Today we are sitting down with Catherine Grace O’Connell. She has been a member of Style Collective since April 2016 and has been a ray of light within our community. So many of us have gotten to know Catherine through our laptop and phone screens as she spreads her message and positivity throughout the fashion blogging world. Keep reading to find out how Catherine overcame a near death experience with Lyme Disease to make her fashion blogging dreams a reality!
It’s so lovely to connect with you. I’m Catherine Grace O’Connell, thus the brand name @catherinegraceo. I moved to LA from Chicago just over five years ago. I’m a Fashion/Lifestyle blogger as well as an Inspirational Stylist, Empowerment Mentor and Lyme Disease Advocate.
Tell us about your battle with Lyme disease, when did it all start?
It actually started a decade or more before receiving a diagnosis in April of 2014. It’s very common for this disease to be misdiagnosed for a very long time and that was true in my case. My doctors actually traced it back over ten years prior to my first case of spinal meningitis. I was diagnosed a second time while living in LA and the chance of having it twice is about 1 in 14 million. This alarmed my Integrative MD and she told me that I would most likely test positive for Lyme Disease and I did. By that time, Lyme had spread to my brain as well. I began treatment in April 2014 and within a month, I had great difficulty to even walk for a year due to daily seizures that kept me bedridden. I would have full body seizures lasting anywhere from three to eight hours a day. By 11/11/14, I was a shadow of my former self, my organs were shutting down, and I went through a Near Death Experience.
Did you ever feel like you were at rock bottom, that you would never recover?
Oh, absolutely. I honestly don’t know a single Lyme Warrior that hasn’t felt that way. It’s as though the Universe puts the lights out inside of you. You’re left in this brutal darkness. The despair is absolutely mind blowing. It’s the darkest place I have ever been and that’s saying a lot. I survived a great deal of adversity in my life beginning with my childhood and throughout my life. Lyme disease affects the brain and causes many people to spiral not only into depression, but into a crushing despair. People don’t understand you, they don’t believe you, and you feel very alone. Many Lyme sufferers deal with suicidal thoughts and ending the misery. I live to bring hope to those that are isolated, debilitated and have given up. And, yes, I had given up all hope as well. To be perfectly honest, when I survived the NDE, I spiraled into a deeper depression. I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid of living like that any longer.
What was it about fashion that inspired you to keep fighting to stay alive?
As of spring of last year, I could barely walk around the block. I had spent most of my life as a very athletic and capable woman and I lost all that with this illness. My daughter came over one day last spring. She asked me, “Mom, what would you do if you were well?” I immediately answered, “I would travel.” And, with that, I began creating bucket lists. I began visualizing, dreaming and scheming. This eventually morphed into a fashion blog as fashion was my passion from the time that I was a little girl. It was interesting that the further I went down this creative path, and connected to passion, purpose and joy, that my healing really accelerated. The process of creating the blog allowed me to shift my focus from one of illness to one of wellness. I began focusing all of my energy on creativity and positivity. I worked really hard on my thoughts and my belief systems. I began to question everything. I have been on a deeply spiritual path for most of my life and I used those tools and skills to help heal my inner world.
How did you motivate yourself to become a fashion blogger after experiencing such a hard time in your life?
I faced a choice of identifying with being sick … or being well. Once I chose the latter, my natural motivation and energy took over. I realized I had lost part of myself with the disease. It was wonderful to not only reclaim that part of myself, but to feel as though a fire was lit inside of me that was stronger than ever before. The process of becoming a fashion blogger started with myself, a friend and an Iphone. My friend had never used a camera and it had been over thirty years since I had the slightest experience of being in front of a camera. We definitely had a steep learning curve. I taught myself how to be a model while he learned the photography skills. It takes some time to create your own unique sense of style and an Instagram gallery that reflects that aesthetic. When I first started down this path, I had very little self confidence. It’s been amazing coming into myself in my mid fifties. I feel more confident and beautiful than I have in my entire life. I absolutely love helping others do the same.
Have you ever wanted to quit blogging because it became too overbearing with your illness? What stopped you from doing so?
That’s an interesting question. The truth is that fashion blogging is extremely hard work. Most people see it as very glamourous. Most fashion bloggers would beg to differ! Certainly, there are glamorous moments but most of it is just really hard work. I’m doing this as a full time business and I have a business manager that runs that side of things. I’m the creative and I tend to have a lot of balls in the air at once. I do all of the shopping, styling, writing, blog shoot preparation, as well as running all of the social media. Luckily for me, it was my blog that pushed me past my illness! Fashion blogging truly saved my life. I can’t imagine my life any other way. The creative process brings me incredible joy. Keep in mind that I’m a lot older than most fashion bloggers out there in my mid fifties. Because of Lyme, I do get tired and sleep can be difficult. I have to do everything possible to keep my energy levels balanced. I tend to focus on natural ways to manage my energy such as superfood nutrition, meditation, yoga and energy work. I work for an amazing Health and Wellness Superfood Nutrition company as I firmly believe in the power of holistic healing. It’s not easy but I’m here to stay! I’m firmly committed to this path for the long term because it allows me to do something I’ve always wanted to do: Connect with and empower other women!
