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July 2020, Basel, Switzerland

“Monika, why did you praise yourself in front of the mirror?”

»3 years ago, I decided to start a new chapter in my life. Today I can finally smile again.«

Monika had to face many difficult challenges in her life so far. Experiencing violence in her childhood and being addicted to alcohol up to her late twenties are only a part of them. How content she seems to be today, impresses me. I meet her in a village near Basel. »Shall I show you one of my favourite places?«, she asks me.

During the drive in her car she begins to tell me what happened. 6 years of depression, a breaking relationship, a shock moment which made her lose her voice. »I couldn’t speak for 6 months. I had to make a therapy to regain my voice.« Which specific events led to this mess in her life I cannot tell publicly. After 6 years of mental pain she finally decided to move by herself to another village where she didn’t know anybody. She wanted to leave behind what made her feel terrible.

»I needed about a year to recover. During the past years, my self-esteem had decreased heavily. That’s why in my new flat I hang up several mirrors. In the mornings I would stand in front of one of them and say to myself: ›Good morning, Moni, see how great you look today.‹ It’s called the mirror technique to strengthen your self-worth. You must try it, even if it feels weird at first. If I do positive self-talk, my neighbours sometimes ask if I have visitors. ›No, no, it’s just me‹, I would answer them. Thanks to my neighbours I met one of my best friends, we suffered a similar fate.«

We arrive at a fish farm … a small lake surrounded by trees and bushes. While I need some minutes to try out different angles for the photo, she collects leaves from the ground, humming to herself. Finally, I photograph her on this little bridge. I tell her to lean on the rail, but suddenly, after a few minutes, she impulsively throws her hands in the air, and I capture the picture you can see in front of you.

»On the streets I sometimes tell strangers that they look great«, Monika would tell me afterwards. »Then they look really surprised and ask me if we know each other. ›Yes, now we do.‹, I would answer. I like to spread joy. Nowadays I’m able to do that because I never gave up.«