Small Acts Lead to Great Fortitude

There are a lot of ways to deal with the hard transitions that come during freshman year of high school. Me? I chose to end my life.

Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones...the lucky ones who received a second chance to make a different decision. I was able to choose fortitude over resignation. But let me back up a little. Let me tell you my story of hurt, of despair, and of healing.

I wasn’t the kind of kid who was excited to begin high school. I had not been very popular in middle school and didn’t feel the transition to a larger student population would do anything but magnify that outcast status. I was shy and spent most of my time running my business, acquiring and selling signed sports memorabilia. It was a passion I threw myself into, but my entrepreneurial mindset didn’t win me any friends. The only reason people seemed to talk to me was because of the athletes I worked with.

That seemed to change the summer before freshman year. At the urging of my mother, I went on a week-long service retreat called Project Life. There, I came to find a real sense of purpose; I felt the benefits of serving the small community of Dittmer, Missouri and was introduced to the youth ministry scene and some wonderful peers. Specifically, I found a friend: Melissa. We connected in a meaningful way.

Melissa had already experienced a lot of pain during her young life. Her mother died in a car accident; her father committed suicide. While I had never experienced that specific type of suffering, I could relate to the heartache she was going through. After all, I was never really liked by my peers, I watched my parents go through divorce, and I witnessed my sister fight for her life from kidney disease at a very young age. Both Melissa and I understood the feeling of being alone and scared. For the first time, I felt I had a true friend.

My relationship with Melissa continued to grow after the retreat, and we would often confide in each other. She introduced me to another friend of hers, Stephanie, who also understood many of the struggles we were going through. Stephanie was taking care of her nephew while her sister was in jail, and both of her parents were overseas in the Armed Forces. I felt secure knowing I had these two friends I could rely on, especially as I struggled to adapt to high school once my freshman year began. I may have had trouble making new friends at school, but at least I had Melissa and Stephanie.

The three of us seemed to have a friendship where we would do anything for each other. So when Stephanie approached me one day, asking to borrow a large sum of money to help care for her nephew while she was in school, I didn’t hesitate. Since I was running a successful business, I had the means to help her, and that’s what friends do for friends. But when she came back asking for more, something felt off. After looking into the situation, I discovered that Stephanie and Melissa were using the money I had given them for drugs.

I was devastated. The only two people I trusted and put my faith into had betrayed me. I realized I had simply been a means to an end for them, and this deception caused me to fall deeper into a spiral of isolation and despair. It was then I began thinking about suicide.

On the outside, no one would have ever known. I looked like the model of a happy, successful teen with a bright future. But people didn’t realize how lonely I was, having no one to talk to. Eating alone at lunch every day drove me to start skipping lunch altogether to escape the embarrassment. I didn’t connect with anyone over shared hobbies; I wasn’t athletic; peers couldn’t identify with the way my business-minded brain tended to think about things. The isolation was a looming dark cloud obscuring anything that was good in my life, and that cloud grew larger each day. I didn’t really want to end my life, but I just couldn’t see another way to be free of the pain I was experiencing.

One night, I called the only person left I thought I could trust, confessing my thoughts about suicide, looking for some kind of support. Instead of talking me down off the ledge, this person told me, “If that’s what you feel is best for you, go for it.”

So I did. That very night.

That person was wrong. I shouldn’t have gone for it. Luckily, I got the chance for a do-over. The police were called, I was taken to the hospital, and my life was saved. But I didn’t feel saved.

I was taken to a facility for inpatient therapy. However, I could not see how I would be able come back from this. I saw myself as weak and unable to ever overcome the embarrassment or the toll the suicide attempt had left on me. I felt I wasn’t possibly strong enough to move forward. But those who helped me during my therapy taught me something:

Fortitude isn’t facing pain and adversity while keeping it all together; fortitude is finding the grace to ask for help so you don’t have to face pain and adversity alone.

The most courageous thing I could do was humble myself so I could see that I wasn’t a victim who was beyond the help. I had to continue to seek out others and know when to ask for their assistance.

The resolution to my problem was simple in theory, but it was much harder to live out once I re-entered normal life. Fears crept back into my mind: the fear of going back to school, the fear that others would judge me because of my actions, the fear I would be seen as unlovable. It was then that I had to dig deep and call upon the fortitude I knew was inside me. I had to reframe my idea of courage, seeing it not as some big heroic act, but as small righteous acts strung together. I had been on the receiving end of these small acts during my time in therapy. Now I had to seek those out not only for myself, but begin performing them for others. Sitting with the kid who is eating alone at lunch. Befriending the “annoying” kid others ignore. Being there for someone fighting addiction, to celebrate successes or be support during failures. Asking someone how their day is going. Listening to someone who is struggling. Waking up early to help someone out on your day off of school. These are the small acts of trust that make a difference on an everyday basis. And when you build them one upon another, they create the fortitude and emotional strength we need to deal with struggles as they come along. Because these small acts help create relationships, and when you have people behind you, it is much easier to overcome problems rather than resign to them.

Regardless of what you are struggling with, seek out your fortitude for yourself and lend it to others. Be the person who offers a light and a possible rescue through a small act of courage. If you are the one hurting, seek out people who can help so you don’t have to face your problems alone. If someone gives you an answer that doesn’t value your worth, find someone else, someone who will put you on a path of healing. There is something better awaiting you, awaiting all of us, and we can only get there by working with each other. We all deserve to enjoy the rewards of our fortitude.

“How you react when your back is against the wall will determine if you see what’s actually over the wall.” -Onyi Anyado

*Names have been changed to protect identities


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John Schenk is the founder and president of Teens 2 Teens. Once the youngest sports agent in the nation, John has traded the flashy life of the sports world for working in areas where he can serve others. However, he remains a die-hard Cardinals fan. John currently lives, works, and eats pizza at least three times a week in Nashville, Tennessee.