You can do this.
You can do this.

You can do this.

The OverCome Project features stories and photography celebrating a common thread in humanity: the ability to get through what life throws at us. 

Part 1 of each project reflects a challenge or struggle, and Part 2 is the overcoming.

 

As I gather more stories, I will be compiling them into series (check out the transgender, mental health, and medical stories).

 

Read on, and be reminded how strong we all are.

 

Tyree, 31

Part 1: SECOND BEST

I was being raised by my grandparents while my mom was living in West Philly with a boyfriend. I was about 13. She called me and told me what happened- it was a violent, there was blood. He had thrown her outside on the tracks, and he had bit her face. What man bites a woman? I got my uncle.  He was furious and we went over there to whoop this guy's ass and, of course, he wasn't there. I had a butter knife. I knew it wasn't sharp enough, but I had intentions of killing this guy. I probably would’ve went to jail if he was there. When I saw her, it was like, “Mom, what the fuck?” But she didn't want to come. She wanted to stay there. And that's when it really changed things for me. Lack of love and coming second go hand-in-hand. It was like when I had to settle for a pair of Reeboks but everyone else got Nikes. Reeboks were cheaper so I got what we could afford. I had a fresh pair of Reeboks and some bullies took my shoes and they threw them up on the wire.  I’m like, fuck, I have no shoes now. So I had to wear somebody else's hand-me-downs.

Part 2: FAITH

A lot of things changed for me when I turned 16, dramatically, like did a 180. I became lighter. Different. My family didn’t even know what to do with me. The church definitely affected me. It gave me an outlet. It gave me a sense of stability. It gave me family, community, and that’s something I didn’t have. It was a total contrast from what I was raised in. One night really affected me.  It was unbelievable. It was one of those things that if you don't have faith, you would definitely try to figure out why or how it happened. It was dark. They had the strobe lights, colorful lights, smoke, music in the background and just… energy. Strong energy.  I was having an out-of-body experience. I remember this guy snapped me out of it. I couldn’t really see him, I just heard his voice. He was telling me I was called to be a prayer warrior.

Sandy, 83

Part 1: ALONE

Hollywood first called to me in 1954 after I saw Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront and… I just knew someday I’d have to see what that world was all about. A few years later, I was walking down Rush Street in Chicago in a trench coat on a rainy night, looking for something to do. It was a very poignantly lonely moment. I was about to head home to my parents’ house, sleep, wake up, and keep working graphic art jobs that didn’t inspire me. I knew this wasn’t the life for me. I couldn’t do it. That was the night when my heart told me- it’s time to leave. And soon after that I told my family that I was going to California. I had made enough money to buy myself a ‘57 Chevy convertible. I had to see what was at the end of that Route 66. I had to go find a place for myself in the world. My parents were smart. They knew I was leaving. I could tell by their faces standing on the porch as I drove away. It’s just that in those days, nobody ever talked about what they were feeling. It was communication by silence.

Part 2: CONFIDENCE

One day, after I had some success drawing people like Sammy Davis, Jr and Judy Garland, I got a phone call saying, “The most powerful guy in the industry, Freddy Fields, would like to have a meeting with you.” He had a desk that was made out of marble and the windows had thick valore drapes. He wore sunglasses that went from dark on top to light at the bottom and had a thin mustache. He said to me, “Kid, I represent everybody who is big. Everybody. I’m going to buy the back cover of Variety and Hollywood Reporter for one year, and I’m going to take all the people I manage and represent (Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Henry Fonda, etc.) and I will have their publicist bring over to you what they’re working on. You can draw anything you want, and you don’t have to show it to me. I’ll see it when it prints. And send me a bill.”  When I walked out of there, I knew that I had found the needle in the haystack.

Steve, 62

Part 1: SHAME

It was August 5th, 1987, and I was 32. I was driving down an alley with somebody in the car who I had just met on the street. An officer stopped us. He reached in my top pocket while I was sitting in the car and pulled out my crack pipe and then he put me in handcuffs on the side walk. Then he found my medical license and said, “Oh, we’ve got you.”  It started when I was 13. Off and on, I controlled it through medical school and I did really well. But then it got really out of control. At the time, I was working as a physician at a drug and alcohol treatment center. Smoking crack was what really brought me down. I went from using once a month to once every 15 minutes. My habit cost about $500 per day. I was homeless, unemployed, and unemployable… so that got my attention.

