Last year’s most uplifting talk sprung from a formerly dark place.

FIU student Alexa Chavarry let the audience in on her personal story of depression and cutting, and her discovery of The Butterfly Project. The initiative asks those who self-harm to draw a butterfly on their arm every time they feel the urge to cut, name it after a loved one and keep it “alive” by not cutting as long as the ink stays on the skin.

For Chavarry, participating had a healing effect, one she wanted to share with others. But she knew the problem wasn’t just among her friends or her school, so she took to the Internet and started The Butterfly Project blog on Tumblr.

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Chavarry at TEDxFIU 2013 with photos of her readers’ butterflies.

At the time of her talk, The Butterfly Project Tumblr had 14,000 followers from around the world. In one year it has grown to over 17,300 followers.

Chavarry started the blog anonymously and outted herself as the creator at TEDxFIU. Since then, she has grown as much as her following. The experience showed her that she did not need to be ashamed of her personal story and encouraged her to continue sharing it with others who may be struggling in similar ways.

“Speaking at TEDxFIU opened my eyes to an entirely different side of who I am,” says Chavarry. “It made me realize my true potential, and helped me understand the altruistic nature of being vulnerable and real with people.”