“I would hug that little girl and love her. I would let her know that she had it all right all along. She had all the answers within. And I would tell her to not be afraid and to go for it. Follow her dreams and to not look back. Trust. Trust in the Universe.”
– Catherine Grace O’Connell
Catherine Grace O’Connell
Personal Stylist, Lifestyle and Fashion Blogger, Lyme Disease Survivor
Catherine Grace O’Connell is a Personal Stylist, and a Lifestyle and Fashion Blogger originally from Lake Forest, Illinois on Chicago’s North Shore. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1983 with a double major in Economics and French studying International Finance and had every intention of going to third world countries and saving the world. Catherine went to work in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill for Senator Howard Baker while he was Majority Leader of the Senate. Following his retirement, she went on to work for Congressman Norman Lent before leaving Washington and returning to Chicago to work for a Swiss Bank Corporation in Marketing and Aon Corporation in Sales. Her time on the Hill was quite an exciting one with lunches in the White House Mess, visiting the oval office and a private meeting with Ron and Nancy Reagan at the President’s Dinner. It was a heady time for a sorority girl just out of college. Eventually, Catherine married and had two beautiful children, Maddie and Ryan, who are her pride and joy. Maddie is a 24 year old Actress who graduated from UCLA and lives in West Hollywood and Ryan is a talented musician, who is 22 and in his final year at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
To entertain her creative side, Catherine started an Interior Design Business while raising her children. She also began studying spirituality while going through some challenging times in her marriage. Eventually, Catherine left the marriage to start a new life in LA and to obtain her Masters in Spiritual Psychology. After a series of serious health issues, Catherine was diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease and almost lost her life to the illness just over a year ago. In her own words Catherine has come to know that: “Life threatening illness has a way of changing people at their very core and that is certainly my story as well which lead me to reigniting my passion and my purpose.” Read on to find out more about Catherine and her work.
Tell us about your work as a personal stylist and your journey so far.
This is a relatively new journey over the past few months beginning with this foray into the Instagram world. The reception that I have received has been overwhelming. I have to admit entering the blogging world in my mid fifties while most bloggers are closer to the age of my daughter initially felt a bit intimidating. I tend to be very creative and not very technological. I love playing around with patterns and colors. I believe that there aren’t any rules when it comes to fashion. My personal styling business is more about assisting women to see their inner beauty, what I often refer to is helping women to put on their “infit” before they put on their outfit. I love helping women to adopt a beautiful mindset. I have been on a deeply spiritual path for much of my life having overcome a great deal of adversity as have most women by the time of midlife. I practice yoga and meditation. I am also a Reiki Master Teacher and have been trained in many healing modalities. I bring a lot of spiritual inspiration into my personal styling and fashion blogging as it is truly my passion and purpose in life to inspire others along the way.
Was this always what you wanted to do or did it emerge over time?
I was a very sensitive young girl. I always knew that I was different in some way. My heart truly hurt seeing the disparity in the world and I wanted to make a difference. I spent a lot of time volunteering growing up. I worked in old people homes and hospitals. Later in college, I volunteered tutoring women in prisons. I desperately wanted to help. My love of fashion was very much alive although I had little money to buy beautiful clothing. I remember my first pair of jeans were my brothers hand me downs. As soon as I was old enough to work, I began to earn money so that I could buy clothes. I worked in factories, delivering telephone books, bagging groceries, you name it and I did it. Soon enough, I would take a bus to the mall to work at Charles Stevens for the discount. Over time, I began working at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. I was offered a Management position at Neimans having been the number one saleperson. Yet the messages were so strong to get a “real job” and so, I went on to work in Washington and Swiss Bank to get on the career track as I was “supposed to do.” I had a real job at the cost of my passion as so many of us do in life. It took me another thirty years to reconnect with my passion.
What and who has helped you in the process of following your dream?
There’s an interesting story behind the beginning of this business. In the spring of 2015, I was still bedridden with Lyme disease. I spent a year with daily seizures, making walking extremely difficult. It had been the most difficult year of my life as my I dropped down to almost 100 pounds and my organs began shutting down. I went through a near death experience where I left my body and had to make a decision on whether or not to come back. Somehow, I made the decision to return, yet I didn’t understand why, as I was suffering immensely. One day, last spring while still bedridden, my daughter had a life changing conversation with me. She asked me what I would do if I were well. I told her that I would travel and write my story. I began creating bucket lists. Well, that soon became a fashion blog as I went online and began dreaming and scheming. I began visualizing. I began living in that space. And, I began healing. Quickly. And, before I knew it, I was off doing photo shoots. I had no idea what I was doing. It had been a very long time that I had been in front of a camera. I certainly didn’t know a thing about editing and I had never been on Instagram. I created an Instagram account. I pulled out my iphone and handed my camera to friends and family. Over time, I recruited a close friend who taught himself how to take photographs and how to use Lightroom and Photoshop. I invested in a really good camera and an expensive lens. I started reaching out to various brands that I loved and they responded. And, I began a personal styling business with an emphasis on helping women to connect with their inner beauty. For the first time in my life, I began doing things that made me happy.