(Model: Dave Roselle)

Part 2: SURRENDER

Getting back on my feet was a gradual process because I was so broken. I went through treatment and then to a residential recovery home. After being in that structured environment for 6 months, I was able to start working limited hours in an outpatient clinic. One pivotal thing happened in that time that I had never done before. I surrendered. It was a huge shift.  I realized that I didn't know what was best and that I needed to take advice from others. My way clearly didn't work; I had proven that. Eventually, I got a job with a modest income and a little apartment.  I ended up being offered a medical directorship to develop an HIV program, and at that time a lot of people were dying. It was special, being able to help people in a very intimate way. My sense of self and confidence really began to grow. The clouds were finally parting. It was the beginning of a new day.

Lamin, 30

Part 1: HELPLESS

I graduated in Fall of 2008. Obama became president. I was ready to take on the world, but it became extremely hard to find a job as the economy began to tank. I fell into a depression, waking up every day for 2 years doubting whether or not I would be able to offer something to the world. I remember one really helpless moment during an interview with this one temp agency. The way the lady was asking questions gave me a kind of anxiety attack which I never had before. I basically heard her say, “The company is paying me to have this conversation and I'm going to treat you like a piece of meat” but she presented it like it was a great opportunity for me, like on a silver platter. I knew she didn’t care about my interests or where I wanted to go. I swore that I would never apply to a temp agency job again. I didn’t feel like a human being. And that's when I really felt like I gave up.

 

 

Part 2: WORTHY

We were doing this activity in grad school that is supposed to be this anonymous way to validate your peers. We sat in a circle facing outward with our closed eyes. There were 2 people in the middle. The facilitator said different attributes like ‘this person is a leader’ or ‘this is the kind of person that I would go to when I feel down’ and the 2 people in the middle would silently tap your shoulder if they connected you with that attribute. So they did that and I got tapped so many times… and at the end I broke down. I was bawling. These people who I had only known for 3 months said so many nice things about me without having to say anything. They just touched me. All the little things I had done to just try to be a nice person, just being me, they got captured in this one moment. That was me kind of like getting my groove back or saying, oh, wow, I have value. People believe in me. Yeah, that was huge for me. I left that kind of a wreck, but it was a good moment for me.

(Models: Sharieff Walters, Darlene Drake, Lindsay Coryne, Yvette Carabajal)

Zachary, 19

Part 1: WORTHLESS

I had a relationship with a guy when I was 14. He was out but I was not. We got into a huge argument and then he outed me on social media. It was during the first hour of the day, so it got around the school really quickly, like rapid fire. I was pushed down the stairs. I was thrown into lockers. I came home from school that night and told my mom that I fell under a rose bush on the way home. Deep down I'm thinking, yo, dumbass, tell them what happened, but I just couldn't do it. I went into my bedroom and that was the first time I attempted suicide.  I cut my wrist right where that main vein is. Paramedics came, and they couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. The main thing in my memory is hearing the sirens of Emergency Response Vehicles. Every time I hear them, it takes me right back. Ambulance sirens drive me absolutely crazy.

 

Part 2: PURPOSE

After the suicide attempt, I got involved with organizations like GLSEN, the Kansas City Anti-violence Project, and our LGBTQ community center. I went to the events and would always share their content on Facebook. One day, I was in my bedroom and I got a phone call.  A man said, “Are you Zachary?” He sounded like the FBI. I said, “It depends.” And he was like, “Hi, this is so-and-so from Nickelodeon’s public affairs. We received over 200 nominations for you for the HALO Effect Award.” I was like, holy shit. I didn’t think I even knew that many people. The HALO Award (Helping And Leading Others) is for LGBTQ and mental health advocacy within the community. Well, at that moment it felt like I truly did something, like I had a reason to live. I had a purpose - to share my story. I had a reason to even still be here.

