Senior Speech: Abby Cantrell

Click above to check out our ThingLink, an interactive look at senior Abby Cantrell’s speech in assembly on Oct. 26, 2015.

Courage is defined as a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger, pain and adversity without showing fear. Notice that it doesn’t say without being afraid but to be able to face those things that scare you without showing fear.

Courage isn’t always extreme acts of bravery and putting yourself in perilous situations. Courage is speaking up even when your voice shakes. It is getting out of bed in the mornings when all you want to do is hide from the world. It is the ability to tell yourself “I have failed, but I will try again tomorrow.” Courage isn’t being fearless, but not letting your fears stop you.

Brené Brown said, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

So here I am, nervous as can be, to tell you the story of who I am with my whole heart and encourage you to do the same.

People do not want show the real, tender side of themselves. Everyone wants to seem calm, cool, and collected at all times. We hide these sensitive sides and our true selves for fear of being hurt. But the truth is that no one is really as put together as they seem. Everyone is dealing with their own battles every day, but for some reason we all feel ashamed to show any side of us that isn’t doing okay. We hide these feelings behind fake smiles and promise each other that everything is just fine.

It has always been told to us to tell the truth and not to lie. We as humans are truth tellers and will do anything to get the truth out. But since we were young, it has been ingrained into our heads that the only appropriate response to “How are you?” Is “I’m fine.” So when we are alone, we let the truth out. We find a way of saying “I’m not actually fine.” Maybe through drinking, excessive spending, drugs, over eating, purging, binge Netflix watching or self-harm, we let the truth out.

Since we feel we can’t tell these truths out loud, we turn them into our own little world and everything begins to revolve around them. This is how addiction starts.

During my freshman year, I decided to tell the truth and speak up about the feelings and thoughts I had been experiencing and hiding for the past 2 years. I told my parents I wasn’t okay and that I knew I needed help. This is when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, Bipolar disorder, and panic disorder.

Whenever I became stressed, insecure, depressed, or anxious I turned to self-harm as a way of letting the truth out. When I would, I was left empty and numb and exhausted to the point where I couldn’t even think about what was the problem in the first place. This is what I wanted. To forget what it was like to be a human. I was ashamed to feel these things, even though they are just human emotions. I did not want people to see these raw emotions because I thought being anything but good wasn’t okay. Today I’m glad I can tell my self that is wrong. It’s okay to not be okay.

The problems with the addictions we create to hide the truths about ourselves is that the numbness only last for so long. The feelings always come back just the same, if not worse

This is what happened to me in 10th grade. The feelings kept coming back stronger and stronger each time I numbed myself. They were coming back quicker, too. This is when getting through the day became a hassle. I hated myself inside and out. I wasn’t able to get through an entire school day and left school early everyday for almost a month. Walking through the halls gave me panic attacks, my thoughts distracted me in classes, and all I could think about was the next time I could numb these feelings of mine. This is when my parents and the school stepped in. I needed help. I had to take a medical leave. Though I was outraged at that time, I’m thankful for the people who realized I needed that leave. I wouldn’t be standing at this podium today without taking that leave and getting help.

What they don’t tell about recovering is that it gets much worse before it gets better. It is the scariest thing I ever stepped into, not to mention the hardest. After a while, this sadness becomes comfortable and you are scared of recovery. You are scared of thinking you are actually happy again just to have your world come crashing down again. I was getting the help I needed at a group therapy program and this is where I learned a very important lesson: you can’t recover or get better if you don’t set your mind to it and want it for yourself. No amount of support from others or programs can get you to recover. It has to be a decision you make for yourself. For the first month, I was not trying to recover. I was just going through the motions. People say that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can go up again, because by then that’s the only place you can go. As J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” January 2nd 2014, I hit rock bottom. I won’t go into details about that day, but it was the lowest point in my life. I had given up and was through trying. I didn’t believe I would ever get better. I saw no purpose in life anymore and I was completely hopeless. That day I was not courageous. I let the fear of the pain and adversity I had been facing stop me.

Luckily, the day after I hit rock bottom I felt myself slowly going up. My dad has always told people this was my epiphany. This sudden realization of how precious life was and that there was strength hidden inside of me hit me very hard. The small amount of strength I found within myself that day has pushed me to where I am today. Everyday after January 2nd, I grew stronger. I was still experiencing the thoughts and feelings that had been controlling my life for so long, but now I was determined to fight back. So this is what I did. I fought for myself. I promised myself that I would fight to take control of my life again and find the happiness that was long overdue of being in my life. The days turned into weeks and weeks into months of my recovery. There have been days I have felt like giving in to my urges and thoughts and days were I was sure I was going to. But I always remembered the promise I made to myself. Even at my weakest moments, I tell myself this will pass just as every difficult moment has before. Today, I am proud to say I have been clean from self-harm since that January day in the beginning of 2014, almost a year and 10 months.

Though I know the majority of recovery is done within yourself, I couldn’t of gained the strength I had to fight without the help of my amazing support group. They have shown me healthy coping skills and continuously help me on my worst days. They remind me that I am strong enough, even when I feel the opposite. I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without my incredible group of friends, my mom and dad, my siblings, all my pets, Mrs. Pate, and all the people at Willowbrooke at Tanner, the group therapy program I went to. These people have helped me keep my promise to myself.

I used to numb and hide my feelings but now I open up and share. I used to tell the truth through self-harm, but now I tell the truth out loud to help with whatever is troubling me. I get the help I need when I am struggling. I am not afraid of my feelings. They can’t kill me and they won’t kill you. They can come and over take me for a while, but they cannot control me or run my life anymore. I just remind myself that I am strong and that I will be okay. I have accepted the fact of who I am. I have found self-confidence and self-love, which was missing for so many years. These things are so important to being happy in life.

My favorite quote is from Glennon Doyle Melton: “I still feel scared and anxious all the time. I still get very high and very low in life. Daily. But I’ve finally accepted the fact that sensitive is just how I was made, that I don’t have to hide it and I don’t have to fix it. I’m not broken.”

If you are sensitive, be courageous enough to show it. If you have any problems, be courageous to open up and ask for the help you need. It will be hard and it will be scary, but there is no better decision you can make for yourself. I challenge you to have courage enough to stand up to your demons and fears and just fight. There needs to be a world where sensitive people don’t have to hide. We don’t always need to be tougher or seem totally put together. We don’t need to hide and act like the feelings we experience don’t exist. There needs to be a world where we can all come out and tell the truth in healthy ways; where mental illnesses and problems aren’t something to be ashamed of. We are only human. We need to forgive each other and ourselves for being human and having human emotions and problems. We live in a big bright messy world. Not very much is easy in life, but that doesn’t mean we should forget how beautiful and precious and wonderful life is. Embracing our flaws doesn’t make us weak; it makes us courageous. So I’m leaving you with the challenge of finding some way to be courageous everyday. Tell the truth. Be yourself. Conquer your fears. Don’t hide. Just live.