Blessed and grateful: challenges faced with positive attitude

Cayleigh Constance has worked through mental and physical health issues on her way to graduation

Senior Cayleigh Constance is looking forward to moving to Chicago in the fall and starting at Columbia University. Though her path is clear to the Windy City, her path to high school graduation wasn’t without roadblocks.

When Cayleigh was 12, she started to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. With a history of mental illness in her family, she had faced abuse, anxiety and episodes of depression for most of her childhood.

“I was seeing a therapist off and on again, but I hadn’t really started treatment for anything,” Cayleigh said. “I was really struggling, but I don’t think I was aware of what was going on.”

Because of severe insomnia, she was having trouble focusing on  schoolwork. In 2016, her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was really a shock, you don’t think it’s going to happen to you, though it sounds cliché,” she said. “It was a really hard time; I was struggling in school and at home.”

Cayleigh started to have seizures attributed to stress and anxiety, she said, and was placed in an in-patient facility.

“Therapy can do wonders,” she said. “It really helped me to look at myself and where I was.”

Embracing her artistic side also has helped. Something about picking up a paint brush clears her head, she said.

“Now it’s something that I just do for me, something that I really find a lot of joy in. It’s good to have something there for you no matter what. Art is there for me.”

Cayleigh Constance

Back in Class  

Ultimately, Cayleigh missed almost four months of school.

“Thinking about how much time I had missed and how behind I was was another level of stress,” she said. “I knew that I needed that time off, but I had a long road ahead of me.”

To make up for lost time, she enrolled in the Compass program at school and really buckled down, working double time to try and make up for the courses she missed.

“It’s difficult to see how much work is ahead of you and not get down on yourself,” she said. “But, to anyone who is facing something like this, all that work is nothing compared to the light at the end of the tunnel.”

It was while making up classwork that Cayleigh realized she had a passion for psychology.

“I found that I was really interested in anything where I got to read about people and their motives,” she said. “Growing up with lots of trust issues and separation anxiety, being able to understand people is very important to me.”

She hopes to use that passion to go into a division of law enforcement or therapy.

A Bright Light

As Cayleigh pushes her way to graduation, she never seems to lose her enthusiasm, teacher Colin Nelson said.

“Cayleigh is a remarkable young lady,” he said. “She has had numerous setbacks in her educational life and personal life, yet she is one of the most optimistic students I have worked with. I have never known her to complain or sulk at a setback; instead, she greets each challenge with a smile and a positive attitude. I am certain that she will have great success in her future.”

Cayleigh said it’s important “to surround yourself with people who care about you. Pushing people away is never the answer.”

Surrounding herself with supportive teachers, mental health professionals, a close-knit group of friends and embracing the love and support from her mother and family standing behind her, Cayleigh said she feels as though she’s found her source of calm.

“It’s easy to think that you don’t have anything and things are just going bad and there’s nothing you can do,” she said. “There are people out there to help you. If you don’t have people that you feel comfortable sharing your story with, there are professionals that are there to help you.”

As Cayleigh prepares to cross the graduation stage, she reminds herself “There are always people out there that have it worse than you. Yeah, I’ve had my share of bad things in my life, but I am still blessed. I have a home, I have a family and I have more than I even know. I am so grateful.”

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A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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