 

 

Erin, 37

Part 1: MARGINAL

My biggest challenge was during my Internal Medicine residency.  It didn’t come naturally to me. To diagnose based only on physical exam, lab values, imaging… it felt like there was so much of true “healing” that we weren’t addressing. I often felt we were causing more harm than good, or just offering a temporary quick fix.  It all deeply went against my grain, but I tried to hang in there because I knew it was part of my path. At an annual evaluation, my program directors gave me the score of “marginal”, and I felt the most devastating shame of my life. Even with everything I was giving of myself, my energy, my time, my heart... to have it not be enough, I was just broken.  And right after hearing that, I had to go do a 30 hour shift in the ICU, completely terrified of my inadequacy.  I remember I would often sit in the shower, hoping somehow the fear and shame would wash away. I'd curl up in a ball, trying to disappear, but I could never get small enough. Another haven was my car. I would break down in the solitude all the time. In one dark moment, I imagined it would feel better to just let the car drive off the road and smash into a tree.  I just couldn't believe I was even thinking that. It made me realize how shame is one of the most profoundly destructive emotions we can carry. 

Part 2: WARRIOR

The fear of people discovering that I was a “marginal” physician lasted for years.  Even though my other evaluations in residency were fine, that word felt tattooed on my forehead.  But years later, I was walking down the hospital hallway as a Palliative Care attending and I just felt good about all the non-traditional skills I brought to the table like my shamanic healing work and energy medicine.  I felt proud that some doctors would even specifically request me to see their patients.  And I suddenly realized I wouldn’t have made it this far if I was significantly inadequate.  In that moment, I remember standing up a little bit straighter and walking with more of a purpose. I was on my way to a meeting about a dying patient who had told me he didn’t want aggressive care at the end of his life, but some family members and physicians were not honoring that and he was suffering.  I felt grounded and strong, ready to fight for this man’s peace and dignity. I felt like a warrior.

Gina, 40

Part 1: DESPERATE

I lost my job in 2012. For the first year after, I was somewhat optimistic.  But then I was applying to jobs left and right, and I barely got interviews. The second year of unemployment was the hardest. People started disappearing from my life-- I think no one wants to believe something like that can happen to them, so they seemed to distance themselves from me. It was easier to think I was doing something wrong than that I was a victim of circumstance.  I didn't really have a community. With next to no support and no real job prospects, I couldn’t help but start thinking, oh my god, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I get anything?  I'd done everything that you're "supposed" to do to be successful. I had two Master's degrees. I was a hard worker with great references. I had over 15 years of professional work experience, but I couldn't find anything that would make me more than $13 an hour. The whole idea that if you work hard you will succeed - the whole American Dream thing - it’s not true. Working hard doesn’t guarantee you’ll get your dreams. It doesn't even guarantee you stability.  Towards the end of my second year of unemployment I felt such intense desperation, frustration, and depression. Writing cover letters felt like an exercise in futility... I swear, I never want to write another goddamn cover letter in my life.

(Model: Lindsay Coryne)

Part 2: OPTIMISTIC

Finally, after 2 years I got a call with a job offer for the Department of Transportation and I took it. I had anticipated getting a job in a library because that’s what my second Master’s degree was in, but at this point I would have taken a job offer in Timbuktu. After being at this job for about a year, I realized I’m finally stable again.  I finally can pay my bills.  It’s not my dream job, of course, but I’m good at it and I like the people I work with. After going through that strife of unemployment, I realized that there are things to be grateful for, even in the mundane.  That’s how I feel. It’s not perfect, but I’m looking for a house. If you had told me in 2014 when I was working three jobs and barely making enough to get by that I would be looking to buy a house in 2016, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

 

 

Justin, 28

Part 1: SINKING

My dream has always been to come to L.A. to be a filmmaker, writer, director. When I first got out here, I got a job with a production company. My boss had a very abrasive working style. He made things very tense and was terrible at dealing with stress. We were doing what's called a sizzle reel for a Don Cheadle film, so we had to bring our A-game.  Well, everything starts to go wrong. I forgot a power cord, there were audio issues, missed emails.  When we met with Don’s team, my boss needed a scapegoat and it was me. He essentially said, “Sorry about the new guy. He’s an idiot.” After the meeting, he tore into me and made me believe it was all my fault, that I was totally incompetent. So I'm on the way home and I'm just fucking crushed. It felt like sinking into a deep hole. I just sat in my room for hours in the dark, crying and wondering if my dream was going to die.