What inspires you?
Women of all ages inspire me. Women with a strong sense of self and a strong faith inspire me. Women who have overcome adversity inspire me the most. I consider myself to be very spiritual yet not religious. I am open to all faiths and belief systems. I tend to be very Buddhist by nature. I adore the Millenials and greatly admire their strength and dedication to protecting our environment. And women of midlife, or as I like to call it, Act II, my hats are off to all of you. To me, by the time most women have hit midlife they have had to overcome difficult challenges by turning within. It is those inner resources that are immensely powerful and to me that is what ultimately determines a woman’s strength and beauty.
What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
Like so many women my age, I have encountered many challenges throughout my life. I haven’t yet shared my story publicly. I was diagnosed with PTSD, having survived some pretty severe trauma and abuse. The details are not what is important. This occurred in my childhood and I continued to experience many forms of abuse throughout my life. I have learned a great deal through this journey. As I have shared with the many friends that I have made within the Lyme community, I have received many blessings through this illness. I will be perfectly honest that the suffering with Lyme disease is absolutely beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Yet, it is almost a way of the Universe forcing you to turn within and to shine a light on those dark places inside of us. It has helped me to be even more empathetic and compassionate. To open my heart even more. It also helped to light a fire inside of me to ignite my passion and my purpose. I literally watched myself come alive through aligning with my true passion and truly believing in myself. It takes a lot of guts at the age of 54 to jump into the Instagram Fashion Blogging World.
What message are you trying to share with your work?
The message at the core of everything that I do is to Believe in Yourself and to Love Yourself. Beauty is truly on the inside. I was always told that I was beautiful when I was growing up by not by my family. It didn’t matter how others saw me. What mattered was how I “felt”about myself. The messages within my family were quite critical and so that was what I believed. Those messages literally affected me and my beliefs about myself. They changed me at my core. I didn’t understand that the messages had nothing to do with me. I took on other people’s projections as my own. I continued to experience many forms of abuse throughout my life and I had to take responsibility for my own empowerment. The most important thing for a woman is how she chooses to feel on the inside. Life responds from there. To me, that is what fashion is all about. Fashion instantly changes how a woman feels. When we change how we feel. We change how people respond and our life changes.
How did you learn to deal with criticism?
It is a continual learning process. What I have learned is that everyone is a mirror. In other words, when I am angry at someone, I need to look at myself. For example, this was a difficult week for me. I had a lot of emotion come up with a situation. I had to take responsibility for my anger and what was triggered inside of me. It is never about the other person. It always comes down to you. If someone criticizes you, and you react, then it is up to you to look within to see why you were triggered in the first place. As they teach on the spiritual path, if you are truly peaceful within, it isn’t possible for criticism to trigger you. So, the answer is always within. It is never outside of you. The journey truly never ends.
What is it that you love about living a creative life?
It is so interesting as people have always described me as a creative and I tended to discard that label. Now, I see that as so true. I was the child who was always rearranging her bedroom. What I find now is that even when I’m having a bad day with the Lyme, when I do a photo shoot, I’m in a different place. It instantly changes my energy. I’m happy, joyful and playful. With Lyme disease, I don’t get a lot of sleep. I can look tired with bags under my eyes and they seem to go away when we begin shooting. I tend to be very holistic and natural. I have found that reconnecting with your creativity instantly reawakens joy making you look beautiful.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Don’t wait. It is truly never too late to get started. Your heart knows. Turn within and listen. Then just do it.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back?
I would hug that little girl and love her. I would let her know that she had it all right all along. She had all the answers within. And I would tell her to not be afraid and to go for it. Follow her dreams and to not look back. Trust. Trust in the Universe.
What are you most excited for in the future?
I am excited that I have a future. Just over a year ago there was no future. The greatest challenge with a chronic illness is that it becomes a part of your being. The danger is that it becomes your story. I am consciously choosing each day to live in a new space and I’ll be honest, it’s not easy. To live in a place with hope and new beginnings is a conscious choice I am making each day. To live as “Catherinegraceo” and to hopefully inspire others along the way. I want to thank each and every one of my Followers on Instagram. You have no idea how much you and your comments inspire me. You all are truly the reason that I am here today.