was a joy – her smile could light up London, and her humour in describing herself as Fiona from Shrek when her condition was at its height is testimony to her character. To get her brain working again she enrolled in a course of Spiritual Care, and now does amazing work in the classroom teaching both staff and pupils skills to maintain their emotional wellbeing.

strength of a woman

Pictured above: Kate

A violent rape at the age of 18 left Dawn feeling too violated to report it, so for a long time she lived with her ‘dirty secret’, burying it deep to protect herself; becoming a control freak as a way of coping. Receiving unconditional love from her husband and family gave Dawn the strength to achieve success in her professional life. Finally speaking openly about being raped has been not only a relief, but hugely empowering

How can we use their experiences to inspire our own inner boldness?

Throughout the stories each woman has left clues, patterns and signposts about how they did this. These act as a guide for those who are still battling their own demons to pick out their own relevance – and so move towards true self-empowerment. While not a typical self-help book, it is a book of discovery and enlightenment. I would even encourage readers to have a pencil handy to mark sentences which really resonate with them (and there will be plenty!) so that ‘light bulb’ moments can be easily revisited.

Life can be brutal – what do you think their experiences teach us about facing our inner ghosts?

Women are the nurturers but we are also incredibly strong. By facing up to their challenges, their demons, the women in this book have shown that not only can we survive adversity, but if we choose to learn from it, we can turn it into something positive – and thrive. Self-empowerment is hard won but comes from a place deep within, and that is truly worthwhile

Why is it so important that ordinary women with extraordinary stories are given a voice? What else can we do to make that happen?

We’ve come a long way, but with issues such as the startling gender pay gaps in large corporations and the false ‘flawless perfection’ with which we are surrounded and to which we cannot possibly aspire, clearly there is still a long way to go. In any publication we can read about celebrities or film stars, people who have an entourage to support them.

The women in this book have been at the coalface of adversity, and have managed to rise above it through sheer determination and willpower. They are, in essence, real. The saying that “truth can be stranger than fiction” has never been more accurate than here – I’ve loved watching ‘Dr Foster’ and ‘Liar’ on TV – yet some of the stories in this book would give them a run for their money!

Giving these women a voice has been empowering for them – one woman emailed me saying that she had never thought about sharing her story before, but that even emailing me about it made her lift her chin that little bit higher – that gave me goosebumps. So there is the cathartic, empowering element of storytelling.

Then, there is the power of sharing – we all know the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” – but what if a woman can’t articulate her story? Or has no-one to tell? What if she feels she is the only one going through pain around a particular issue at that time? This is where the book comes in – it enables the reader to know that she is not alone, that she can get through it, and that there is support (at the end of each chapter are the contact details of women who have turned their adversity into careers now supporting others facing the same challenges, and useful website links).

We are currently creating a fabulous website, part of which will give voice to anyone who wishes to share their story – including a section called “Anonymous Spirits”.

We are also organising events where women will hear participants in the book speak about their experiences and answer questions.

Through the ‘Women of Spirit movement’, we will create a huge community of love and support.

Is there always a silver lining for women in the face of adversity?

Yes. It’s amazing how finding the courage to keep going, to rise above the pain, while keeping hold of one’s dignity and integrity, results in real growth and empowerment. With every step forwards, we become stronger, our boundaries become less easy to manipulate, and we can take pride in the fact that we didn’t sink. We can even look back and be thankful for what happened, because it has taken us on a different path – a better one.

What are the key lessons we can take away from the experiences of these women?

If they can do it, anyone can do it.

Every one of us has unlimited resources deep within, it might take a while to reach them, but eventually, we reach them.

That through pain, we grow – if we choose to.

If there was only one thing you can say about women’s inner strength it would be….

That it cannot be extinguished – it is never too late to find your true value and KNOW your worth – it’s inside us all, somewhere, we just have to find it.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’ve been there, and I know only too well the consequences low self-worth has on your life. My path was a hard one but I was lucky enough to have support from some amazing women who shared their experiences with me on the way and made me feel less alone.

I now realise that sharing life experiences can empower others who are struggling with extraordinary personal challenges.

The book was created to give each and every woman a platform not only to be heard but from which she is able to help others through their pain. My hope is that women will help build the ‘Women of Spirit movement’ into something that will reach many, many women who are in need of love and support.

Participants have not used the book as a platform for dis-respecting men or to ‘get back’ at those who have caused pain. I asked a male friend of mine if he thought I needed to put something somewhere about not hating men, and his response was “gosh no, why would you need to explain yourself for helping women?”!

My intention is to publish one book a year – and to go further afield so that books include more diverse cultures and the particular challenges they face. I already have women in the Netherlands and USA who wish to share their stories.

women of spirit

***Women of Spirit is published by Nicola Simpson of Yellow Rose Publishing {Abigail’s Rainbow} through Ingram Sparks and will be retailing at 9.99 per book via Amazon.co.uk and at numerous outlets.

The www.womenofspirit.co.uk website will be launching soon but until then please keep up to date with the Women of Spirit Movement via the Women of Spirit Facebook group.***

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