 

 

Part 2: RESOLUTE

I left the company a few months after that. The lessons I learned from that experience: make sure you double check things, follow up on things, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you're not sure.  I didn't get up and quit. I just said, “Hey, I need to take some time.” I actually was hired to write a screenplay, and they were mostly happy for me. After that, I started work on other sites and movies. I was figuring it out. People were like, “Give me your number because I'm going to call you again. You are awesome!” There is still a long journey ahead of me but I’m not intimidated by it. I’m embracing the lessons and applying them. The biggest thing I realized was: don't try for people's approval. Try for people's respect.

(Model: a really nice runner)

 

Andrea, 35

Part 1: PARANOID

I was living in Japan and was on a short trip to the Philippines when I unknowingly got sucked into a game of Blackjack.  They had invited me over with the false pretense of helping their niece with info about nursing schools in the U.S.  Somehow I ended up putting down my own money as a favor, which seemed simple and quick.  It became a complex web of lies and deceit.  The “game” went on for months.  I went back to Japan and knew I was getting scammed, but I just wanted to finish the “game”.  In my mind, there was no way I could lose. I had 21. I just needed to go back with more money, show my cards, and get my freaking money back… and my life back. I had become so fearful and paranoid.  My house in Japan was really old and the doors didn’t lock.  Every little creak, every little noise, I thought somebody from the Philippines was coming to kidnap me for ransom. So, it was a very scary time. I couldn't tell anybody about it, or I didn't because I felt like a fool.  One day, I was on the train and there was someone who didn't look Japanese (it was a very Japanese town) and so I kept my eye on him.  Even when I got off the train I kept looking behind me to see if he was going to keep following me.  I was very hyper-vigilant and I was like, this is crazy. This is crazy.

(Model: Dave Roselle)

Part 2: RELEASE

One of the scammers called my family and told them to warn me not to return to the Philippines because I wasn’t safe.  My mom called me in a panic.  I told her about the blackjack game, getting scammed, and putting down lots of money in hopes to end this nightmare.  I remember her questions were so obvious. “How could you not know that this wasn’t real, that these people were lying to you?” And I was like, “You know what, Mom?  I can't ask what-ifs anymore. I can't do the regret thing anymore. I've asked the what-ifs so many times that I'm dead inside, and it just creates anxiety and no resolution. I can’t ask the what-ifs anymore.” And it was that point, that mind shift, that paradigm shift, that helped me overcome it, accept it, and just move on emotionally. It was lots of tears, just release. 

(Model: Lindsay Coryne)

 

Terrie, 58

Part 1: HUMILIATION

I was bullied… started out because I was chubby and wore glasses.  I remember they’d push me off the bus at a bus stop that wasn’t mine just so they could beat me up.  And they pushed me off the top of somebody’s roof that we were climbing. That’s why I have this scar here. Total shame, that’s a good word for being bullied altogether, the shame of it and the embarrassment.  Then there was incident in 5th grade regarding a note I was passing to my friend who had a crush on this guy. I drew them as 2 stick figures and wrote “Do you wanna fuck?”  I don’t even think I knew what the word meant. The teacher intercepted it and my parents were called to the school. They felt there was something psychologically wrong with me. Everybody treated me differently. I had no skin, no flesh, no nothing. I was nonexistent.

 

 

Part 2: ACCEPTED

I had a couple teachers who took a shine. That made a lot of difference to be noticed by the teacher.  I was sitting in my class in my chair, and my French teacher was standing next to me facing my desk. I was looking up at him talking and he said, “You’ve got a beautiful smile.”  I still felt like hiding, but I was so happy and amazed. Totally flustered. I’m sure I turned vermilion. I remember I had on a red t-shirt from the 70s. There were these t-shirts with yellow smiles on them.  After that, I always wanted to wear that outfit.  So, I applied to become an exchange student to France and I was accepted.  It was an arduous process and it was all done on my own merit.  I went to a foreign country that doesn’t speak English and, well... they loved me. I loved them. It was beautiful. I learned to speak the language. Then, when I came back, I was the one in the yearbook with the full page, the biography, the newspaper article. That’s the happy ending.

 

Stephen, 36

Part 1: ADDICTED

I was always on the go, working out 3 hours a day. And then I just had no energy and developed an immune disorder. It was like going 365mph to zero. It was the first time I had no control. I had depression from not being able to move.  It was a symptom of a deeper thing that I wasn’t addressing: my inability to express myself and being cut off from the flow of truth and expression. I actually wanted to die in the process.  I later realized it wasn’t me who wanted to die. I just wanted to let go of the pattern.  And you can’t really kill a pattern even by taking your own life. It will come back in some other juncture, at least that’s my belief.  It all stemmed from my relationship with my mother which was very codependent.  It took a while, and I had a lot of help but I addressed that and then I got better.      

