Motivational speaker. Advocate. Dreamer. Teacher. As a person who has stuttered ever since age three, my life could be best described as a constantly swinging pendulum of extreme highs and lows. From graduating college magna cum laude, to surviving a suicide attempt and asking why I was still alive when my stuttering had driven to me the most desperate point in my life, the one saving grace that had kept me going was that I was unafraid to do what others didn’t want to do. Were you afraid to raise your hand in class and volunteer? That wasn’t me. Did you not want to get up and make a presentation because you were paralyzed by the thought of everyone looking at you like a petri dish under a microscope? I never met a microphone I didn’t like. Despite the fact that I loved to talk and had frustrated numerous Speech- and Language Pathologists (SLPs) (and one actually said I’d never be able to achieve a high rate of fluency), there was still something missing from my life. I never had any real friends growing up, and I did so many stupid things to fit in, such as printing a monthly list of the top 20 “hottest” girls in the grade, which earned me a one-way ticket to the principal’s office. I never understood how some people just naturally had things happen for them. Call it the “golden ticket,” the “it-factor,” but whatever that was, my stuttering was determined to not let me live the life I wanted. I spent four years of my life looking for a job, and it was at that time I started studying other people. They weren’t necessarily successful people, but they just had something that attracted others. It was at that point that I decided I was going to be one of those people. I was going to use my stuttering to help motivate and empower others. No longer would I be held hostage by what others wanted me to be, because I needed to be a confident, outgoing person. I decided to unleash my sexy stuttering superstar, and things have never been the same.
As a person who stutters (PWS), I have endured every type of negative comment, some of which have really made me wonder how cruel we can be as a society. “Spit it out,” “I can’t wait for you,” or “Are you having a seizure?” became commonplace daily occurrences for me. However, I learned to channel my anger and frustration to make positive changes for others. I started speaking locally to schools in the New York City metropolitan area where speech pathology classes were given, and I realized that my speech was not that big of a deal as I thought it was. As I became more proficient, I started tapping into going bigger. So much so that I have set a bucket list goal where I want to speak at every state speech and hearing association conference. I’ve already crossed three off my list (Virginia, Georgia, and Florida), and will hopefully gear up for five or six in 2016. Most important of all, I have discovered my purpose in life: I want to help everyone who stutters be the very best version of themselves. I believe PWS are extraordinary in every sense of the word. There are three tips that have been integral to me becoming the person I am, and if you implement these into your life, you will be well on the way to showing the world your positive energy:
First, you must never let anyone keep you silent and prevent you from saying what you want. I never forgot seeing a T-shirt with the slogan “I Stutter! Because What I Have To Say Is Worth Repeating.” How true that is… and more. Imagine you are walking around the local mall and you are getting hungry for a sandwich at Subway. As you begin to approach the door, the doubts begin to sink in and you hear the laughter in your head: “Oh, you don’t want to enter. Why make them have to listen to you?” YOU have the power to flip the switch. Every time you say something that you never thought you could do, your strength and resilience grows. A first step will lead to the bigger things. We all have the right to be heard and don’t ever let stuttering take that right from you!
Second, embrace who you are. This took me a very long time because we are our own worst enemies. No one sees our stuttering the way we do.We have memories of asking someone out for a date, and being surrounded by giggles. We all have the power to make huge changes in our life, and the person we are now will not be like the one tomorrow. I love my stuttering and put myself out there every chance I get. I love to say “I don’t really stutter, I’m just blessed with instant replay.” When I speak at conferences, I say that “I am the original stuttering D-I-V-A: Dynamite Individual who is Very Attractive.” Confidence makes people want to come up to you, and ask what you’re about. I’ve been laughed at lots of times. But I honestly don’t care. Not everyone is going to accept me, and finally I can say that’s OK. Eventually, we all reach a point where we find out who matters, who never did, and who never will. An anonymous author said that, and I know it is true. Stuttering is not the only challenge I face. I’m also what you call “high-functioning,” due to mild Asperger’s. Some may say I was dealt a losing hand. But as singer Sheryl Crow said in “Leaving Las Vegas”: you “take this losing hand and make it win.” I am doing a darn good job of that. We who stutter are absolutely not losers!
Third, please get involved with a support group. For ten years, I have gotten involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA), and I have served as a chapter leader for the Long Island region, and now I am a regional chapter coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic. There is no greater feeling that being around others who truly understand you, and are walking the same steps you are. People come for different reasons. Fellowship, a safe place to practice their techniques, or a chance to get away from the regular world for an hour where they can talk about their speech and the difficulties they endure. A support group can be a tremendous catalyst to make you feel better about yourself. When you talk about your experiences, you grow stronger both personally and professionally. You will learn that you are never alone in this life!
You may frequently feel that stuttering may have been the worst thing that can happen to you. I can’t tell you the number of times I wished I was deaf so that way I wouldn’t have to hear some of the things I did. But I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s my calling now to make this world welcome for PWS, and you can do this as well. Are you ready to unleash YOUR sexy stuttering superstar?
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