Spiritual psychology? tell us what that means and why you pursued your masters in that field.
I was reading an article in MORE magazine when I was going through a very challenging divorce just over ten years ago. It was about an interesting program in Spiritual Psychology in LA. I picked up the phone and made a decision to move west and immerse myself in spiritual studies. I have been studying spirituality and holistic healing for over twenty five years. Spiritual Psychology is the study of both psychology and the soul. It’s a beautiful process of learning how to connect with your inner world. It combines much of what is taught in traditional psychology along with many tools and techniques from the spiritual path. The two year Masters program is very intense and requires a deep level of commitment to raising consciousness while looking deeply within.
How long have you been blogging and how did you start writing for the Huffington Post?
I began the process about a year ago informally on Instagram. The response from people in the Instagram community really touched my heart. The developmental work for the blog started at the beginning of this year and the blog launch was in July. It was a bit like birthing a child! I’ve been amazed at the reception and the quality of output we’ve been able to achieve in such a short time.
In April, I had an Interview done by Rachel at Spout Art on Instagram. (You can find the interview here http://spoutart.com/interview-95-catherine-grace-oconnell/)
I sent a copy of the Interview in an email to Arianna Huffington. I was stunned when I received a personal response in a matter of hours, telling me that she loved my story and wanted me to share my voice on the Huffington Post. I’ve been quite surprised to find how much I love the writing process. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of my new life. I’m beginning a series of Interviews on bloggers who inspire me and have a few in the works.
Do you have any tips for writing-lovers to get associated with a big outlet like the huffington post?
Sure. My first tip is don’t be afraid! Honestly, what have you got to lose? Just go for it! Arianna is no longer with the Huffington Post but it’s quite easy to write to the editors and suggest a topic for an article. I wouldn’t hesitate to continue to pitch article ideas until yours is accepted by the Post. That would be the easiest way to open the door and get to know the editors.
It’s always important to have a message you’re your blog posts what meaningful topics interest you the most?
I’m inspired by women who have overcome adversity and those who try and look at the bright side of life. It’s not easy as the game of life isn’t easy. I do my best to stay positive but I don’t always succeed. I’m human like anyone else. Fashion is my medium … it’s not my message. My message is all about personal empowerment. I was a terribly disempowered women after a series of life changing events. I’m now confident and extremely empowered. I know what it feels like to be disempowered and that it can be overcome. I now know the opposite feeling and I love helping to instill this in others. I relate it to Fashion by saying “Put on your Infit before you put on your outfit!” The honest truth is that my recovery from Lyme Disease was due to personal empowerment. I used the power of my mind to bring myself back from the brink. It wasn’t easy but it changed me forever. I now know there’s absolutely nothing I can’t do!
What do you think the most rewarding part of blogging is?
The most rewarding part of blogging to me are my relationships. I adore meeting new people, people from all walks of life. I was a voracious reader as a child and could usually be found in the library. I was a lover of stories and I’m still a lover of stories. I’ve always been very curious. I love delving into the inner worlds of others. In addition, I revel in the creative process. I worked with an amazing empowerment coach in my recovery. At one point, I was so frustrated because I couldn’t function in any normal capacity. Most of my days were spent unable to stand up or get out of bed. She would tell me that I was a creator. I remember being so mad and thinking, “What is she talking about?” She would tell me things like, “Did you know Matisse created his greatest works of art while bedridden?” These are those Oprah “Aha!” moments in life. This was a huge paradigm shift for me. Now, I see that she was right. The truth is that we are all creators in our own unique way. I’m amazed at how much fun it is to create something from absolutely nothing! I’m inspired by beauty. Beauty in nature. Beauty in fashion. Inner beauty. All beauty. To me, fashion blogging is about an expression of beauty, both inner and outer. And, that lights my fire!
You bet! Recently, I was asked to guest host and curate the Bloglovin Shop which is a huge honor. Bloggers that have curated the shop this past year include The Girl from Panama and The Man Repeller. I’ve looked up to those bloggers for a very long time and I’m humbled to be asked to follow suit. I just returned from doing the shoot in Santa Barbara this past weekend and had a blast creating the images. I can’t wait to share later this month when I’m guest hosting the site. I’m also an animal lover and am training as an Equine Coach!
Where can we find you?
I can be found on Instagram @catherinegraceo and on my blog at www.CatherineGraceO.com. My facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/catherinegraceo/ and my twitter handle is @catgraceo. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Interview by Taylor Aube from Stop, Drop and Vogue.