 

 

Part 2: ALIVE

My yoga teacher taught me about how the body will communicate the imbalance of mind and soul.  He was working with me one-on-one, and I was deciding whether or not to move through my patterns that weren’t serving me. I was holding a pose called chaturanga, a lowered pushup, and it was empowering my middle, my third chakra, the center of confidence and truth. My body… it was like a demon. My body was like, I’m going to fucking hold on to this, and my teacher was like, “No, you’re not. You’re going to lift your ribs.” It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life but it was literally like an exorcism. It was a complete representation for what was happening in my life. And once I opened and could sustain that pose and breathe conscientiously through that, I literally felt like the demon left. I could feel this embodiment that had been living in my body relinquished out of me.  The experience of living is about getting out of your own way so that the vitality of life can move in and through you.

Tina, 32

Part 1: UNCERTAINTY

I had moved to Vancouver to rebuild myself, to stand on my own feet, and because I love film, but I was just barely getting by.  The first year was a huge struggle because I didn't have any regular income. I was going through all my savings. I could barely afford living in my friend’s tiny little basement suite where I slept on a futon in the kitchen. It was summer time, and we had a fruit fly problem. There were hot nights where I would put the blanket over my face just so the fruit flies wouldn’t get in my ears. This is how bad it got. I was grateful I wasn’t on the street, but that was the next step. My parents were going through a bankruptcy. I had no one to turn to. I was thinking to myself, what the hell am I going to do?

Part 2: RELIEF

It was a matter of luck more than anything else. I ran to an old friend who worked at the Vancouver Public Library. I had some experience working at a library and she said, “We usually aren’t hiring, but we are right now. It's super hard to get in, but you should apply.” First I had to go through testing. I scored high on that and so I went on to the interviews. It was a long shot and there were no guarantees. Right before my 30th birthday, I was in my friend’s bedroom lying on the bed. I got this phone call and I heard, “We talked to your references.  We want to hire you.”  I was just so relieved, joyful, emotional. This could not come at a more pivotal moment in my life.  Like, I'm going to be okay!  One thing I tell you, I never gave up hope. I had this instinct that if I just hung in there long enough something would change for the better.

(Model: Maxi Gumprecht)

 

 

Breanne, 27

Part 1: PARALYZED

I had a really hard time traveling and sleeping at other people’s houses as a child after my mom and dad split up. Anytime I would stay at my dad's, I would have intense anxiety. I couldn't sleep anywhere but home. As I grew older, even in high school and college I still had really big problems. That’s one of the reasons I went to college 20 minutes from my home. So after I graduated I was doing some soul-searching: what was my life purpose? I found I wanted to pursue music, singing, and songwriting to infuse pop music with healing aspects. So, of course I wanted to move to L.A. but I had all of these issues of not being able to sleep, having anxiety, feeling out of control. I got a job in L.A. and I was going to stay with a friend and see what I could make happen. The moment I got there, the city was just so big and overwhelming. I just had this sense of intense anxiety, and it came from my needing to heal those old parts of myself that I hadn't healed yet. I was paralyzed, like I couldn’t move. It was the longest 24 hours of my life. I knew I couldn’t do it. I felt like I failed, and I went home.

Part 2: GUIDED

So I did a whole year of therapy, and did really intensive inner work with my aunt. The whole time I knew I was supposed to be in L.A. but it just wasn’t the right time. I felt this sense of pressure that I needed to prove to people and myself that I could move there. It was a big thing for me because nobody understood why I wanted to move there to try to pursue music and songwriting. A lot of my family still doesn’t understand that. So finally I tried again. I got another job there and I rented a little studio. I packed up all my stuff in a big U-Haul. I didn’t bring anyone with me because the guidance I was getting was: You need to do this on your own without other people’s influences. So I made the 6-hour drive in that big truck by myself, still feeling a little bit anxious but knowing that this time I had done the work I needed to do. This time I trusted myself. It felt like I was guided, like I was following a path of light. And I did it. I stayed!

 

 

More stories to be posted soon!

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© Erin Reeve, MD